Image source: The Independent
By Andrej Sagaidak and Mazhar Chaudhry
There are three great tropical forests: the Amazon in Central America, the Milesian botanical subkingdom between Myanmar to Fuji, and across West and Central Africa. Tropical rainforests today represent a treasure trove of biological heritage, and they also serve as filters for more than 50 percent of all atmospheric carbon dioxide absorbed by plants annually. The recent fires in the Amazon have prompted a global outcry. Indeed, wildfires are destroying the Amazon across South America, as these fires have been raging for the past few months and are some of the largest fires seen since 2009 in this area.
Forest fires are common during the dry season in the Amazon which runs from July to October. These can occur due to lightning strikes and spread through areas of the forest as a result of the dry conditions. This year there have been more than 87,000 fires recorded so far in the Brazilian Amazon this compares with 49,000 fires for the whole of 2018. However, besides the tragedy occurring in the “Earth’s lungs,” the question is how this compares to the rest of the world.
According to NASA’s maps of fires around the world, fires are clearly more severe in central Africa. Over the past couple of weeks, Angola had roughly three times more fires than Brazil. The data suggested that there were 6,902 fires in Angola and 3,395 fires in the neighbouring DR Congo compared to 2,127 fires in Brazil. While French President Macron urged the leaders of G7 to release $22 million (£18 million) to fight wildfires in the Amazon forest, he only added that he was “considering the possibility of launching a similar initiative” in sub-Saharan African to that announced for the Amazon.
The main reason for wildfires
One answer would be that the fires in the Amazon and African countries are not natural disasters but are deliberate actions. Not until the past century, the widespread destruction of tropical forests occurred to satisfy the food industry. Regrettably, tropical rainforests and tropical deciduous forests are now being destroyed at a rapid rate in order to provide resources such a tinder and to create land that can be used for other purposes, like grazing. Therefore, one suggestion is that farmers cut down some of the vegetation and set fire to the rest in order to clear the land to plant crops. This is a farming technique known as “slash and burn” criticised by environmentalists who warn it can lead to deforestation, soil erosion and a loss of biodiversity. Yet, this technique is preferred by the farmers as it is cheaper, has the advantage of killing disease and the ash provides the necessary nutrients for future crops. This occurrence is prevalent in Central Africa every year before the rainy seasons, which are expected to start in Angola and DR Congo sometime in September.
In Brazil, the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president in 2018 has encouraged those who wish to claim the forest and use it for commercial purposes such as deforestation, farming, and mining. Mr. Bolsonaro was elected with strong backing from agribusiness and farming entities. The president and his ministers have criticised the forest monitoring agency, Ibama, for handing out fines for illegal logging and farming practices in the Amazon.
These practices of increasing deforestation through loosening restrictions and emboldening land grabbers will only conclude in the destruction of the Amazon and the irreparable damage to the Amazon ecosystem. This will also result in increasing global warming and climate change.
The figures below show that Brazil has the biggest deforestation rate in the world, while Madagascar has had the biggest loss of its forest in 2018.
Irene Wabiwa Betoko, a forest manager with Greenpeace who is based in Kinshasa, said that regional governments in Central Africa countries are even less equipped to fight these burns that their South American counterparts, both technically and financially. Mrs. Betoko added that “if it catches the rainforest in the Congo Basin, it will be worst that in South America.”
For generations, fires set by farmers were not a major concern. Yet, rising temperatures, decreased rains and industrial practices like logging have made forests increasingly vulnerable to wildfires. In addition, rain leaves the land dry and more vulnerable to sparks, while logging thins the forest, making it less dense and less humid, hence more vulnerable to soil erosion and fire.
Ghana has passed a new regulation that aims to stop illegal deforestation and reduce the sale of illegal timber. The 2017 law was a part of Ghana’s reforms to promote better management of the country’s forests. Similarly, in 2005 ten Central African countries signed the Treaty on the Conservation and Sustainable Management of Forests Ecosystems in Central Africa and to establish Central African Forests Commission (COMIFAC). The accord’s objective is to sustainably manage the forests of Central Africa and to protect the rights of people that rely on those forests’ resources.
Beyond legislative power, there is a way to prevent wildfires. The world’s population can consume food ethically. For example, eating less beef would have a positive outcome as the product requires huge amounts of grazing, like cattle ranching which accounts for more than 80 percent of the forests cleared in the Amazon. Surely, many of us find it hard to go fully vegan, but even reducing cheese, beef and pork consumption can help reduce the intense pressures food habits place on forests and other ecosystems.
Contact the authors:
Andrej Sagaidak – firstname.lastname@example.org
Mazhar Chaudhry – email@example.com