The story behind ‘Africa, the Fire Continent’

4 Nov, 2016Publications

Development agencies from across the world take great interest in Africa. As a result, these agencies fund numerous development projects, especially in the African savannas and grasslands, to encourage sustainable land use and prevent the southward march of the Sahara.

Yet, very few of these agencies consider the fundamentally important role fire plays in regulating these African landscapes. They often try to eliminate fire completely, without understanding that the vegetation of these ecosystems needs to be subject to periodic fire to remain healthy.

Traditional farmers recognise this, and have for centuries, frequently burnt grasslands and the grasses of the savannas to stimulate and maintain their grazing potential.

African farmers have long understood that fire must be used to manage fire. To ignore, or completely suppress fire wherever possible, while trying to improve a landscape, is Eurocentric.

At the beginning of 2014, David Daitz, a senior employee of Kishugu, with extensive knowledge of forestry and conservation management, wrote an unsolicited paper addressing the importance of proper fire management in Africa. This paper, Developing a multi-country capacity for sustainably managing natural resources in Sub-Saharan Africa – a proposal, was directed to the World Bank – an entity which offers funding and technical support to many of these developmental projects around the world.

As a result, specialists from Kishugu and partners were invited by the World Bank to conduct a thorough investigation under the working title of Fire in the savannas and grasslands of Africa. The findings were to be presented to the Bank in the form of an easy to read, 30-page document, accompanied by a short film as summary.

The research team on the project comprised: Tony Knowles, Emeline Assede, David Daitz, Coert Geldenhuys, Robert J. Scholes, Winston S.W. Trollope and Johan Zietsman – all experts in their fields.

Their findings have been published as a document, Africa the Fire Continent, and were presented during two occasions: The Third African Dryland Conference in Windhoek, Namibia from 8 to 11 August; and to the World Bank in Washington DC on 19 September 2016.

The research was very well received, unlocking critical conversations, that promise to bring about positive change with regards to wildfire in Africa.

“Our goal was to raise awareness of the necessity of fire when managing African landscapes,” said Daitz. “We aimed to establish Kishugu as the ‘go-to’ organisation for fire-related topics in the grassland and savannas of Africa.  We hope that that this project will open doors for us to consult or partner during future World Bank projects.”