Impact of the Integrated Forest Fire Management Program on Rural Livelihoods in East Caprivi Region, Namibia

(IFFN No. 25, July 2001)

2. Description of the Integrated Forest Fire Management component

2.1 IFFM objectives, strategies and activities

The project was initially called “Pilot Project for Forest Fire Control”. The name was in 1998 modified to “Integrated Forest Fire Management” (IFFM) in order to emphasize that fire is a legitimate land management tool, if carefully timed and used (Goldammer 1999).

One objective of the IFFM component is assisting in National fire policy development and the elaboration of a regional fire management plan for East Caprivi. The main objective according to the project document, however, is “the implementation of an applicable model for integrated forest fire management, implemented by Namibians”. As major results (outputs) were defined:

The defined physical targets (called ‘indicators’ in the Log Frame) for the four-year program period from 5/1997 to 5/2001) are:

Sources of verification are satellite images, aerial photographs, field inspections, DoF reports, survey reports and Namibia’s Climate Change Report (NFFP 1999). Finnish funding to IFFM mounted to 4.3 million FIM over a three-year period. The contribution of the Government of Namibia is N$ 500,000 annually, with about N$ 200,000 reserved for the financing of community-based labor for fire break production (GoN/GoF 1999).

The implementing team consisted of one expatriate forest fire expert; three laborers, who were basically trained on the job, but do not have any formal education in forestry or related field; and two forest technicians. One of the two forest technicians is responsible for supervision (Fire Chief) and also deputy District Forest Officer. The project also utilized the expertise from the local Caprivian Arts and Cultural Association (CACA): actors for the drama performances and artists for the design of visual aids and materials.

Contrary to the mechanized approach in fire brake construction of the previous South African administration, a labor-based approach was adopted. This labor-intensive approach was thought not only to enhance long-term sustainability, but also to provide employment benefits to the local population. The developed IFFM model is summarized in the following two paragraphs.

2.1.1 Public awareness campaign

IFFM public campaign work has been focussed on the prevention of fire in general and fire accidents in particular. Activities include the placing of billboards along main roads; distribution of posters in various languages; radio programs and regular announcements of ongoing activities and results; designing and distribution of a national fire logo; production of car stickers, badges, key rings etc.; production of comic books and school materials; exhibits on art shows, trade fairs etc.; education program at schools; drama performances by a self-help theatre group. The 1999 review team concluded that the decrease in area annually burned could probably to a large extent be ascribed to the reduction of fire accidents (e.g. dropping of cigarettes; camp fires). IFFM’s awareness raising activities have played an important role in this respect and the implementation strategy has been effective (Kamminga 1999).

2.1.2 Community-level activities

At community-level, financial and technical assistance has been provided for cut line construction and maintenance. The communities involved in the program have benefited as follows:

 In addition educational and mobilization activities were undertaken to promote community members voluntarily involvement in the suppression of fires and their prevention, and also to enhance social organization. Simple techniques for fuel load assessment and prescribed burning techniques were recently added to the list of activities.

The main aim of all activities has been reducing the area burned per annum. Activities generally emphasized the negative aspects of fire and tried to eliminate fire. The 1997 Forest Act was thereby utilized as an enforcement tool. The South African administration made the use of fire illegal and this is still the situation today. The new Draft Forest Bill, however, delegates fire management responsibilities to the Traditional Authorities. This will hopefully lead to local communities becoming empowered and assuming ownership over fire control and management. This is considered crucial for future sustainability of IFFM activities.

2.2 The 1999 Technical and Socio-economic review

The 1999 review team recommended a fundamental change in approach in order for the program to be more effective, socially acceptable and sustainable. Rather than forming a blueprint fire control program, the focus should be on enhancing local capacities in the use of fire as a management tool, while building upon existing knowledge and practices. Earlier the Mid-term review had emphasized the need for promoting a more natural resource management perspective and integrated approach (GoN/GoF 1999).

The major conclusion of the 1999 technical assessment was, that East Caprivi Region is subject to too frequent indiscriminate wild fires that have been ignited for apparently no valid ecological reasons (Trollope and Trollope 1999). It was also observed that the stakeholders involved have rather different interpretation of what a ‘wildfire’ is depending on their orientation and concerns (forestry; biodiversity; wildlife; hunting; crop cultivation; livestock production; thatch grass selling etc.).

In terms of the effects of the current fire regime on the vegetation of East Caprivi and the potential for IFFM, the following ecological zones were distinguished (see Trollope and Trollope 1999):

Kalahari woodlands

The woody vegetation and pastures in the Kalahari woodland areas are most at risk to fire damage. This is particularly the case where the grass sward is dominated by pioneer grass species and the woody vegetation comprises of two distinct layers of firstly short coppicing shrubs and secondly an overstory of scattered large trees. Exclusion of all fire, however, is generally not recommended. The potential impact of IFFM activities in terms of increased productivity of natural resources is estimated to be high in this zone.

A variety of institutional and political factors however needs to be addressed in order to deal with the underlying causes of the current problematic fire regimes. A significant proportion of the Kalahari woodland areas does not have a common property tenure regime: a) Caprivi National Forest (Directorate of Forestry); b) Sachinga quarantine station (parastatal), and c) community-based wildlife conservancies (community-based natural resource management or CBNRM).

Mopane woodlands

These woodlands generally burn less frequently and resources are less affected by fire damage. The main reason is the sparse nature of the grass sward (fuel load). There is therefore less need for burning of moribund and less risk of spreading in case that fire occurs. Thus the frequency of burning in these areas are probably primarily a function of the grazing pressure. Satellite images over the 1996-1999 and the information on grazing pressure globally confirms such relationship. (Mendelsohn and Roberts 1997; Trigg and Le Roux 2000). The potential impact of IFFM activities on the productivity of the natural resource base is probably not very high.

Zambesi Floodplains

They are subject to frequent (annual or biennial) fires, which are started by local people. This is generally acceptable from a livestock management perspective. Abundant moisture is provided by the annual flooding of the flat terrain, resulting in excessively high fuel loads of grass that have limited value for grazing and constitute a serious fire hazard. The potential of IFFM in these grassland areas is therefore relatively low.

Chobe, Linyanti and Kwando Floodplains

Indiscriminate wild fires negatively affect the fodder productivity of these plains. In these areas rainfall is generally lower and flooding has not occurred for a decade of more. As main causes of the wild fires have been identified: fires originating from Botswana and natural spreading of ground fires in the peat. Important benefits can be expected from IFFM.

Thatchgrass producing areas

Areas adjacent to the floodplains are of particular economic importance, since they produce an important new cash crop: thatching material. Wildfires are very destructive. Periodically controlled burns, however, are necessary to achieve optimal productivity. Different user groups (male livestock owners and female thatch grass cutters) might have different fire needs. A wild fire for one category might be a planned fire for the other. The potential benefits from IFFM in these areas are expected to be quite high (Trollope an Trollope 1999).

2.3 Developments since the 1999 review

Almost immediately after the 1999 review, the East Caprivian secessionist movement organized an uprising. This resulted in further political and economic isolation of the Region. This situation has affected functioning and performance of the IFFM component in many ways. The IFFM program has been one of the few foreign assisted programs that did not close shop and the team deserves much appreciation for their commitment. During a certain period, specific areas were not safe to work in; NDF soldiers were accused of starting forest fires intentionally; and so on.

The regional economy has been badly affected. Those to suffer were the commercial markets that currently exist for thatch grass, livestock and baskets. These are all indirectly related to IFFM’s work as will become clear in Chapter 3. In addition, tourism and trophy-hunting almost came to a halt and seriously hampered the take-off of the various community-based conservancies in East-Caprivi.

A major change since the mid-1999 review is that certain posters and billboards carry new messages. Rather than “stop the fire” or “ fire is evil”, messages are now “manage your fire” and “use fire wisely”. Some of the IFFM workers did not seem to have fully understood the implications of this changed terminology. The legal context has also not yet changed. The use of fire is currently still illegal, whatever the billboards say. These are among the reasons why little progress has been made in enhancing people’s capacities to use of fire to increase the productivity of their resources. Limited progress has been made in the implementation of the planned activity of “prescribed burning demonstrations”.

As was noted in 1999, the selection of project sites is rather opportunistic and objectively verifiable and transparent criteria have not been developed (Kamminga 1999). This has not changed. As unemployment rates are still very high and social pressures are being put on decision making IFFM/DoF staff members, who are all from local origin. As a result, cutlines are not always constructed where fire risks are highest or even high.

Human resource capacity still forms a major constraint and an important reason why making the transformation into a more natural resource management oriented program has been so difficult. The fire workers are skilled in the technical aspects of cutline construction and fire suppression, and also are able to make contracts for cutline construction and supervise their implementation. They can also hold simple educational sessions and they know how to use the disc meter for assessing the grass sward (fuel load) and how to do “controlled burns”. The communication techniques they utilize, however, are poorly developed. They are all one-way and focussed on transfer of technology and telling people what to do. They lack social and analytical skills, and proper attitude to be able to generate a community- based discussion on what people’s concerns are and how the issue of fire possibly fits in. Facilitating a process in which various user groups discuss and negotiate their fire needs is beyond comprehension. Essentially they are hands-on fire technicians with very little formal education. The IFFM component as a whole lacks experience and vision in community development and participatory approaches.

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