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Why do they burn the ‘bush’? Fire, rural livelihoods, and conservation in Zambia

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Abstract:

Despite the historical importance of fire as a savanna land management tool, much controversy still surrounds discussions on anthropogenic fire utilization and the sustainability of indigenous land management practices in African savannas. This controversy is arguably a result of a discord between official fire policies and actual indigenous fire practices – a discord based on a gap in existing knowledge of, and a lack of informed literature on, the importance of fire for socio-economic and environmental survival in savanna environments. Addressing a continuing lack of research on the political ecology of fire, this study investigates the historical and present day socio-economic, environmental and political frameworks that affect anthropogenic burning regimes and land management in the Kafinda Game Management Area and Kasanka National Park in Zambia. A series of participatory research activities revealed the continuing importance of fire to rural livelihoods, but that a mismatch in desired burning regimes exists between local stakeholders. The paper argues that local power relations are preventing the local communities from adopting burning regimes that would be more environmentally sustainable and more in line with present day farming systems.

Keywords: Zambia; fire management; indigenous resource management; participatory rural appraisal; political ecology; savanna

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-4959.2007.00239.x

Affiliations: GeoQuEST Research Centre, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia, Email: ce967@uow.edu.au

Publication date: September 1, 2007

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