According to a recent study, between 2003 and 2012, approximately 67 million hectares (1.7%) of forest land is burned annually, mostly in tropical South America and Africa. The immediate and long-term impacts of wildfires can be devastating to communities, economies and forest ecosystems. The increase in forest wildfires around the world also threatens the long-term permanence of carbon stocks in all types of forests, as well as forest regeneration and reforestation projects. Many countries in Africa are particularly vulnerable to this threat, with Sudan being one of them. How the country is rethinking its fire management and monitoring in the framework of its REDD+ activities, and how can innovations in national forest monitoring facilitate the process?

Envisat image of smoke plumes in Sudan

The impact of forest fires

In the context of REDD+, forest fires can play a crucial role at the country level, as in one way or another they can affect (mostly negatively) all five of REDD+ activities - reducing emissions from deforestation, reducing emissions from forested degradation, sustainable management of forests, conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. Forest wildfires not only compromise carbon permanence in the countries, but can also negatively impact human health, livelihoods and biodiversity with all three being REDD+ co-benefits. In Sudan, UN-REDD Programme Partner Country since 2010, initiatives to reduce forest fires are an important part of REDD+ activities, as they become a valid forest conservation activity as well as a central environmental safeguard that has a potential to cut across all three phases of REDD+ activities (readiness, implementation and results assessment). However, incorporating effective fire management into REDD+ activities often presents a challenge for some countries, as is the case in Sudan.

 

Wildfires burn natural vegetation in Sudan 1

Wildfires in Sudan

Although more than one million hectares of forest are burned annually in Sudan (mostly caused by anthropogenic factors), until recently the country had no comprehensive fire management activities plan and only a limited budget to build low-quality firebreaks with limited effect. Other components of integrated fire management were often neglected, including analysis of fires, wildfire risk reduction activities such as awareness raising, early fire detection systems, a strong communication system, transportation, firefighting activities and participation of local communities. How can the situation be improved? Given the scarce financial and technical resources of the Sudan, a combination of Remote Sensing and groundtruthing was the most promising and sustainable approach.

 

Remote Sensing for improved fire management and prevention

Remote Sensing (RS) technologies have been already extensively used by Sudan in various sectors including Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use (AFOLU). Today RS is a vital tool for burned area mapping as it is able to generate historical background and production of fire frequency maps. These critical steps allow the country to review and analyse fire sources, agencies and motivations - all crucial for identifying risk reduction activities. In addition, RS supports the assessment of the available fuel load for fire as well as the production of the vulnerability map. The collected information provides an important part of the basis for integrated fire management activities involving various government agencies and different administrative levels including local communities. 

 

Wildfires burn exotic trees in Sudan at Jebel Marra

Capacity development activities of 2019 

In February 2019, in the framework of its REDD+ activities in Sudan, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in collaboration with the Forests National Corporation (FNC) and the Remote Sensing & Seismology Authority (RSSA) initiated a series of workshops targeting the states that are affected by wildfires the most - Darfur, Kordofan, and Blue Nile. The intention of the workshops was to initiate discussions with natural resources specialists and local leaders about the current situation of fire management in Sudan, as well as to better understand the drivers of wildfires and potential threats they cause to rural livelihoods. Group discussions with village/community leaders were organised to exchange views on traditional wildfire management practices, which in many regions of the country have disappeared. The activities aimed at raising awareness of harmful practices such as burning the residues of agricultural lands and burning of grasslands to eliminate insects.

The workshops received an overwhelmingly positive response. The participating government agencies and local communities noted that the initiative successfully addressed the problem that was neglected for decades.

 

Upscaling the support further

Workshops, trainings and awareness-raising measures on state and community level will continue, as the organizers received numerous requests to hold similar workshops and community consultations in other regions of Sudan. In the meantime, the Government counterparts in collaboration with FAO started working on a historic wildfire map (2000-2018), which will also be based on Remote Sensing techniques in order to identify and visualize wildfire hotspots. Additionally, the baseline data that is currently being selected will provide more accurate data for the country’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory, the National Communications, and possibly for the construction of the Forest Reference (Emission) Level that Sudan intends to submit in January 2020. This will help Sudan get closer to its REDD+ goals while at the same time contributing to improving people’s livelihoods and reducing local conflicts. 

 

For more information, please contact:

 

Matthias Lichtenberger

Chief Technical Advisor/Forestry Officer

REDD+/NFM Cluster, Forestry Department

FAO Sudan

 

Mohamed Elgamri A. Ibrahim

Fire Monitoring Expert

FAO Sudan