New Technique to Stop Wild Veld Fires

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Veld fires have recently been on the increase, wreaking massive havoc in their wake across the country. Namibia has this year already lost many tracts of grazing land to fires in which livestock and game have perished, while more are likely to die of hunger due to lack of grazing. For many years in the past, forest fires, bush fires or veld fires were mainly experienced in the north-eastern parts of the country, but this year the trend has changed drastically in that large areas of the Omahake, Hardap, Omusati, Oshana, Erongo, Khomas and Kunene regions are now also affected. However, as the fires rage, local communities in the Kavango Region have come up with a way of combating fire with fire itself. It is called the “Strip-Burning Technique”. Earlier in the year, the Community Forestry in North-Eastern Namibia (CFNEN) project, together with various communities living in the Kavango forest areas, developed firebreaks and cutlines as popular techniques to prevent veld fires from spreading. Talking to New Era about the latest technique, Forestry Technical Adviser in the Community Forestry Project, Carsten Schusser, based in Rundu, said the “strip-burning technique” is an alternative to stopping fires before they get out of control. “You first make a 10-metre wide cutline in strategic forest areas. You literally use fire to make a fire cutline, like three one-metre lines only, and then you use fire to clean up the area,” explained Schusser. At the end of the day, it looks like a whole strip of forest area that has been burnt. Firstly, the vegetation between the two closer strips is removed by pushing fire from both sides all over. ?After all that and with good wind conditions, a fire set from the third oneÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ metre strip finally widens the cutline to 30-metres. So what is a cutline? According to Schusser, a cutline is a strip about 10 metres wide and cleared of vegetation established in the forests to stop forest fires and to provide access to fire-fighting activities. What makes the technique rather worthwhile is that it requires all the hands of the community members. Thus, Schusser added, it allows the communities to install a more effective 30-metre cutline at less cost and with less labour involved. The best time to use the new burning technique is in the months of June and July. During that time, the vegetation is green enough to prevent hot burning and intensive fires and thus better chances for young trees and plants to survive. Schusser however added that the best way to stop a fire is to avoid it from happening in the first place. “The best is to avoid the fire, but in Namibia fires are happening on regular basis especially this year,” he said, adding that the strip-burning technique is effective if carried out effectively. It only requires up to six people to make cutline strips. Community forest areas, like those of Ncumcara, Ncamagoro, Mbeyo and Ncaute community, have so far benefited from this new technique. At last week’s Arbor Day celebration in Windhoek, Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Dr Nickey Iyambo, reiterated his concern over the spate of uncontrolled wild fires in various parts of the country. Seeing that this latest technique falls in line with the ministry’s conservation and management efforts in combating fires, a community effort like this one is considered a step in the right direction. “It has become apparent that fire-prevention and control cannot be left to the forestry staff alone…There is a need to increase more effort to curb and minimize the problem we are facing in our country,” Iyambo said. Director of Forestry in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Joseph Hailwa, called on the public to come forward with more proposals on how to combat ongoing forest/veld fires. Although fires may occur naturally, most are started by humans. Schusser said communities tend to burn the forests to clean up the fields for planting or for building a house or for hunting purposes. They burn the area after harvesting the field by getting rid of all the old grass. Some even resort to burning the grass used for thatching the roofs of their neighbours for customers to come and buy from them instead. “Thatch grass is a good business, but it can be petrol for the fire and it is like a vicious cycle that destroys trees, animals and humans,” added Schusser. Plans are under way to introduce the same strip-burning technique in other parts of the country.