Burning the Seasonal Mosaic: Preventative Burning Strategies in the Wooded Savanna of Southern Mali

Research paper by Paul Laris

Indexed on: 01 Jun '02Published on: 01 Jun '02Published in: Human Ecology


Data are presented indicating a seasonal mosaic pattern of burning in the savanna of southern Mali. A seasonal mosaic is a landscape that is annually re-created by people, and which contains patches of unburned, early burned, and recently burned vegetation. A survey of over 100 farmers and in-depth interviews demonstrates that rural inhabitants of southern Mali begin an annual burning regime early in the dry season in order to fragment the landscape, with the goal of preventing later fires that can damage natural resources. The process of gradually burning off the driest vegetation creates a seasonal mosaic of habitat patches that increases the potential of the landscape for a variety of dry season land uses, including hunting, gathering of savanna products, and grazing. An analysis of a series of Landsat images shows that the practice of mosaic burning is widespread in the wooded savanna, in which burning usually begins early and large fires are rare. On the basis of recent developments in ecological theory and empirical evidence from similar burning regimes in parts of Australia, it is suggested that seasonal mosaic burning in Mali not only prevents damaging late-season fires but increases biodiversity. It is concluded that discourse on African savanna burning overemphasizes the ecologically detrimental aspects of fire, while neglecting the beneficial ones resulting in misguided policies that pose a threat to human livelihoods and savanna ecosystems.