Posted on December 30, 2011
Fires in Western Amazonia: The Effects of Climatic, Social, Demographic, and Land Use Changes on Fire Incidence and Fire Hazard
19-22 August 2011
- There was a common agreement among the participants of the Pucallpa conference that the main source of ignition of wildfires in Western Amazonian are fires that escaped from burning fields, pastures and plantations.
- Since there are no natural sources of ignition, climate variability leads to de facto increase in flammability of the green and dry biomass. Dry conditions produced by extreme events (i.e. 2005 and 2010 droughts) and dry spells increase the probability of agricultural fires to become the source of wildfires.
- Similarly, the process of deforestation, expansion of plantations and other large scale land use systems are leading to anomalies in the local hydro-climatic regimes (i.e. decline in relative humidity) and changes in vegetation (i.e. propagation of invasive species, particularly of African grasses), that are adapted to fire. This type of vegetation can form dense communities at the edge of fields, pastures, forests that tend to catch and propagate fire when people burn their fields, pastures and fallows.
- How people are adapting the uses of fires to an increased in flammability produced by climate variability, land use changes and other socio-environmental changes? What measurements are rural people taking to reduce the risk of wildfires? Research conducted in Acre (Brazil) have provide some information to answer the above two and related questions, but such information are needed to be recorded and documented in other regions of Western Amazonia.
- Lack of field or farmer based information on sources of ignition (particularly on the patterns of fire use in production systems) is considerable limiting the efficiency and efficacy of wildfire prevention and mitigation programs of local governments.
- Since fire is used by all sectors of the rural population, any measurement for controlling its uses to reduce source of ignition of wildfires is expected to have costs and consequences on land use practices and the livelihoods of rural people.
- In Western Amazonia there is not “free lunch” for farmers to reduce or not the use fires even under the risk that their burning fields and pastures become the source of wildfires.
- Cattle ranchers in the Pucallpa region (Peru) suggest that if they do not burn their pastures at the peak of the dry season, they wont be able to control ticks and other pests. The use of fire to manage pastures is aimed not only to control the population of pests but also their eggs that are on the ground. If the ground is not dry fire the eggs of ticks and other pests are not burn. The alternative is to use pesticides that are not free and in many cases tend to double production costs and the local prices of meat, milk and other products.
- Framers have reported that they use fire not only for land preparation but also for planting several local annual crops. Local varieties of beans, corns and other crops produce higher yields in burned than in not burn fields. Fire help to control weed and pests. The alternative to fire is to use herbicides and pesticides, but they are not free as fire.
- Since fires bring a number of ecological and socio-economic benefits to farmers, ranchers and investors in plantations, reducing or banning the use of fire as a measurement for controlling the main source of ignition of wildfires should include some economic and legal incentives. Otherwise the criminalization of fire use could lead to food insecurity and forced migration of farmers to cities.
- For the inhabitants of Western Amazonia, producing and managing resources without the uses of fire is an unimaginable or unthinkable way of making a living therefore they must be taking precautions and measurements to reduce the risk that their burning fields and pastures produce wildfires. For instance, field observation show that farmers and ranchers are increasingly protecting fallow vegetation to function as living fire breaks.
- In the city of Pucallpa, Peru, landowners commonly complain that every year they have to spend more money hiring more people to burn their pastures and fields. They have mentioned that in the past they need an average of two people per hectare to burn their pastures at the peak of the dry season, but currently they need an average of five people to burn a hectare.
- All the above points illustrate one of the conclusions of the Pucallpa conference, which was that the spread of wildfires in Western Amazonia is mainly due to that the existing land use systems that depend on the use of fire are failing to adapt to climatic variations, expansion of industrial agriculture systems and other socio-environmental changes.