Damage to forest cover and the wasteful burning of biomass cause significant loss of productive resources. Forest fires also negatively affect the environment, e.g. soil and water resources, and atmospheric qualities. This has direct and indirect cost implications to the country. At the same time, programs to protect forests from wildfires are complex and costly. Many sectors of the economy, including the forestry, agriculture, fisheries, transportation, and health sectors, stand to benefit from effective fire management; and should be prepared to contribute equitably towards the costs.
Recommended Action 15
Estimate the potential direct and indirect costs to the national economy brought about by wildfires. The costs of various options of preventing and controlling wildfires should also be estimated to ensure that fire management policies and programs are viable.
The agency responsible for fire protection should undertake a cost/benefit analysis of proposed fire management programs under a variety of scenarios. It should design programs which are cost effective and within its budgetary means. National and provincial governments should be prepared to provide adequate financial support to the forestry agencies should it be necessary for them to meet costs.
Preventing wildfires is much more cost-effective than suppressing them and bearing the resulting losses. The causes of forest fires, and the underlying reasons for them, need to be determined before effective prevention plans can be made. The general public can be an important cause of wildfire. One reason for this is a lack of understanding on the importance and value of forests. In many tropical countries, uncontrolled shifting cultivation (slash-and-burn, swidden system) is a source of wildfires, as is the use of fire to dispose of crop residue and woody vegetation during land conversion.
Recommended Action 16
Promote improved agricultural and agrosilvopastoral systems as alternatives to shifting cultivation.
Establish model demonstration areas for specific farming and agrosilvopastoral practices, combining them with other components of a fire management system (e.g. integrating farming and grazing activities to modify fuel loads or fuel break systems).
Develop suitable incentive programs to reward communities and individuals which use appropriate land-use practices, resulting in reduced fire damage. In the case of individuals, it is often effective to simply make formal recognition , in the presence of peers, that the individual has done something special.
Develop and promote an environmental awareness program on the relation between social, economic, and environmental benefits derived from forests, and the negative impacts associated with wildfires.
Establish a program to investigate the causes of wildfires, and the underlying reasons. This should form the basis for formulating a wildfire prevention, education, and extension program.
Develop and implement programs following the principles of regenerative agriculture to promote nutrient cycling so that biomass is utilized to enhance soil fertility. These programs should consider sustainable agricultural practices promoted and disseminated by organizations such as the IIRR (International Institute for Rural Reconstruction), CATIE (Center for Research and Training in Tropical Agriculture), and grassroots level NGOs.
Demonstrate a variety of land treatment and soil preparation practices which apply viable and inexpensive soil and water conservation techniques. Consider establishing demonstration plots where fire is not utilized as a tool in site preparation or land clearing.
There may be competing or conflicting land resource uses between rural inhabitants and other land use classifications such as forest concessions, timber companies, contractors, and conservation units. These conflicts can lead to the setting of wildfires. People need to be able to benefit directly from forest uses in order to value and protect these resources. Local people use fire for economic, religious, agricultural, and cultural reasons; and they will continue to do so in the future. Experiences gained from traditional fire management practices may be of benefit within a wider national context. Some tropical countries have experience with fire management involving local communities, with varying degrees of success. Lessons from these experiences may be beneficial to other countries.
Recommended Action 17
Provision should be made for consultations with people within communities in an open and transparent way to resolve conflicts on rights of forest land use and the obligation of fire protection.
Local people should be trained in techniques to manage and control fire so as to prevent destruction of the forest cover; taking into account their traditions and skills.
Local governments and citizens should be involved in decisions on how fire will be managed in areas under their purview. Communities may also need financial assistance to carry out fire prevention measures and respond to wildfires. Community organization and training must be done following participatory methodologies in order for them to be effective and sustainable.
Provide opportunities for exchange of information and experiences in fire management involving local communities through forums supported by international organizations such as ITTO, FAO, CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research), and multi-lateral mechanisms.
In many rural societies, women play an extremely important role in agriculture, raising livestock, collecting fuelwood, and utilizing the forest to produce non-timber goods. Women are therefore more appreciative and caring for the natural environment although it is often difficult to integrate them into educational and extension programs, due to their other roles and responsibilities. Women’s active participation in fire management programs can be effective in protecting tropical forest resources from wildfires. The same can be said of the other members of the whole family unit. Adults, children, and elders must all be included in the solution.
Recommended Action 18
Include women as active participants in community based fire management activities; capitalizing on their knowledge and experience in the use of fire in agriculture, livestock production, and forest management.
Develop an effective fire education component which is specifically directed towards women at the provincial and local levels. The transfer of fire management technologies, and the sharing of experiences may best be done through participatory programs and extension services in which women can play important roles.