Could this dream come true?

April 12, 2012

You have heard a lot from me (Liz Rinaudo) so I thought I would share some a description of events written by Sylvia Holten of World Vision Germany (loosely paraphrased from German with a little help from Google translate).

A dream will come true!

After the first day of the conference, I am almost euphoric and not only me. Many  participants fluctuate between excitement and the question “Can this dream become a reality?” The dream of re-greening Africa.

The presentation by Tony Rinaudo (World Vision revegetation expert) on the revegetation method FMNR (Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration) managed by small scale farmers has impressed me deeply. Tony began by describing how it all began.

When he first went to Niger Republic in the 1980s, he was deeply shocked at the appearance of the landscape. Constant drought and creeping desertification with soil temperatures up to 60⁰ C and multiple plant diseases and pests conspired to diminish harvests sometimes completely. He had gone to Niger to help improve agricultural productivity and was perplexed and discouraged. Nothing he did worked. He encouraged and worked with farmers to plant thousands of trees but it was hopeless, the scale of the problem was enormous and at least 80% of the trees died.

One day he was driving a trailer load of seedlings to the bush and stopped to release some air from the tyres (for better traction in the sand). As he surveyed the barren country, he noticed little bushes. He had seen them before and assumed they were small shrubs. This day, he took a closer look and realised that they were actually trees which had been cut down. Each year, shoots came up and each year, people or animals cut them back to ground level. It was a moment of inspiration – he realised that there was a full root system under each stump, just waiting to push food and nutrients up into the shoots. The concept of FMNR was born. FMNR is the systematic regeneration of trees from stumps, roots and seeds. It involves selecting the stumps you want to allow to regenerate, selecting one to five healthy stems and pruning the rest. The stump can then pour its energy into a few stems and they quickly grow into trees.

It all starts with ownership!

Tony realised the incredible opportunities that opened up before him, but nothing was possible without the support of the farmers in Niger. Working with the government to secure user rights to the trees for farmers, the long journey began. Many found it difficult to believe that this simple and inexpensive method of restoration of barren land would be possible. He managed to convince some farmers to try it. Over time, more took up the practice and soon realised that their crop yields increased, sometimes doubling, they had more (sustainably harvested) firewood, more shade, lower windspeeds, increased insect predators and other tree products. Birds returned and spread seeds from other plants and trees. The microclimate changed, increasing humidity and reducing temperatures. Today, about half the arable land in Niger Republic has been restored by this method.

Tony Rinaudo, World Vision Australia, presenting FMNR at the Beating Famine Conference

Scientists like Chris Reij of the University of Amsterdam carried out research and found that farmers who implemented FMNR did not require food aid in recent famines as their crop yields were higher, they had more fodder for their animals and they could sell tree products, providing money with which they could buy grain.

After joining World Vision in 1999, Tony continued to spread this method and it is now practiced in 8 African countries and some Asian countries. By restoring agricultural land, barren hills and wasteland, many communities have realised the importance of trees for successful and sustainable farming and improved food security. Africa has a wide variety of trees and many of these fix nitrogen and can therefore ‘fertilise’ the ground underneath them.

FMNR project teams have had to work with governments where farmers have limited rights to land and/or trees. If farmers have user rights to trees then there is incentive to care for them.

The conference has shown that the dream of re-greening Africa can become a reality but all stakeholders need to collaborate: politicians in developed countries and African countries, people in small farmer communities, non-government organisations, academics and the media. Every individual can help. Be a supporter of a great idea.

Greetings from Nairobi!

Liz is travelling in Africa with her husband Tony Rinaudo, a natural resource management advisor with World Vision Australia, encouraging communities, non-government organisations, governments, research organisations and others to scale up reforestation over large areas.