Burning: Yes or No?
Updated: Oct 5, 2019
Earlier this year, a developed burned 300 acres of rainforest and local citizens were outraged. One brave person asked in our community group, "why is burning bad?" This was my response. It was shared many times and I hope it continues to prove useful.
"I will give a brief answer and for those that would like to discuss more we can open a separate group message and discuss.
Burning is a tradition that has been passed down largely through indigenous communities. There are very few benefits that are all outweighed as soon as your climate is outside of the definition of true rainforest. This means as soon as there is any seasonality (wet season/dry season). Ojochal would be classified as a moist forest, not rainforest because it doesn't have enough rainfall annually to counteract the evaporation from the heat it experiences, plus it has a dry season.
When I worked with the indigenous communities in Australia I had to explain to them the following. NO, burning does not help the soil. Charcoal, called "carbon" here is a high carbon substance that comes from burning in a low oxygen environment and allows the carbon to remain stable and is very beneficial to add to the soil. This I make in pits, as is common traditional practice. This is different than the ashes left over by burnt trees out in the open. When you burn, you release water, and release the carbon into the atmosphere contributing to global warming. For example, one hectare of grassland burned gives off more damaging pollutants than 6000 cars. When you create bare ground, it won't retain the moisture so it will become cracked and dry and the top soil will quickly wash away during the next rain or gust of wind.
You are starting to see now why burning is rapidly turning the worlds soils to desert. Further more, you destroy the seed bank in the soil that has come from years of plants and animals depositing seeds in order to create better soil and create an environment for more complex species to grow.
To really understand the the devastation that occurs you need to understand where soil comes from. There is more life BELOW the soil than ABOVE.
Soil is actually created by Bacteria, Fungi, and a full community of soil life such as termites and nematodes and worms digesting rock, and creating a more complex substance called humus. When you burn, you KILL this soil life, and prevent it from creating more soil. Not only do they create soil, but they have a relationship with plants whereby they give the plants nutrients when the plants give them sugars. If there are no plants, and no soil life, you have essentially just rock dust left over. "