Central Africa and slash-and-burn agriculture

Tags:  firefighting

This is a global 24-hour fire map from NASA as of today (5 July 2022), notice anything strange?

Most people will be tempted to say the enormous amount of fires concertrated in Central Africa is a result of climate change, but that’s far from the truth. This high concertration of fires in Central African countries, which include Angola, the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), Zambia and Malawi, is consistent every summer and can be verified by satellite footage from past dates.

The source of most of those fires is the farming method called “slash-and-burn”, which has been used by Central African populations for thousands of years as a way of returning nutrients to the soil and clearing the fields without sophisticated farming equipment. Even though this method is economical and sustainable for small populations, and has been — and still is being — used extensively throughout the world, it eventually destroys forest land after being practiced in the same area too often. Another important problem caused by slash-and-burn (and fire in general) is pollution and degradation of air quality due to chemicals produced by incomplete combustion, and contained in the smoke, such as as carbon monoxide and soot.

The shroud of smoke over DRC is so thick that in many areas it completely obscures the land from view.

While fire is a cheap and efficient way to manage land, especially in the African savanna lands where the ecosystem depends on periodic fires for health, fire also creates hazards, such as pollution from the smoke, release of greenhouse gasses, and degradation of ecosystems.

NASA: August 2, 2021 - Fires in Central Africa