CANARY IN THE MINE II: Wildfires and Rural Communities in Guinea-Bissau

Indigenous burning practices in mitigating wildfires in Africa are still an overlooked topic in landscape stewardship, food security, and community wellbeing. This gap is particularly true for the rural communities of Guinea-Bissau— known to host large tracks of the African Forest Belt and to expand the West-Africa’s Agricultural Frontier with the evolving cashew nut agri-business. Guinea-Bissau’s dependence on agro-pastoral activities makes it one of the countries in West Africa with the highest vulnerability risk in the context of climatic uncertainty. While increasing the economic stability of many families, the expansion of cash crops and the regulatory frameworks imposed to protect the African Forest Belt outlaws the practice of cultural burning central to the shifting-cultivation traditional methods. These factors have debilitated local food security and have triggered fuel accumulation in the forests and savannahs—leading to the increase of wildfire occurrences in the last decades. The challenges posed by climatic degradation and international protocols on bio-diversity protection and greenhouse gas emission reduction have forced the national government to intensify the exclusion of queimadas (cultural burns) in traditional shifting cultivation and pastoral practices—perceived as environmentally damaging and non-compliant with fire-management policies. Thus, the opposing goals of the rural communities, the government, and conservation institutions result in conflicts with impacts on community stability, cultural sovereignty, and environmental health. Participatory fire co-management seems an emerging strategy adopted by some nations facing similar challenges, however it is still a far objective in Guinea-Bissau’s political ambitions. The CANARY IN THE MINE (II) investigates landscape choreographies and techniques in cooperation with local communities to build adaptive capacity scenarios aiming for sturdier landscape stewardship, food security, and community wellbeing.