South Africa – The seventh Southern Africa Fire Network (SAFNet) conference is underway in Katima Mulilo.
Experts from southern African countries are meeting to discuss operational strategies and the definition of management policies to monitor and control wild fires in SADC countries.
SAFNet is a regional network that fosters collaborative efforts in fire monitoring and management in southern Africa.
Each year, an estimated area of 168 million hectares or 17 percent of the area of Africa south of the Equator burns up, with the 2006/7 fire seasons among the worst in several countries in southern Africa. The fires resulted in widespread destruction.
A statement from the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, which is hosting the conference, said the fire experts would visit communities that are participating in the Community Forestry in Namibia (CFN) programme to discuss fire management techniques that have been introduced under this programme.
The statement said the Namibian community-based approach in management and fire prevention activities could be a best-practice example to be adopted in other countries.
Presentations about the work of other international organisations will be followed by a Geographic Information System (GIS) training provided for all participants with the aim to pave the way for a SADC wide fire monitoring and warning system.
Although forest fires threaten the conservation of forest resources, they are also natural events that clear areas for fresh biomass to grow, help to recycle nutrients and even stimulate the germination of some tree and shrub species.
However, trees need time to grow and when the fire frequency becomes too high, seedlings die before they grow to a more fire resistant age.
Jana Arnold, Public Relations Officer of the German Development Service, which supports the CFN programme said the younger the tree, the more vulnerable it is to heat and fire damage because not only is the bark not yet strong enough to protect the inner living tissue of the tree, but also that the branches are not yet high enough above the ground to be out of reach.
“Consequently, repeated fire damage either kills the tree directly or weakens it so that it becomes vulnerable to secondary attacks by fungi, parasites or insect attacks. The loss of young trees will slowly destroy the forest even if the bigger ones survive the fires,” she said.
The Directorate of Forestry, the Caprivi Regional Council, the Community Forestry in Namibia (CFN) project, ICEMA programme as well as the National Forest Programme have sponsored the confe-rence which ends on Friday, September 26.