Reducing wildfire risks and impacts in Bolivia

Reducing wildfire risks and impacts in Bolivia

Bolivia - 08 June, 2023
Koen KustersKoen Kusters

In Bolivia, IBIF has been working with stakeholders in the Guarayos landscape to develop fire management tools, early warning systems and fire brigades, as well as regulations that help prevent wildfires from occurring within and around the Guarayos Indigenous Territory. Their approach is starting to be recognized by other organizations and government agencies.

Bolivia’s forests play a crucial role in the country’s economy and provide a source of livelihoods for many communities. However, wildfires pose a significant threat to these forests and the people who depend on them, particularly in the Guarayos landscape in the Department of Santa Cruz. Small- and large-scale farmers use fire to clear lands for agriculture; the fires can spiral out of control and destroy vast areas of forests, often located within Indigenous territories.

Fires were particularly devastating in 2019. This served as a wake-up call to the government, which then decided that all departmental and municipal land-use and development plans should include strategies to reduce fire risk. The Instituto Boliviano de Investigación Forestal (IBIF) — TBI’s partner in the country — saw this as an opportunity to help local governments in the Guarayos landscape develop an integrated approach to wildfire prevention, with meaningful participation by all stakeholders. The effort focused on the municipalities of Ascensión de Guarayos and Urubichá, which overlap the Guarayos Indigenous Territory. The two municipalities cover around 1.9 million ha, and are home to approximately 44,000 people.

Within the framework of TBI’s fire-smart landscape governance programme, IBIF started working with multiple stakeholders in the two municipalities. Realizing that fire is an integral component of existing farming practices, the aim was not to prohibit the use of fire, but to reduce wildfire risk, and to support a timely response when wildfires occur. IBIF facilitated a multi-stakeholder dialogue, bringing together representatives of indigenous and peasant communities, farmer organizations, NGOs, municipal governments and government agencies such as the Autoridad de Fiscalización y Control Social de Bosques y Tierra (ABT). The participants developed a consensus agenda for managing wildfire risk.

At the municipal level, IBIF helped to develop and implement various tools for preventing and dealing with wildfires, such as fire contingency plans and emergency response plans, as well as municipal early warning systems, which provide timely information in case of fire emergencies and initiate first responses. IBIF also helped to establish and strengthen the capacities of fire brigades, which were trained in the use of equipment and techniques for fire control and management, and facilitated the appointment of people to monitor wildfire risks in communities that are particularly vulnerable and fire-prone. This greatly increased the capacity to effectively respond to forest fires within the municipalities of Ascensión de Guarayos and Urubichá. IBIF also helped municipal governments incorporate fire risk reduction strategies into comprehensive territorial development plans and new regulations, such as a municipal law for integrated fire management.

The fire-smart landscape governance programme only started in 2021, but the results are already significant. This has not gone unnoticed. In 2022, the programme formed alliances with several key organizations and agencies, including the Peasant Research and Promotion Center, the Departmental Autonomous Government of Santa Cruz, and the national Bolivian Forests and Lands Authority (Autoridad Nacional de Bosques y Tierras). This provides an excellent foundation for IBIF to scale up its approach to other municipalities within the Department of Santa Cruz.

This article is part of the TBI Annual review 2022.