Resource 3: Bush burning
Teacher resource for planning or adapting to use with pupils
Reasons for bush burning
A typical example of bush burning is when farmers burn their harvested fields to prepare their farms for the next planting season, or during dry seasons when farmers organise hunting parties for popular game often called ‘bush meat’. The bush is deliberately set alight to trap small animals during hunting. Other fires are caused by accidents during the dry season when most bushes and forests have dried up and are very combustible; cigarettes, matches, campfires etc. can spark up small fires that later grow bigger.
Bush burning management strategies
Bushfires can be managed by professional staff, such as rangers and park workers, with help from volunteers from rural areas. However, large fires are often of such a size that no conceivable firefighting service could attempt to stop the whole fire directly, and so other techniques are needed.
This might involve controlling the area that the fire can spread to by clearing control lines. Here the land is cleared of any vegetation either by controlled burning or digging a ditch. This takes time and does not happen often. This can interfere with the forest ecosystem.
Who is affected by bush burning?
Rural farming communities are rarely threatened directly by bush burning as the fires are usually located in the middle of large areas of cleared, usually grazed, land, where often there is very little grass left. People who live in urban areas that spread into forested areas are more open to threats of fire.
Adapted from:(Accessed 2008)
Bush burning in Uganda
During every dry season, cattle keepers in Nakasongola district indiscriminately set fires on the vegetation so that it sprouts.
The fires destroy habitats for the animals that live underneath the inselbergs. Those that escape hide in burrows, but birds’ nests do not survive the fires.
‘Bush burning is the major environmental abuse in the district,’ says Joseph Kimeze, a 28-year-old herdsman from Wajjala, Nakasongola. He adds that the prolonged dry periods are always accompanied by indiscriminate bush burning.
‘We do not all burn the bushes for fun, but we want fresh grass for our animals,’ Kimeze says. ‘Once we burn the old vegetation, the pastures regenerate … [and] are good for grazing.’
Kimeze and others do not realise that by burning bush, they are exposing the already harsh terrain to more destruction.
Nakasongola has about 20 inselbergs scattered in Wajjala, Sasira and Kasozi parishes. They stand out at around 1,097 metres above sea level.
An inselberg is a German word meaning a rocky mountain. It is a unique rocky outcrop formed as a result of wind erosion. In Uganda, inselbergs are also found in Karamoja. They are usually endowed with peculiar ecological diversity.
The topography of Nakasongola district is generally flat and is characterised by minimal altitudinal differences, with poor drainage in the wide flat valleys and shores of Lake Kyoga. For the last two years, Nakasongola has been fighting fires, which have led to changes in species diversity.
Heat from the fire kills seeds scattered on the surface. There is a decrease in size of some perennial grasses. Fire changes the species of plants and animals that live in that ecosystem. There is soil compaction, soil erosion and reduced soil fertility, which are all signs of land degradation attributed to bush fires. The annual rainfall is less than 1,000 mm. The district experiences a high evaporation rate.
Jamesbond Kunobere, the Nakasongola district environment officer, says the cyclic nature of fires in the district is an evidence of increasing climatic instability and change in vegetation.
‘Because of the frequent fires, tall vegetation has given way to shrubs like Lantana camara and Acacia Senegalese. These species suppress the production of accessible and palatable forage.’ Kunobere says two of the most affected inselbergs were reafforested with pine in 2003. A lot of sensitisation has been carried out to discourage bush burning. ‘The district has plans to reafforest the remaining Wakibombo and Isungira inselbergs. The district needs more funding to afforest the remaining inselbergs to improve the catchment area.’
Kunobera says during the 2003 World Environment Day, the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) gave Nakasongola enough pine seedlings for two acres.
Other semi-arid areas of Uganda found in the cattle corridor of Kumi, Soroti, Katakwi, Moroto and Nakapiripirit districts also experience extensive bush burning and wind erosion during the dry season.
In response to the effects of drought, the district and development partners are promoting sustainable agricultural practices.
Water is being made available in the form of valley dams, in addition to promoting rainwater harvesting.
Different community and non-governmental based organisations are working hand-in-hand with the local government to promote tree-planting programmes.
Adapted from: The New Vision http://www.dip.go.ug/ english/ news (Accessed 2008)