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University of Cape Town (2018)

The role of humans, climate and vegetation in the complex fire regimes of north-east Namibia

Humphrey, Glynis

Titre : The role of humans, climate and vegetation in the complex fire regimes of north-east Namibia

Auteur : Humphrey, Glynis

Université de soutenance : University of Cape Town.

Grade : Doctor of Philosophy 2018

Résumé partiel
This thesis explores how interactions and feedbacks between environmental and socio-historical factors influenced fire management dynamics in north-east Namibia. Fires are mostly human ignited, but precipitation patterns influence when and where fires can occur, and there are feedbacks between fire, climate and vegetation cover. Yet, knowledge of historical and contemporary use of fire by societies is fragmented in southern Africa, and is therefore disputed. As a result, the complex interaction between climate, vegetation and human factors that influence fire dynamics remains poorly understood. This thesis explores how the political history, livelihoods, land-use practices, policy changes, vegetation and climatic variation are relevant to present-day fire regimes and management. The study is located in Bwabwata National Park (BNP), north-eastern Namibia, which is managed for both conservation objectives and people’s livelihoods. The park is inhabited by the Khwe (San), former hunter-gatherers, who have been using fire for millennia, and the Bantu-speaking Mbukushu people, who are agriculturalists and pastoralists. The area has been subject to colonial regimes, war, inter-ethnic conflict, social-political resettlement, conservation and associated changing fire management approaches since the 19th century. The vegetation includes omiramba grasslands, savanna-woodlands, Burkea shrublands and riparian types. For this study, qualitative semi-structured interviews with Namibian stakeholders, in combination with multi-year (2000 – 2015) remote sensing products, were used to understand the past and present fire regime characteristics. Interviews with community stakeholders revealed that the Khwe and Mbukushu communities use fire for a diverse range of livelihood activities. Specifically, early season burning is used to assist in hunting, tracking and gathering of veld foods, and for improving forage for livestock. The traditional practice of early season burning is not only culturally and ecologically significant, but has positive consequences for Bwabwata National Park’s conservation objectives, and fire policies, in terms of suppressing late season fires. However, explicit marginalisation of the Khwe since the C19th due to colonial regimes and cross-border wars has disrupted traditional fire management. Interviews with government and conservation stakeholders revealed recognition of the benefits of early season burning for biodiversity.

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