Tony Rinaudo

Principal Advisor Natural Resources at World Vision Australia

Amazing facts, Natural regeneration

Tony Rinaudo is Principal Advisor for Natural Resources Management at World Vision Australia, He has decades of experience in the development and promotion of agricultural-forestry-pastoral systems across a range of environments, including 18 years spent in the Niger managing a long-term agricultural development program. He is one of the key figures in the development of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (or FMNR), a low-cost land restoration technique that was introduced in 1983 in the Niger area. Championed by Tony, it has spread over 18 countries in the Sahel and beyond. The impact of FMNR cannot be understated, being linked to the regrowth of 200 million trees on five million hectares of degraded farmland in Niger alone. Part of these results come from the work of NGOs like World Vision Australia and others, but also from the farmers themselves, who have adopted and spread the technique between themselves once the conditions were in place.

What is FMNR ?

Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) is a low-cost, sustainable landscape restoration technique used amongst poor subsistence farmers to combat poverty and hunger.

This approach relies on nurturing the regrowth of local trees and shrubs from existing tree stumps, roots and seeds.

FMNR can be seen as a natural agroforestry system; rather than planting trees, it uses what is already in the ground.

Through systematic regeneration and management work, the farmers bolster the growth of trees and connect them with their agricultural systems, with mutual benefits.

By restoring trees to the landscape, erosion is decreased, soil moisture and fertility are increased, paving the way for increased food and timber production, a return to biodiversity and resilience to climate extremes.

But FMNR is more than a technical approach. Its success lies in working with communities to build an enabling environment that allows them to develop their capabilities in organisation, networking, dealing with authorities, and create governance systems.

1) Which main lessons can be taken from your long experience with these topics, including challenges, setbacks and mistakes that should be considered in similar efforts?

Two big lessons:

  1. It is very important to listen to people and not treat them as ‘blank slates’ that will benefit from our expertise. They have much practical experience and knowledge to offer. If deforestation is largely driven by people, then successful reforestation will only be possible through people – by taking into account their knowledge and skills, their needs, beliefs and aspirations and by convincing them that it is in their best interest to reverse deforestation and by enlisting them as the authors and owners of the change.
  2. As essential as this is, it can also be challenging. Not always, but often, old beliefs and practices die hard and are difficult to change – certainly by an outsider. People may feel scared about suggested changes – they may fear that their livelihoods and privileges will be threatened. Past rivalries and injustices may be stirred up just by broaching the subject of land and tree use. False rumours about the intent of an intervention may prevent people from being open and collaborative. So, it is important to “hurry slowly”, to listen well and to listen to all – even to those who might not have a public voice or position. Sometimes there is just no way around it – change can simply take time and patience. Are we prepared to invest time in a people who appear to resist change? Will our donor/ project cycle allow us to work with few results beyond 3 years?

Fortunately, in my experience, success breeds success, and changes in attitude and practice that took the best part of a decade in Niger are now being seen within one to two years in some new contexts. By showcasing what other communities have learnt and how they’ve benefited from FMNR (through story, photos and film) and through exchange visits, much skepticism and resistance can be melted away relatively quickly. In fact, people have become outright inspired to act.

Part of the challenge is in convincing people that it is in their best interests to turn from destructive land management practices and to restore tree cover.

To do this, we appeal to people’s sense of the future they want to build for their children, and demonstrate the tangible benefits that trees will provide.

It has been prudent to start slowly and small on pilot areas and, once people are convinced themselves of the benefits, then facilitate scaling up.

– In your opinion, what is necessary to make these results sustainable?

For an activity to be sustainable without ongoing project intervention, it need to be locally ‘owned and driven’. People will need to be convinced that by taking this action (implementing FMNR) they will benefit. When this happens, just as farmers do not need to be told to sow their crops when it rains, FMNR will become a routine activity that is a cultural norm.

Factors contributing to people owning FMNR include:

  • Government policies which give clear tree ownership, or at the very least, user rights to communities. Such policies give people the confidence that if they invest their time and effort into tree care, they will benefit from their work and they give motivation for people to protect this valuable asset.
  • Creation of locally agreed on by laws with provision for enforcement so that non-compliance can be punished in a culturally acceptable way.
  • Presence of or creation of legal, transparent and fair markets for timber and non- timber forest products.
– How much is the continued involvement from non-local people a critical factor?

From the outset, external actors should be working to make their role redundant. If after say 5 years, local communities are still dependent on external actors and resources, there is likely something wrong with the approach used. Otherwise, factors beyond their control have prevented addressing issues such as tree ownership, creation and execution of by-laws, threats such as fire, livestock damage and theft, and the legal, fair and transparent marketing of timber and non-timber forest products.

2) From your experience, which conditions are necessary when trying to promote or support solutions where the local populations can help themselves and simultaneously contribute for the restoration and sustainable use of local ecosystems?

It is important to understand people and the drivers of deforestation as they vary from region to region. For example, in West Africa land clearing was propelled by population growth and increased demand for agricultural land and poverty in combination with high demand for fuel wood in growing cities. Similarly, demand for Charcoal in E. and Southern Africa are big drivers of deforestation. This knowledge, enables us to address the drivers of deforestation and should influence the approach taken.

It is very important for communities and individuals to have legal ownership or user rights to trees, otherwise there is no incentive to sustainably manage them, let alone protect them.

Locally agreed on by-laws with local enforcement are very important as they provide boundaries on what activities are acceptable and which ones are not. This is doubly important where there are no fences and multiple stakeholders using are shared resource base.

– Which role should external parties have and which obstacles should be considered?

External parties should play an enabling and facilitating role. For example, they can work to build capacity and strengthen existing groups (development groups such as farmers groups, savings groups, cooperatives etc.), or in some cases, help form new groups. They can play a critical role in enabling communities to advocate for policy change in a constructive way. Part of this process will involve helping to identify and support locals who will champion the cause. They should also be prepared to stay long enough in a community to see them standing on their own feet.

In every society there are marginalized groups, often including women and children, people with disabilities and minorities. External parties can play a critical role in opening the eyes of all to the benefits of inclusion, and in facilitating positive change sensitively.

Wise external parties realize that they are only temporary players, and so from the outset, they need to focus on not only building capacity, but linking communities to government institutions and commercial enterprises which are there for the long haul.

3) Which topics and regions/countries do you consider to be currently under-served and waiting for similar efforts, or simply present good opportunities for intervention?

Around the world there are large areas of land which contain living tree stumps and roots or, often, tree seeds with the potential for rapid reforestation – even where vegetation is not visible for part of the year. Such areas are not restricted to the 400-1000 mm rainfall zone.

Even where there may be no living stumps, roots or seeds, by simply managing the land differently – changing the way fire, livestock and human resource extraction are conducted – nature can often heal itself as seeds may be introduced by wind, water and animals and birds.

Areas with potential for reforestation include:

1) Hyper arid areas: Even in some hyper arid areas, ‘underground forests’ exist and there is potential for reforestation.

2) Bush encroachment: Vast areas of land in Africa have been cleared and/or burnt at some point and abandoned. Many of these areas are now dominated by thick, impenetrable multi-stemmed and multi-branched, ‘scrub’ encroachment. These lands can also be rapidly recovered for forestry and agroforestry purposes. In Nakuru and Baringo counties, Kenya, stocking rates have gone up and milk production from the same area and with the same number of cows has increased by 200-500% once this scrub encroachment had been thinned and pruned. Consequently, land values have increased and areas considered to be useless have become sought after. Scrub encroachment can be found from arid to tropical zones.

3) So called waste land (better termed ‘potential land’): Field experience has demonstrated that even areas considered unsuitable for forestry can be reforested. In the Tahoua district of Niger Republic, water harvesting structures (zai pits and half-moons) were dug. Over time, trees began to appear on this once moon-like landscape. It is thought that tree seeds were introduced when manure was applied to the water harvesting structures. It is also possible that seeds were introduced through bird droppings and from the droppings of passing livestock and wildlife.

4) Grazing land / plains: Areas of grazing land considered as grass plains also contain an ‘underground’ forest. Regrowth is suppressed by continuous grazing pressure. Not all, but much of Africa’s grazing land occurs in the <400 mm rainfall zone. Once communities begin to manage their livestock differently, and restrict the use of fire, germinating tree seeds have the opportunity to grow into trees.

5) Changed land management practice – fire: Large areas of land across Africa and the world are burnt annually, effectively preventing natural regeneration. Use of fire is not restricted to the 400-1000mm rainfall zone. Simply by convincing communities to not burn their entire grasslands each year, spontaneous reforestation is possible in many areas. Once trees have grown, applying FMNR principles will enhance growth rates and tree form.

Additional references:

a) Scientific American, January 2011: The Great Green Wall: African Farmers Beat Back Drought and Climate Change with Trees.

b) The Farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR) Hub, maintained by World Vision Australia, provides several useful resources on the technique, results and partners. At: http://fmnrhub.com.au/resources/

c) An additional overview is provided at the Wikipedia page for FMNR: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farmer-managed_natural_regeneration