How changing fire management policies affect fire seasonality and livelihoods

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There is a long history of fire management in African savannas, but knowledge of historical and current use of fire is scarce in savanna-woodland biomes. This study explores past and present fire management practices and perceptions of the Khwe (former hunter-gatherers) and Mbukushu (agropastoralists) communities as well as government and non-government stakeholders in Bwabwata National Park in north-east Namibia. Semi-structured interviews and focus groups were used in combination with satellite data (from 2000 to 2015), to investigate historical and current fire management dynamics. Results show that political dynamics in the region disrupted traditional fire practices, specifically a policy of fire suppression was initiated by colonial governments in 1888 and maintained during independence until 2005. Both the Khwe and Mbukushu communities use early season (i.e. between April and July) fires for diverse interrelated historical and current livelihood activities, and park management for managing late season fires. The Mbukushu community also use late season burns to prepare land for crops. In this study, we use a pyrogeographic framework to understand the human dimension of fires. This study reveals how today’s fire management practices and policies, specifically the resurgence of early season burning are entrenched in the past. Understanding and acknowledging the social and cultural dynamics of fire, alongside participatory stakeholder engagement is critical for managing fires in the future. Keywords: Early burning, Fire management, Political history, Pyrogeography, Stakeholder engagement, Traditional fire knowledge.

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Journal Article

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