A team of four individuals, supported through the U.S. Forest Service International Programs, convened in October 2014 to conduct a fire regime assessment in Eastern Province of Zambia. The team, which included a multinational assemblage from the United States and Zambia, was tasked with the following objectives:
1) gain preliminary insights into the current status of fire management and fire use in the province,
2) assess the role of fire in the regeneration and maintenance of the dominant vegetation present in the terrestrial ecosystems of the province, and
3) provide recommendations for fire management training and equipment needs for the Zambia Forestry Department and partner agencies.
The Eastern Province of Zambia is dominated by vast areas of fire-prone vegetation including woodland savannas and grasslands. Anthropogenic bush fire is a frequent process on the landscape, estimated to annually burn approximately 25% of Zambia’s land base. Fire is a readily available and inexpensive tool that impoverished rural populations in Zambia use for a multitude of traditional activities such as clearing indigenous vegetation for agriculture, improving pastures for grazing, burning crop residues, hunting, and stimulating the growth of non timber forest products. The presence of fire-adapted plants and paleoecological studies indicate that fire has been used by humans in this landscape for millennia and has helped to shape much of the existing Zambian landscape. Fire is used as a tool by the Zambian people throughout the dry season, but the effects can be significant late in the dry season when herbaceous fuels are fully cured and fires can quickly spread into adjacent villages or protected areas.
The team travelled 1,550 miles (2,500 km) through Eastern and Lusaka Provinces to meet with officers from the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) and Zambia Forestry Department (FD) who manage protected areas including national parks, game management areas, national forests, and local forests. The team met with district chiefs, village leaders, and community members throughout Eastern Province to document the use of fire by villagers. The team also met with various ministry and government officials as well as other stakeholders in Lusaka, the capital.
It is essential that contemporary fire management strategies, if they are to be effective, consider not only the technical aspects of fire management but also the communities and the environment in which they live. The team provided a list of eight recommendations in the technical report released in January 2015, including suggestions for future formal fire management training for ZAWA and FD personnel, the development of community-based fire management plans, increased establishment of community tree nurseries, and improved outreach to communities in order to lessen social and ecological effects of fire.
Top photo: Chief Nyalugwe’s Palace, Paramount Chief for Nyimba District [includes team members Gift Sikaundi (2nd from left), Sylvester Siame (2nd from right), and LaWen Hollingsworth (right), in addition to Catherine Tembo from USAID (4th from right), village leaders, and Chief Nyalugwe (left center in traditional leopard garb)] Photo by Darren Johnson / U.S. Forest Service.
Middle Image: Seasonality and aerial extent of fires as detected by MODIS Active Fire Data.
Bottom Photo: Recently burned area near Msipazi, Chipata District. Photo by LaWen Hollingsworth / FFS.