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Forest and agroecosystem fire management in Ghana

Appiah, Mark, Damnyag, Lawrence, Blay, Dominic, Pappinen, Ari
Mitigation and adaptation strategies for global change 2010 v.15 no.6 pp. 551-570
adaptation, climate, coping strategies, crops, farmers, farming systems, forest communities, forest fire management, forestry, forests, fuel loading, households, income, interviews, issues and policy, planning, risk factors, risk reduction, rural communities, seedlings, site preparation, trees, wildfires, wildland fire management, Ghana
The threat of wildfires to the economic potential of forestry and agriculture is one of the persistent national and international concerns. Improving and applying indigenous wildfire management (IWM) approaches is seen as one of the main hopes for mitigating and adapting to this threat to rural forest communities. Identifying the contextual causes and adaptation measures practiced by local people is essential for planning an appropriate mechanism for IWM. Yet only limited studies are available on IWM practices and most of those studies were conducted outside of this study region. To fill this gap, this study examined the wildfire mitigation and adaptation methods of forest communities in Ghana using interviews with 266 farming households. Their perceptions of the causes, cost and risk factors were also examined. The result suggests that wildfires are annual events. More than half of the wildfires reported were caused by slash-and-burn land preparation, with hunting-related fires in second place. Forest households loose about 208 Ghana cedi (US$ 231 in 2006) in value due to damaged crops and tree seedlings annually (i.e. about 50% of annual income of a Ghanaian farmer). The respondents had the operational skill and coping abilities to deal with small-scale wildfires and were supported by well-established local arrangements, community rules and silvicutural techniques. In addition, they were well informed about the basic risk factors (e.g. fuel load, climate, and presence of ignition triggers) and how these can interact to cause devastating wildfire. Therefore it is critical that policies and institutions that promote IWM initiatives build on the strong underlying community knowledge and local networks to enhance their effectiveness.