MCDI's second season of early burning under our REDD project

2014 is MCDI’s fifth year of piloting our REDD project as an additional means for rural Tanzanians to earn money from managing their local miombo woodlands. This year, we trialled early burning in five Village Land Forest Reserves (VLFRs): Nanjirinji A, Likawage, Kikole, Nainokwe and Kisangi, which collectively encompass 89,893 ha of forest. This is more than four times the area of forest that we protected from late season wild fires in 2013.

Although fire abatement through burning the grasses in miombo woodlands early in the dry season reduces deforestation and carbon emissions, it is an expensive and labour intensive task which would not be undertaken on a large scale without communities being adequately rewarded. Thus, to maximise the revenue that villages can generate through our REDD project, MCDI measure the resulting carbon stock changes according to the best known and toughest international carbon market requirements, as defined by the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS).

In order to bring about verified carbon offsets, early burning must performed within a set period: the 'early burning season'. This starts when the grasses begin to lose moisture at the end of the rainy season and concludes on a fixed ‘cut-off’ date (the 30th of June in the case of our project). In 2014, unusually prolonged rains leading up to the dry season resulted in the grasses in our project area drying out later than would be expected. This meant that, by the time the grasses had dried out sufficiently enough to ignite, we had just a small window of opportunity to perform early burning.

Despite the delay in getting started, MCDI’s experienced field team supported five communities to protect their VLFRs from late season fires. We adapted to the restricted time frame by burning locations in the forests which we know to be particularly at risk, such as areas along tracks where local people often burn away the tall grasses to improve visibility through the forest. We also burned a perimeter around each VLFR, focussing on areas near to farms and/or where prevailing winds are most likely to drive wildfires into the forest. These pre-burned areas act as fire breaks, thus protecting adjacent un-reached patches of forest from uncontrolled and unmanaged fires later in the dry season.

At the moment, MCDI’s field staff play an important role in strategically planning and supervising fire management at our REDD project sites. However, over time we hope to train community teams to manage the process themselves, thus controlling costs and allowing for early burning across a wider area.