Effects of wildfire on farming system dynamics in the fire-prone forest belt of Ghana

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Wildfires have become very influential in the ecology and socio-economic dimensions of the rural landscape in the transition zone of Ghana. Eight farming communities around four forest reserves with short fire return intervals were studied to determine the role of fire in farming system dynamics in the fire-prone forest belt of Ghana. The study focused on the major changes in farming system attributable to wildfires, the evolved responses of farmers to wildfires and assessment of farmers’ perception of the influence of present farming practices on wildfire incidence. Results show that farmers use fire predominantly to reduce labour during land preparation. Other benefits of fire are control of pests and diseases, improved soil fertility and shade management. Fire is also considered as a requirement for the effective cultivation of certain crops. In spite of its usefulness the risk of fires getting out of the intended boundary during land clearance has increased in recent times due to changes in the physical environment and the vegetation, and this is of serious concern to farmers. Recurrent annual wildfires and other related factors have caused major changes in the farming system of the study area. A notable change is the replacement of secondary forest with grasses and Chromolaena odorata fallow, which is cleared for farming. Other important changes are a dramatic shift from the growth of perennials to annuals, high labour requirements for land clearance, low soil productivity, low yields, decreasing fallow length, and a declined interest in the cultivation of cocoa which, was the backbone of the rural economy in the fire-prone forest belt. Farmers have the perception that the cultivation of vegetables and annuals is closely linked with wildfires, since it does not encourage investment in fire prevention and suppression. Besides, vegetable farmers burn slash during the period when fire risk is highest. Farmers have evolved strategies for managing the wildfire menace over the years. These are fire prevention education, precautionary measures and farm management practices. Further studies are proposed on adopted measures for fire management by farmers.
A thesis submitted to the Department of Silviculture and Forest Management, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Master of Science, 2003