A Conversation with Tony Rinaudo

August 8, 2023

By Tony Rinaudo, World Vision Australia’s Principal Action Advisor, but is better known as the Forest Maker for his pioneering work on Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration.

What keeps you awake at night Tony?

World Vision Australia has launched its climate action initiative with a target of restoring one billion hectares of degraded land globally in the next decade. What keeps me awake at night is firstly, the excitement of having the world’s largest NGO supporting FMNR with such an ambitious target and secondly, thinking about the most strategic use of my time to help achieve this goal.

When you started work with World Vision in 1999, you were a program officer with the Africa team. How has your role changed over time?

Before joining World Vision my family and I spent 17 years living in Niger. I managed a rural development project and had at least weekly interaction in the villages, doing hands on work – and I loved it! In my early years with World Vision, I managed projects and worked with my field counterparts, initially in Kenya and Ethiopia and later in Senegal and Chad. In 2010 my role changed again to technical advisor – assisting with project design and providing technical input. Today, I have taken on more of an ambassadorial role – meeting with potential donors, policymakers, World Vision field and support offices and other Non-Government organisations and I speak in many different fora. I see my chief role today as one of giving hope through sharing positive FMNR stories of transformation, and of inspiring the next generation to take up the mantle.

While reducing the air pressure, for the first time Tony realized that a whole underground potential forest already existed across this seemingly barren landscape. From this discovery, FMNR continues to spread globally. Circa 1983.

In 2019, Oscar Award-winning film Director, Volker Schlöndorff made a documentary film called The Forest Maker about your work. What has been the impact of this film?

This is a good news story of triumph under the most difficult circumstances and in the least expected place. So, the biggest impact I see is that it is giving many people hope. The Forest Maker has been viewed already by tens of thousands of people in the developed world and there are moves at foot to screen it in rural areas in the developing world. Interestingly, many government officials and senior persons in the European Union, donors and members of other implementing organizations have seen the film and this has opened doors for me to speak and hopefully, influence decision makers.

Filming with Oscar Award-winning film director, Volker Schlöndorff, Niger, 2019.

During the 2021-22 lockdowns in Australia, you wrote and published your autobiography ‘The Forest Underground’. What stands out from that experience?

Writing the book was a powerful experience for me as I relived and recounted significant events in my life. What stands out were the individuals and key events that precipitated turning points in my life and in the FMNR movement. I feel very blessed to have lived these experiences and to have been able to play a small role in what is now spreading worldwide. My hope is that my story will inspire others to not be satisfied with the status quo – climate change, deforestation, land degradation, human suffering…, and to use their talents to make a difference in the world.

The Forest Underground, by Tony Rinaudo now available on Audible

Can you share some exciting new developments in the FMNR story?

Definitely. Primarily, I see individuals and other organizations taking FMNR higher, further, and faster than I ever could alone.

  • World Vision has launched a new program model with FMNR at its core called ‘Regreening Communitiesich takes a landscape approach to restoration and development. This model is very accessible to World Vision programs globally and can be adapted by other organizations.
  • Other organizations have adopted FMNR either as their core, or one of their core motivating drivers. For example, The Global Evergreening Alliance, , Awaken trees, LEAD Foundation, Just Diggit. I am extremely happy with these developments – this is how transformation of degraded landscapes and freeing families from poverty and hunger can be achieved quickly and at scale.
  • During recent talks with faith-based organisations, including the World Council of Churches, A Rocha and Tear Fund I have been greatly encouraged by their interest in and potential adoption of FMNR. Faith based organizations have the potential to influence millions of followers.
  • The German education department is renewing their school curriculum and are incorporating lessons from the FMNR story on sustainability, the importance of caring for and repairing the environment and more.

Is there a last word you would like to leave us with?

Yes. Recently I came across this quote from Augustine of Hippo, which is every bit as relevant to us today as it was in the 4th and 5th century.

“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

While we have every reason to be angry at the way things are, we need the courage to change them. But hope doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t just fall out of the sky onto a favoured few. No. We make hope happen by our actions! By our actions – let’s change the world!