This article was presented under technical and financial support of Africa 21

by Ayele Addis Ambelu – /Amhara Media Association/ “The Water Tower of Nile” radio Program Producer

According to Bond and van Wilgen, Africa is referred to as the Fire Continent, implying the widespread occurrence of fire in the region.” Demel Teketay said, “although the cycle of events that leads to the destruction of forest resources in Ethiopia involves many varying factors, those initiated by humans using fire to access and remove forest resources are becoming the most severe these days.”

Knife Abebe also said that “fire has been responsible for the disappearance of forest from the country’s northern parts. However, in Amhara Region and Benishangul Gumuz Regional State, the first phase of wildfire starts in mid-October and ranges for about three months. The second phase starts in February and continues to May.

Ethiopia is the second-largest African population, with limited capacity to manage natural resources and widespread land degradation. The country also faces many serious challenges in conserving its biodiversity and forests. In combination with its importance as a center of genetic and agricultural diversity, conservation of water, forest, and biodiversity is an issue of global significance.

During my field observation and discussion with experts and local communities, “significant amount of resources have been destructed, for example, 1140ha bamboo forests and more than 9800 ha community-managed forest was burnt in December 2014-December 2020,  3259 goats were burnt, and more over 1210 settlement houses were burnt in Arenda and yjadeya kebele in November 2015- November 2020.”        

The Amhara and Benishangule regions are one of the poorest and most food-insecure regions in Ethiopia. The incidence of poverty in thRegionon is 54% (MOFED, 2020), and 93.2% of the population depends on shifting-cultivation agriculture for income. Additional livelihood options include livestock rearing, gathering wild foods, fishing, honey production, traditional gold mining, hunting, handicrafts, and charcoal-making.

ThRegionon has vast bamboo resources, which could provide the raw materials for income-generating businesses. Bamboo is an excellent source of farm income in many developing countries and could be equally effective here.

Benishangul-Gumuz has 440 000 hectares of Shimal bamboo (Oxytenanthera abyssinica), which at present is mainly used for subsistence uses such as housing, fencing, kitchen utensils, and agricultural implements and shoots for food. Some people earn a small income by selling bamboo poles to people in Awassa for use in traditional houses and by selling small pieces of poles as fuel wood.

Yet the rate of deforestation and forest degradation is alarmingly high due to overexploitation, overgrazing, expansion of cultivation and settlements that are accompanied by excessive deforestation, invasions of alien species, and pollution.

According to Benishangul-Gumuz Regional Food Security Strategy Report (BGRFSSR), the degradation of forest resources is increasing at an alarming rate due to various factors such as encroachment, forest fires, absence of secure land use policy, effects of agricultural expansion, and intensive resettlement programs (BGRFSSR, 2020). Lack of equitable access to natural resources and, hence, inequitable distribution of their benefits often leads to clandestine encroachment, resource use conflict, and misappropriation of these resources.

Fire Continent in the forest

Fire is a dominant ecological disturbance in almost all vegetation zones, second to human activities related to urban living and agriculture production. Fire in most ecosystems is considered an essential and ecologically significant phenomenon that organize both physical and biological attributes, shapes life forms and biodiversity and affect energy flow, including carbon cycle. Fire is one of the age-old tools used to manage land resources by different communities in the world.

Fire in the national park of Ethiopia

Elements of a Fire

Within every fire event, three elements (known as the fire triangle) interact to ignite flames.

  • The first of these is heat, which is required for fire ignition. Heat is essential to fires because it removes moisture from fuel and warms the air, allowing the fire to follow an unobstructed path. In wildland fires, the natural heat and ignition source is mainly lightning, but people can contribute via such things as campfires.

Fuel is the second fire element and is characterized as any combustible material. In wildland fires, the fuel consists of vegetation; different vegetation types have different fuel characteristics. Some plants, for example, contain resins or oils that cause them to burn more efficiently and more intensely than others. Dead plant biomass, like leaves is also an essential source of fuel for wildland fires. In addition, the drier and more closely spaced the fuel is, the easier it burns. Topography also plays a role in a fire’s fuel as it cannot spread if there are significant natural breaks in vegetation such as lakes, ridges, or rivers.

Oxygen is the third component of the fire triangle because it supports the chemical processes during a fire. As fuel like leaves burns for example, it reacts with the oxygen in the surrounding air and releases heat, allowing fires to grow and rapidly spread.

In addition to the elements found in the fire triangle, spread and intensity are two critical components of wildland fires. The rate of space is the distance a fire travels during a given time. Fires spread via the advance of the burning front (the front line of fire’s movement) and through the ignition of spot fires by flying embers.

Wildland fire intensity is based on the fire’s heat and impact on the area’s vegetation. Surface fires, for example are low-intensity and burn only ground vegetation while leaving trees intact. Crown or canopy fires are the hottest and most intense wildland fires and can destroy entire forests.

Wildland Fire Geography

Since topography and vegetation structure play a significant role in the development of wildland fires so too does geography and latitude. For example, areas in the subtropicaRegionon often feature grasslands that have low topographic relief, are dry, and have low humidity, high temperatures, high winds, and lightning. Due to these factors, portions of subtropical areas like Africa, Australia, and South America experience frequent, sizeable wildland fires.

By contrast, the arctic tundra features a topography with lakes and rivers and has small shrub vegetation. In addition, the area’s climate is cold, moist, and has few thunderstorms, so it experiences few sizeable wildland fires.

Natural Wildland Fires and Plant Adaptations

Natural wildland fires are mainly caused by lightning. Because specific geographic locations experience frequent lightning storms, over time, ecosystems in such areas developed to include fire as a natural component, and plants have different adaptations that allow them to survive or reproduce during wildland fires. Pines, for example have serotinous cones which remain closed and hold in their seeds. They open and release the seeds when heated by fire, allowing new trees to reproduce post-fire.

Trees such as sequoias and redwoods, have also developed thick fire retardant bark. Because such bark is a poor conductor of heat, these trees can withstand extreme temperatures and survive wildland fires. In addition, these types of trees also typically have high branches, so surface and ground fires cannot reach their tops.

Finally, areas prone to natural wildland fires can benefit from fire in that it destroys harmful bacteria and fungi on the ground that can harm seeds before germination and recycles nutrients in the humus layer upon burning.

Human Impacts on Wildland Fires

Today, about four out of five wildland fires are caused by people. More importantly, humans have impacted wildland fires through fire suppression. With fire suppression, ecosystems adapted to fire have suffered, because thLackck of natural fires reduces the clearance of dry brush, causing fires to become more severe when they do start.

This is because people are moving into undeveloped areas and causing fires but also because fire suppression has increased fuel consumption. With more fuel, fires become more intense, burn hotter, and turn into canopy fires as a high brush (called ladder fuel) allows the fire to climb high into trees. Because such fires are more intense, it is more challenging to put them out, and firefighters often have to wait until the burning front runs out of fuel, causing more acres to burn.

To prevent these intense fires, many agencies are now using controlled burns to clear out brush and re-establish small wildland fires as a natural part of forests and grasslands. Additionally, various governmental entities require property owners to clear a certain amount of brush or forest away from their homes as a defensible fire protection space.

Fighting Wildfire

Fighting uncontrolled wildland fire is highly complex and potentially very dangerous. Understanding how fires are fought, how fires are managed, and the usefulness of fire in the wild is critical to dealing with wildfire.

 Prescribed Fire in the Forest

Change by fire is biologically necessary to maintain many healthy forest ecosystems and fire-loving plant communities. Forest resource managers have learned to use fire to cause changes in plant Smokey Bear. Smokey Bear came to us by necessity. World War II started a wildfire fear from enemy sources. That enemy did not materialize, but the wildfire issue did. It took a decade to decide on just the right poster animal to use and the perfect wildfire campaign to present to the public and animal communities to recreate the way the fire was used before the European migration.

Unregulated forest fire

Undoubtedly, this has been a major degrading agents in the basin areas. According to  :

  • wild honey hunting;
  • site clearance for shifting cultivation and cropland preparation;
  • Road clearance for gum and incense tapping, defense against wild animals, and trophy hunting.

As there is no or weak systematic burning and fire control mechanism, fires consume vast areas of land, including unintended areas. Consequently, fire has been consuming vast areas of natural land every year. On average, 1 percent of all forests were reported to be significantly affected each year by forest fires (FAO, 2011). However, the area of forest affected by fires was severely underreported, with information missing from the data areas as it has been seen from photos peoples  and investors intentionally set fire to Danger district and Semine National Park was affecting the ecosystem and economically significant trees. Specifically, the lowland bamboo is one of the highly victimized economic trees in the basin.

Causes of wildfires

  • Careless and deliberate activities
  • To clear farmlands
  • To get rid of wild animals
  • To induce new re-growth of grasses for pasture and control disease vectors
  • fast fire is used as a tool to prevent heavy weed infestation and to get access and good sights
  • Due to the economic value of charcoal and the relative ease with which it can be produced, it is a beautiful source of income for poor community members in rural areas, with road networks ensuring marketing
  • Traditionally honey is collected from grooved trunks of trees or from local bee hives that are long. Cylindrical objects hung high on trees
  • Cigarette smokers
  •  cooking with traditional stone fires in open places
  • Politically affiliated activities

 Social and political factors are possible causes of wildfires. In nearly every discussion on wildfires and overall forest management, the intertwined and complex relationships between government, land, and people in Ethiopia were mentioned. The most critical social and political factors influencing forest management and fire prevention are the current land tenure system and land ownership, ethnic and politically based conflicts, illegal settlement, and legal and illicit commercial exploitations.

  • Ethnic and politically based conflicts and wildfires

 Wildfires can be started as a means to chase away armed opposition groups hiding in

Impenetrable forests. This tactic is commonly employed in several countries at war, but for Ethiopia also, evidence so far has been established to support this argument of negative forest management. The local communities do not disclose their name because of the politically sensitive nature of the information. For this reason, government officials and farmers alike were reluctant to provide any politically sensitive information concerning forest fires. But, in the informal interview, the community confirmed to me the it is the guerilla armed struggle in the forest is a very dangerous, one next to the investor’s demand the land.

  • Illegal settlements

People in rural areas – and illegal migrants in particular – consider forests to be free,

unoccupied areas and settle there to grow crops. It is likely that the number of criminal and unofficial settlements has been rapidly increasing, particularly since 1995. Government officials at all levels are aware of the illicit settlement problem but are unable to act and stop the process. Migrants usually negotiate with local government officials and then build small huts as a holding and to mark land utilization. Migrant and local populations usually disagree on land and tree management because the local population utilizes natural resources more sustainably than their migrant neighbors.

Fire appraisal and management

The assessment of fire management results indicates that there are no responsible institutions or forest fire fighting team established either at the peasant association (PA), district, or zonal level before and after the fire incidence at all places, implying the approach was more reactive than proactive. In this case, the first central problem mentioned Mr. Alemayehu who is chief of local communities, said that, “the late response of the local administration and local communities to the campaign. The rugged and dissected terrain which makes access difficult is mentioned as one of the major problems.”

Tesfaye has also witnessed that the participation of the local communities in fighting against the fire is very much limited in Benishangul Gumuz Regional State compared to people who came from other places. “Firefighters had to walk for several hours, from two to three hours on foot, to reach the fire fronts and were already exhausted by the time they arrived at the site. A critical shortage of fire fighting toolsLackck of know-how on how to fight fires, mainly that of crown fire, poorly organized resource mobilization, the late response of the local communities and administration were identified as the major problems encountered at fire fronts”.

Controlling Forest Fire

According to the people in Benishangul Gumuz Region, particularly the Gumuz societies chief local administrator, Mr Bekalu “cultural practice is shifting cultivation in which fire is an essential tool to clear forest. It is related to their day to day livelihood activities.” Therefore their word recommends that a fire control strategy or regulation is needed. However, The zonal agricultural and environmental protection expert Ms. Tsehay argue that “it is difficult to change the deep-rooted cultural practice of the Gumuz and other native ethnic peoples of thRegionon. Hence, continuous training with full participation and commitment of government bodies and stakeholders is needed on fire ecology and control mechanisms.”

The community practice was firing the natural vegetation twice a year, that prolongs from October to April/May, according to the information obtained from Zonal and Woreda government officials. The primary wild firing peak months are November, December, February, and March. The leading causes of uncontrolled firing are the following: Wild honey harvesting, Hunting, Incense harvesting, Cowboys controlling the cattle at a distance, Cooking wild potato ( aecho), Agricultural expansion, Gold mining, Wild fire from a neighboring country (Sudan), Rural road construction, To protect animals from reptiles attack, Cigarette, To reduce animal disease (tripanosomia) causing flies in lowland areas.  

During our field observation and discussion with experts and local communities, one or more of the above reasons the significant amount of resources have been destructed, for example, 1140ha bamboo forests and more than 9800 ha community-managed forest was burnt in December 2014-December 2020,  3259 goats were burnt, and more over 1210 settlement houses were burnt in Arenda and yjadeya kebele in November 2015- November 2020.        

  • Large scale investment

The government report revealed that in the Benishangul-Gumuz region about 691,984 hectares of agricultural land had been transferred to the Federal land bank to undertake large-scale agricultural investment. Mr. Dessalegn  researchers in Ethiopia associate the situation with the so-called “global land grabbing.” Land grabbing is the rush for commercial land in Africa and elsewhere by private and sovereign investors for the production and export of food crops as well as biofuels, in which the land deals involved stand to benefit the investors at the expense of host countries and their populations.

Mr Tsegaye in Beneishangule Gumuze Regional state investment expert confirmed that “a substantial amount of land has been transferred to domestic and foreign investors without the mapping of existing land uses. Moreover, he identifies that the land transferring process lacks genuine participation of local communities and authorities. Consequently, these the dispossession and displacement of communities from their villages and destruction of the natural environment threatened the livelihoods of the local people.”

Mr. Maru suggests that “there is weak linkage, monitoring, and support from federal, regional and district levels about large scale agricultural investment activities. Moreover, weak capacity of domestic investors has accelerated degradation of forest resources, and threatened livelihood security of the rural community.”

 During our preliminary field survey in thRegionon it has been realized that different large-scale development projects have been undertaken by private investors with the view of promoting regional development. In connection with rich version land and suitable land for private and public investment, Massive large-scale investment has been undertaking in thRegionon. During the discussion with the residents of Guba woreda, large scale investors are engaged in destructing economically important tree species. When the local people and kebele leaders request the project owners to pay attention to environmental issues, the investors often fail to do so. Secondary data revealed that a wide area of the Nile basin’s virgin land is allotted for investment purposes, however most investors are:-

  • iLackck of commitment to rehabilitation of degraded forest lands and tree plantation side by side with improving the management of natural forest, restoration of degraded lands through soil and water conservation, tree planting, area enclosure, and other relevant techniques is a crucial action to contribute to improving natural resources management in thRegionon. However, planting trees on degrading lands can significantly reduce further pressure on the natural vegetation. Therefore, tree planting needs to be considered seriously as a strategy to relieve pressure on natural resources base.

Wildfire is practiced commonly in all of the three administrative Zones of thRegionon. According to the information obtained from the community assessment, deliberate and uncontrolled wild firing occur in the Metekel zone followed by Assossa and Kemashi Zones order.

The Main Effects of wild firing are now visible “Loss of  bamboo forests and community-managed forest; Loss of animals in forest fire burns; Loss of  settlement houses in local villages; Loss of biodiversity; Exacerbation of soil erosion; Deforestation; Destruction of aesthetic values and recreational opportunities; Migration of wild animals; Drying of streams; Affect weather pattern and local area temperature rise; Ecosystem destruction and fragmentation Forest coverage trend in Metekel Zone.

The assessment attempts to show the trend of forest coverage in the Benishasngul Gumuz region. Metekel Zone forest coverage of four years data shows that the direction of the forest coverage of the Zone is dwindling from year to year as indicated in Figure.

But the forest coverage of Assosa and Kemashi zones is not well identified, and we could not get the desired data from recognized organizations. Even though the crude information shows that in Assosa and Kamashi zones, similar way of forest coverage trends may happen.

To reduce the practice of wild firing in thRegionon different options have been undertaken starting from two years ago. The efforts are made by the regional Government and NGOs in collaboration with the local farmers. The measures taken to reduce wild firing are;

 Preparation of wild firing controlling coalition document;

Establishments of uncontrolled firing controlling committee  at  the Regional up to local level

  • Awareness creation to the community representatives and provide training about the construction of fire breaks
  • Construction of fire breaks in severe areas

 A wildfire caused by cross-boundary fire.

Africa continue also affected by wildfire more than Amazon

As Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Nile Basin Authority team took the above picture during on-site observation of the Mankush mountain forest while it was coming under fire and sustained until the fire had completely invaded the forest causing more acres to burn and destroy biomass. The interview with the local community indicated that

“The wildfire was arose from the Almehal forest/Sudan border/ and reached near Guba woreda center/Mankush town/ after more than eight days of travel and along with more than 50km distance. No one was in place and interested in extinguishing and control the fire during the incident rather it was let destruct further even though the wildfire protection brigade is said to be organized at different administrative levels. It is not difficult to imagine how much biomass is destroyed when dense and vast areas of forest set fire in the absence of natural and artificial fire breaks.

  Impact of wildfire on the cattle feed and shelter in Guba woreda.

Due to the combination of underdevelopment and dependence on subsistence

Agriculture, and fire is an integral parts of daily life. Fire is one of the most essential tools used by people in rural communities to impact the land around them. Because Ethiopia’s forest fires are primarily human in origin, preventing future fires is a complex, daunting task. Fires will continue to burn the precious remaining forests unless there is a fundamental and dramatic change in the way people relate to the land, and in the way the government manages and protects it.

The communities widely practice wild firing in Benishangul Gumuz Region. This activity is highly deep-rooted in life of the rural community. The firing of the natural forest takes place in all parts of thRegionon but it is severe in lowland areas of thRegionon that bordered by Sudan. The community executes the practice more deliberately to protect themselves from reptile attack, hunting and agricultural land clearing. The phenomenon is causing significant loss of biodiversity and complete damage to shelters of the rural community.

Understanding the problems associated with fires – and the problems that arose as a result – requires the incorporation of sensitivity to the discrepancy between expert and grass-root perspectives. Sustainable solutions must focus on improving the quality of life for those who interact most with the land, which means giving attention to the interests of farmers and rural communities. In conclusion, the wildfire fighting will involve the allocation of adequate finance and skilled workforce to bring settlement and attitudinal change to the community.

  •  Construct firebreaks and roads to prevent the expansion of wildfire so as to save biodiversity loss and ensure the rural settlers  safety because they provide routes to transport firefighters or quick evacuation of life forms and goods if a fire blows up beyond the workers’ control.
  • Undertake resettlement of the sparsely scattered community residences and construct adequate fire breaks in villages
  • Provide significant administrative support to the woreda to prevent wild firing effectively
  • Build the capacity of the lower administrative organ of the government and equip them with the necessary fire prevention facilities and provide awareness creation programs to the lower levels of  the government administrative organs and the community.
  • Allocate an adequate budget for the operation of fire break construction and community awareness
  • Negotiate with neighboring Sudan to cooperate to prevent wildfires at the border.
  • Strengthen current land use and forest management system of thRegionon.
  • Strengthen traditional systems of natural resource governance.
  •  Introduce alternative energy technologies to slow down deforestation, because forest products such as charcoals are consumed as energy sources, especially in urban dwellers.
  • Create enabling environment to bring the laws and regulations applicable in replanting to replace the destroyed forest due to significant scale investment.