A Law on Bush Fires

Environment and climate change

Notes to broadcasters

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According to the United Nations, 2006 is the International Year of Desertification. During this whole year, men, women, youth and elders will work to push back the desert. The United Nations, communicators, opinion leaders – everyone has a role to play!

Preventing people from setting forests and fields on fire is not a popular task. The main causes of bush fires are the hunting of rats and other rodents. In the process of hunting, fire is used to chase away rats and other rodents, a delicacy to most rural families. However, bush fires contribute to deforestation and desertification here in Africa. As you will see in the following script, forests are sometimes burned to make money, even though hunting parties may earn less than a dollar. Each year the desert advances as a result of these actions.

Charcoal and firewood are important for cooking meals. But producing charcoal and cutting firewood also contributes to deforestation. Reforestation is the obvious solution to deforestation. And it works! Decades after aggressive and extensive destruction of forests in southern Benin, oil palm plantations are becoming more and more numerous because land owners saw an opportunity to make money from planting and selling palm products. But people need to be encouraged to plant all kinds of trees, and not just for economic gain. Official tree-planting ceremonies organized in Benin for the 1st of June every year and supported by the government have not succeeded in mobilizing many people, and a lot of the trees that were planted have died because they were not watered or maintained.

Media therefore need to play a larger part to educate citizens on a healthier, sustainable environment. A sustainable environment is everyone’s business!



Sagbo and Hoovi, school boys
President of Law Commission

Noise of wind and rustling grass.

Sagbo (out of breath):
Hey! Kill it! It’s going to get away!

Hoovi (panting):
Oh! It ran into that undergrowth.

Oh no! That means we’ll have to light the field on fire. And I don’t have anything with me to light the fire!

But I do. I have the lighter that Aunt Nansi offered to grandfather for his pipe.

Sagbo (teasing him):
You do think quickly occasionally.

Hoovi (angrily):
Careful what you say! I won’t tolerate you treating me this way!

Hey! I was joking. I just wanted to tease you a bit.

Pause as Hoovi lights grass on fire, then sound of grass burning.

I saw another rat disappear over there!

Let’s build a fire there too.

Look! There it goes!

Noise of boys and rat crashing through the bush.

Did you kill it?

Yes, I finally got it. I’m good!

Let me see it. Wow! It’s big! We can make money with that. We can sell it for nearly a dollar. (Pause) Or would your prefer that we flavour our soup with it?

What? You think you’re going to taste it? I won’t be sharing this rat with you.

You surprise me, Sagbo. We hunted this rat together, and this isn’t the first time we’ve hunted together. What is happening to you?

What is happening to me is that I’m going to teach you how to become a better hunter! That will teach you to be more skilful next time and not let any of the rats escape!

(coming on to microphone) Is everything all right?

Sagbo and Hoovi:
Yes, teacher.

Teacher (on mic):
Is it you that burned this forest? (Silence for several moments) Hoovi?

(very slowly and reluctantly) Yes, teacher.

Just to kill a rat, you set this bush fire? Don’t you realize that by setting bush fires to hunt rats that are worth less than one dollar, you are destroying our forest and increasing desertification?

Sagbo and Hoovi:
Yes, teacher but…

Teacher (interrupting):
Silence! Apparently you are not paying attention to your civic lessons. Because of people like you, we need a law that punishes those who set fires and cause deforestation. Enemies of the forest! (Pause, then continuing more softly) But it’s not your fault. It is your parents that encourage you by not saying anything to stop you. I will speak to them.

Village ambience. Fade in sounds of children playing and adults laughing. Fade sounds under teacher and parents, then out.

Good evening, dear parents!

Parents: (collectively):
Good evening, teacher!

A parent:
Bring a chair for the teacher. (short pause as a chair is fetched)

I have come to talk with you about your children. (Pause) Instead of helping you in the fields or doing their school work, your children prefer to burn forests so they can chase rats. Yes, it’s true that these animals contain a lot of protein and nutritious calories. But the way that bush fires are growing, in a few years, our region will no longer be green. The climate will change and so will the amount of rain. This can lead to hunger and famine. Do you want to invite these problems?

Parents (collectively):

When we add one and one, it always gives us two. If you do not want famine, then prevent bush fires. This is part of being a good citizen!

Individual parent voices:
Yes, it is. Thank you, Mr. Teacher, for this insight! God bless you!

Tomorrow I will go and speak with the President of the Law Commission in the capital. I will ask the President to introduce a law to punish people for setting bush fires. (Pause) I have already spoken to the parents of Hoovi and Sagbo, who I found setting a fire to catch rats. But now I have an idea. Will you let me bring Hoovi and Sagbo to the National Assembly building?

Parents of Hoovi and Sagbo (collectively):

Fade in loud sounds of cars, trucks and people talking. The teacher and the boys are at a truck stop. Fade sounds under teacher and boys.

Good, we’ve arrived at the terminal. Let’s get down, boys. Driver, here is your money.

Hoovi (in a sleepy voice):
Already here? But that was so fast.

Sagbo (teasing)
: It always seems fast when you sleep on your way somewhere.

Hoovi (getting annoyed):
Stop making fun of me!

Let’s go, boys. Our destination isn’t far from here.

Fade out sound of truck stop and fade in city sounds – cars honking, etc.

Are we still in Benin? I have never seen such a building before.

Sagbo (teasing):
No. We are in the United States. Look at me, a farmer in Paris!!

This is Benin’s Parliament. Come on, let’s take those stairs. (sounds of footsteps going up stairs) Good morning, sir. We would like to see the President of the Law Commission.

Knock on the second door and wait.

Thank you, sir.

Sound of footsteps, stopping, and then sound of knocking on door. Pause, and then sound of door opening.

Come in, sir!

Good afternoon, Mr. President. I am a teacher from Abomey and I am here with two of my students.

Are you here for sightseeing while on vacation?

No, sir. I came to propose that you introduce a law. We need a law to stop people from setting the bush fires that are running rampant in our country and causing deforestation.

What a great idea! This is something that I have been thinking about myself, and I think the time is right for such a law. Thank you for taking this initiative!

Thank you.

Tomorrow I will inform the first parliamentary secretary that such a law should be introduced.

Meeting someone like you was lucky for us.

Before you go home, I hope you will give an interview to a radio journalist. It is important that people know about such initiatives and that they feel inspired! Wait here for a moment and I will fetch the journalist.

He goes to get the journalist. Footsteps going away from mic. Short pause, and then footsteps coming back toward the mic.

Journalist (coming on mic):
Good morning, sir. (On mic) I was told that you have ideas to share with my listeners and with all of Benin’s citizens.

We have come to propose a new law to punish those who start the bush fires which destroy our forests and biodiversity. Desertification affects us all, and everyone has a role to play in stopping it. It is true that lighting fires in forests and fields helps us to hunt rats and other rodents, but each time we do this it contributes to deforestation. For a hunting party that will earn less than a dollar, forests are destroyed. This is not a behaviour a caring citizen should engage in!

Are you saying that bush fires are responsible for desertification?

It’s not only bush fires. Making charcoal and cutting wood for fuel are also responsible for deforestation and desertification. Planting trees is the obvious solution. But people need encouragement to plant trees. They also need to know that there have been successes. Places in the Sahel like Ouagadougou have a reputation for being very green – this is a result of citizen engagement.

Media need to play a larger part in educating the public on the need for a healthier, sustainable environment. Radio can reach masses of people very quickly. Essential messages can be broadcast without people having to wait a long time to receive information. Many organizations provide journalists and citizen groups with information to address these problems. The Developing Countries Farm Radio Network based in Ottawa, Canada is one such organization. It is a network of several hundred radio stations in Africa.

But you know that the rats are tasty.

There is nothing tastier than a grilled rat! But we can catch them without burning fields. It is easier to raise a cane rat or a ground squirrel or even guinea fowl than to capture them in fields. The solution is to raise them. For those that insist, traps are an alternative, but be careful, you do not want a species to become extinct from overhunting.

Do you propose that we raise our own wood for fuel as well?

Not exactly. But, if we destroy a tree, we need to plant another. This must become a habit. And there is also what we call renewable energies. For example, there are inventions that use human or animal waste to produce energy to run machines or produce electricity for houses. In Benin, the Songhai project is a model farm project. At Songhai, they use manure to make biogas. It’s incredible but true. With innovations like these, we can help to stop desertification. It’s everyone’s responsibility.

Can you let us know where you are located in case anyone wants to meet with you?

I am a community teacher in Abomey. All those who want to meet me can find me there. Thank you.

And I thank you.

You’ve been wonderful! Have a safe journey back home.

Thank you and until we meet again.

Light music. The teacher, Hoovi and Sagbo leave Parliament.


Contributed by: Pacôme Tomètissi, Réseau de Réalisateurs et Journalistes pour Population et Développement (ReJPoD), BP:1756 Abomey Calavi, Bénin.
Reviewed by Gillian Kabwe, Training Officer, World Agroforestry Centre, Chipata, Zambia.

Information sources

  • Agronomic Research Institute of Cameroon. CRSP Technical Bulletin 3: Airtight Storage of Cowpea in Triple Plastic Bags (Triple-Bagging).
  • L.L. Murdock, Shade R.E., Kitch L.W., Ntoukam, G. Lowenberg-Deboer, J. Huesing, J.E., Moar, W., Chambliss, O.L., Endondo, C., and Wolfson, J.L. (1997). Postharvest storage of cowpea in sub-Saharan Africa. In B. B. Singh et al., editors, Advances in Cowpea Research. Copublication of IITA and JIRCAS. IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria, pp. 302-312.