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Third controlled burning campaign draws to a close this week

August 12, 2013

By Lily Jamison-Cash, Monitoring & Evaluation and Communications (MEC) Intern, P&S Program 

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The team prepares to burn between the villages of Namizope and Boila-Velha in Potone Sacred Forest.

Raging wildfires are slowly becoming a part of the past as the P&S Program ends its third season of controlled burning this week in Potone Sacred Forest. The Program has been working with residents of Potone since 2011 to build their capacity in this management technique, increasing the forest’s health as well as the benefits it provides to residents.

P&S created a Fire Management Action Plan with residents in 2011 in order to address destructive wildfire resulting (predominantly) from farmers burning their fields to clear them. P&S works with Potone residents to begin burning sometime between May and August, depending on the year’s rainfall, when the fuel load is still relatively low, the grass still partially green, and the weather cool.

Early burning minimizes the potential for and scale of late hot wildfires, usually around October. Hot fires reduce biodiversity and change the physiognomy of the forest to favor low-diversity grass-dominated landscapes over high-diversity tree-dominated landscapes. P&S works with Community Rangers, the Angoche Fire Department, and members of the local NRM (Natural Resource Management) Committees to conduct the burnings.

These early burnings come after years of damage wrought by wildfires. “In 2005, the hot fires spread to the other district and destroyed many houses and fields,” said Gaetano Chico, a firefighter on the burning team. In fact, hot burnings reached such a peak in 2009 as to affect cashew production in Nampula Province.

Though it still involves burning vegetation, early intervention has a plethora of advantages.

When the fuel load is burnt off early and periodically, the forest as a whole is less susceptible to dangerous wildfires later in the season, as there is less fuel to catch fire. “It prevents big fires,” said Gostantino Mosanga Mohivel, a member of Namizope’s NRM Committee.

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Early burning clears groundcover but leaves small vegetation and trees.

By limiting the potential for large wildfires, early burning also limits the damage done to wildlife. “The animals have a habitat now,” said Manuel Matias Canivela, a Community Ranger on the team conducting burnings. Early mosaic burning has an immediate positive effect on the diversity and abundance of small animals (such as insects, reptiles and birds), and over time on the abundance of grazers and herbivores. The herbaceous layer, which is rich in medicinal plants, also fares better under an early burning regime.

Early burning does not destroy tree saplings or grass shoots, which can more easily recover from the stress of fire. “The grass is green now, which it’s not after hot burning,” Mohivel said. Early burning also facilitates carbon sequestration by preserving large vegetation and encouraging tree-dominated landscapes, and releases less carbon than large wildfires do.

Hot fires also harden the soil, which becomes impermeable and increases water runoff. This lowers the soil’s water retention and nutrition, making the next growing season even more difficult. Controlled fires, on the other hand, don’t burn as deep, which is crucial for crop health and future growing seasons. “The soil stays productive,” said Ainsha Aosufo, a member of Namizope’s NRM Committee participating in the burnings.

Early burning is proving to be a popular conservation tool for people of Potone Sacred Forest. “Early burning is an alternative, because people still want to burn,” said P&S Program Terrestrial Natural Resource Management Officer Marcos Assane, who leads the early burning campaigns.

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Five members of Namizope’s NRM Committee join the P&S burning team, demonstrating ground that has already been burned.

The difficulty in the process lies in people taking ownership of it, Assane said: “you can’t say ‘now you have the knowledge, go do it.’” P&S has trained residents and will work with them to use this technique for some time to come, as the NRM Committees’ leadership continues to grow and the benefits of early burning become more and more apparent.

Residents of Potone have given positive feedback on early burning and say they plan to continue to use it. “We are very happy with this process,” Mohivel said, explaining that the soil’s increased productivity has helped farmers turn a greater profit. “The maintenance of natural resources for our own benefit is very important,” he added.

Other residents agree that early burning is taking hold. “Other people in the village are happy with the process because early burning gives more advantages [over hot burning],” Aosufo said. Farmers can stay on their lands, as their fields, forest, and food stay healthy.

Check out this video to take a closer look at early burning and hear NRM Team Member Jean-Baptiste Deffontaines interview Community Ranger Assanito Mateus.

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