Ricardo Vásquez Sánchez glances up at the dry thatched roof on the wood-framed platform that is his home in Peru’s sweltering Amazon lowlands.
“If a spark lands there, it’ll go up in flames,” he says.
It is a very real danger, especially in the driest months of the year — June through September, when his neighbors set fire to fields and pastures. A rogue gust of wind could whip the fire toward his home, burning through his cacao bushes and fruit trees, forcing him to flee with his wife and whatever possessions they can carry.
“Fire is one of the most important hazards limiting development, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and to sustain food and environmental security,” said Miguel Pinedo-Vásquez, a senior scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) who studies the causes and consequences of fires near Pucallpa, a Peruvian city of more than 200,000 people situated on the banks of the Ucayali River, a major tributary of the Amazon River.
As climate change increases the likelihood of drought, farmers can reduce risk by transforming the landscape into mosaics made up of both fields and forests, Pinedo-Vásquez said. “The risks will increase as we face climate change, demographic shifts and changes in land use,” he said. “The shift to more large-scale industrial palm plantations is reducing highly diverse farming systems that incorporate forests as well as agriculture.”
Pinedo-Vásquez’s parents migrated from the Andean highlands to a community outside Pucallpa decades ago, and he grew up amid the forests, cassava fields, fruit trees and rivers that provided food, building materials and cash crops for small-scale farm families such as his own.
So he knows why people set fires.
“We have to understand fire not just as a practice that damages the environment, but as the cheapest and practical tool for making agriculture fields, controlling pests and for managing pastureland,” he said.
For the complete article, please see CIFOR.