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Fire Ecology, 2011
Volume 7, Issue 1

Personal Perspectives on Commercial Versus Communal African Fire Paradigms when Using Fire to Manage Rangelands for Domestic Livestock and Wildlife in Southern and East African Ecosystems
Author: Winston S.W. Trollope
Pages: 57-73
DOI: 10.4996/fireecology.0701057

Africa is often referred to as the Fire Continent, and fire is recognised as a natural factor of the environment due to the prevalence of lightning storms and an ideal fire climate in the less arid regions with seasonal drought. On a global scale, the most extensive areas of tropical savanna, characterized by a grassy under stories that become extremely flammable during the dry season, occur in Africa. The use of fire in Africa to manage vegetation for domestic livestock and indigenous wildlife is widely recognized by both commercial and communal land users. Research on the effects of fire has been conducted throughout the grassland and savanna areas since the early twentieth century, resulting in the development of effective and practical guidelines for prescribed burning for domestic livestock and wildlife management systems. Generally, the reasons for prescribed burning in Africa are similar for both commercial and communal land users, namely, to remove moribund and or unacceptable plant material and to control the encroachment of undesirable plants negatively affecting domestic livestock and wildlife. In addition, commercial operators use fire to manage wildlife conservation areas. Prescribed burning to control ticks is also widely used in communal communities but is generally not recognised in commercial livestock enterprises. However, research has shown that tick populations can be reduced using fire to alter the micro-habitat for these organisms. Until recently, commercial and communal land users held differing views on the appropriate season for prescribed burning, with the former igniting fires shortly after the first spring rains and the latter burning throughout the dry winter period. Subsequent research has shown that both seasons of burn have similar effects; the key requirement being that the grass sward is dormant at the time of burning to minimise the negative effects on the vegetation. A valuable tentative comparison has been made between fire management practices applied by commercial land users and communal land users, and provides an exciting opportunity for further and essential research to be conducted to gain greater insight into how communal African communities use fire. Based on extensive experience, my aim is to provide a personal perspective on the use of fire by commercial and communal land users for managing rangelands in southern and east African regions of the continent.

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