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Feature Article of Monday, 26 November 2012

Columnist: Anzagira, Robert

Annual Bush Fire In The Savanna Region

, A Potential Threat To The Afforestation Programme Of The Savanna Accelerated Development Authority (SADA)

Among the numerous constrains faced by the people within the fragile savanna ecology is the issue of bushfire. Bushfire has been identified to be one of the major socio-economic problems besetting the economic progress of northern Ghana. The vegetation cover is consumed every year by wild fire. It is not common to find even an acre of land with vegetation cover all year round. This menace has not only affected the density and diversity of the vegetation in the savanna ecosystem but has also lowered the productivity of the land and the general agricultural output. Protecting the integrity of the sensitive savanna environment will be of immense importance since most of the people obtain their livelihoods from the environment.

Identifying that the environment and its resources form the basis for economic progress is alone enough to attract the attention of any individual or group of persons who are championing the development agenda of the savanna zone. SADA’s recognition of the inextricable relationship between the environment and socio-economic development is of essential importance to sustain any impact that would be made as it strives to solve the development problems of the savanna dwellers. The success of any livelihood approach will depend heavily on how the phenomenon of bushfire has been tackled in the savanna region. The success of SADA’s afforestation programme will therefore be contingent upon how successfully wildfire has been dealt with.

Eradicating bushfire will only be successful if the root causes are identified and broad based strategies designed to fight it. Several factors account for the persistent and pervasive nature of wild fires in northern Ghana.

The vegetation cover is dominated by grass with few scattered trees. The susceptibility of grass to wild fire makes it difficult to control when it starts. Erratic rainfall pattern causes frequent draughts which aggravate the situation. Some parts of the savanna zone become extremely dry to the point that wild fires start naturally when lightening occurs.

Bad farming practices is one major factor accounting for the wide spread bush fires in the north. Most farmers have the tendency of burning the vegetation as a way of clearing the land for tilling. This unhealthy farming method is common among northern farmers and will not end any time soon if conscious conservation measures are not put in place. Hunting which is common among the savanna dwellers account for a greater percentage of bush fires in the sensitive savanna environment. Hunters increase their catch of the game by destroying the habitat of the wildlife with flames to expose them. Animals that are not even killed by the hunters are mostly consumed by the wild fire. This unhealthy practice persists even with concerted campaign by the Environmental Protection Agency and Non-Governmental Organisations against it. The poverty levels and food security concerns among the people of the savanna zone over the years explain how the attainment of the Millennium Development Goal 7 is important to the attainment of the MDG 1. Increasing the capacity of the environment to produce is critical to food security and the eradication of extreme hunger.

It is evident that bush fires have had serious devastating effects on the fragile savanna ecology. Food security continuous to be an issue of concern in the savanna areas due to the persistence of bush fires. Biodiversity is not able to endure the annual bush fires leading to desertification and some wild species getting extinct. Annual agricultural output continuous to diminish because of the impoverished nature of the soil and crops that are not harvested early are destroyed. Bushfire results in atmospheric pollution due to the large quantities of carbondioxide and smoke emitted into the atmosphere. The polluted air aggravates the hostile hamattan conditions during the lean season.

Identifying that bush fires have both natural and anthropogenic causes will help policy makers including SADA to develop appropriate strategies to combat it for the smooth implementation of other developmental strategies. It is important to have a broad based comprehensive plan of action to deal with the phenomenon of bush fire before any livelihood approach including the afforestation programme can yield the targeted benefits. Any action plan designed to combat wild fire should not be alien to the people since they deal closely with the land. It should be known to them and seeks their involvement. The National Youth Policy recognizes that youth constitute the true wealth of Ghana and it is only when the youth are involved in issues of environmental conservation that the fight against bush fire can be sustained. Making the youth active participants in the protection, preservation, and improvement of the environment is indeed important for a sustainable and healthy environment.

One way that could help the fight against wild fire is by SADA to consider establishing an environmental magazine that will constantly advertise the virtues of a bush fire free savanna ecology. Pictorial presentation of the effects of bushfire in the sensitive savanna zone in this magazine will help tune the minds of the savanna dwellers towards environmentalism. People will then see and appreciate the need to stop bush burning and join the fight against bush fire.

Community volunteer groups could also be formed in all major communities to champion the fight against bush fire. It is clear that during the lean season the idle youth find work for themselves by burning the bush to enable them hunt. Charging them with the task of protecting their own environment against wild fire will keep them busy throughout the lean season which is usually a challenging period up north. Encouraging environmental clubs in schools to organize debates and quizzes among themselves could help heighten their interest in environmental conservation and promote the spirit of planting and catering for plants both at home and in school. This will help provide the young people with the knowledge and information on environmental issues that the Ghana National Youth Policy talks about.

Designing a very comprehensive educational programme that will be taken up by the various FM stations in the whole of the savanna zone could help sensitize the people on the need to allow our vegetation cover to flourish. Pupils could be hosted at the various FM stations to discuss good environmental practices and the deleterious effects of wild fires. Programmes carried on the air waves have proven to be the most effective way of involving the people at the grassroots level.

At this point, shirking the herculean task of conserving the sensitive savanna environment on the Environmental Protection Agency and NGOs alone is disastrous. It is necessary that every savanna dweller joins the fight against bush fire. Creating equity between generations of resource users should be a collective responsibility in our current era of sustainable development. The issues of environmental sustainability in the savanna areas of Ghana will continue to be of resounding discourse in any development strategies geared towards enhancing livelihoods.

SADA’s afforestation programme as an intervention in environmental management is therefore on legitimate grounds. Programmes designed by Savanna Accelerated Development Authority to promote the integrity of the savanna environment should be able to reconcile environmental consideration and lifestyle choice of the people. It should not be difficult for the savanna dwellers to appreciate the linkages between proposed environmental practices and their livelihood choices. It is when these linkages are clearly seen that the interest of the people in conserving the environment would be heightened.

By Anzagira Robert P.O.BOX 611, WA- U/WR Email: anzagira.robert@yahoo.com Tel: 0200556420

CO-WRITER: ANZAGRA SOLOMON

PLANNING DEPARTMENT KNUST, KUMASI-GHANA

Email: sanzagra@yahoo.com

Tel: 0204105955

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