The importance of fire in southern Africa

Fire is prevalent throughout southern Africa, with local to regional impacts on land use, productivity, carrying capacity and biodiversity. Fire also causes regional to global impacts on hydrologic, biogeochemical, and atmospheric processes. These impacts are not well understood and are complicated by rapid social, environmental and economic changes.

Fire occurs due to lightning and because of people. Humans have exercised significant control over fire regimes in southern Africa for at least 10,000 years. Fire has been used as a management tool - in hunting, pasture management and crop production. Uncontrolled fire can threaten lives and property, and damage natural resources, something which can be devastating when followed by periods of low rainfall. Wild fires contribute significant amounts of greenhouse gases and particulates to the atmosphere, potentially influencing climate change.

To promote positive, and mitigate negative impacts, fire needs to be managed wisely. This in turn requires access to reliable information on fire. Much of this information can be provided by remote sensing and field observations. To maximize the use of this information requires strong links between the data providers and data users. SAFNet aims to strengthen these links to promote proactive fire management in southern Africa.

SAFNet members

Current membership of SAFNet is drawn from managers of national parks, government forest fire sectors, regional NGOs, community based organizations, independent consultants, university and research bodies in southern Africa. A strong international link, for instance through GOFC-GOLD provides exposure to existing international data archives, new technologies and external expertise in fire issues.

Click here for SAFNet contact information.

SAFNet's impact

SAFNet generates data that is useful for:

  • The early detection of fires in situations that could endanger livelihoods or destroy precious natural resources

  • Mapping and quantifying areas affected by fires as inputs to fire management policy

  • Integrating research on community land use practices with fire information to reduce the negative impact of anthropogenic fires

  • Providing data for validation of satellite sensors

  • Contributing to National Environmental Action Plans

  • Facilitating proactive fire management in community organizations, forested areas and wildlife reserves

  • Improving the quality of estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from vegetation fires.

What does SAFNet do?

  • Promotes the use of validated remote sensing and geospatial information in southern Africa

  • Facilitates fire-related natural resource management at national, regional and community levels

  • Provides a forum for informed communication on fire-related issues within the region

  • Communicates regional fire needs at the international level

  • Collates and disseminates regional fire information, data and best practices for field observations

  • Links with existing fire and other appropriate networks