Larwanou Mahamane’s presentaion at UNCCD conference

September 24, 2013

Wherever I make presentations on land restoration methods, there is generally an expectation from the audience that I am going to speak about something that is very complex, very expensive and takes a long time to have an impact. The surprise to most is that, often the very opposite is the case and we now have documented cases of re-greening movements that have transformed vast landscapes using local labour and tools relatively quickly.

Today I was a member of a panel discussing the partnership to create an evergreen agriculture. The meeting was chaired by Dennis Garrity, the UNCCD drylands ambassador, and Larwanou Mahamane was the guest speaker. It was a pleasure to make my presentation after Larwanou ‘s talk: not only because he outlined in a very professional manner the positive impact of simple methods of land restoration such as FMNR, water harvesting and micro dosing with fertilizers, but also because I remember Larwanou as a little boy in one of the first villages I worked with when I developed FMNR. He went onto study forestry and became a lecturer at the Kollo training centre and today he is a senior staff member in the Africa Forest Forum influencing policy and practice across the continent.

Dennis Garrity (left) and Larwanou Mahamane (right)

Larwanou shared the experience of districts which were considered to have very low agricultural productivity and have been transformed through FMNR and water harvesting techniques. In fact, even landscapes which were considered to be ‘wasteland’ have become highly productive, producing over 1 ton of grain per hectare plus fodder and wood, as well as non-timber forest products such as honey, medicines, fruit in areas receiving only 300-400mm of rainfall.

Larwanou also stressed the importance of people having a sense of ownership of the trees on their land: in communal areas this is critical to success. Before the mid-1980s in Niger this was generally the case. Officially the trees belonged to the government and farmers had to buy a permit to cut them down. Despite the threat of fines, the net result of this well-meaning policy was that most of the trees were cut down across the agricultural landscape. Without a sense of ownership, there was no incentive for people to manage trees sustainably, or to protect them from others who might chop them down. A turning point came when the forestry department agreed to allow farmers who protected naturally regenerated trees to benefit from them. This one action released an imaginary spring and the practice of FMNR spread very rapidly from that point in time. Today, over 20 years later, the government of Niger has an ever-green agriculture (agro-forestry) strategy which was drafted by Larwanou.

Building on this experience, wherever I introduce FMNR today, one of the first actions taken is to work with authorities to ensure either tree ownership, or at the very least, user rights.

Adamou Bouhari (Task Manager in the field of Land Degradation and Biodiversity at UNEP) reported the UN Security Council statement that “to overcome security you have to fight poverty and empower communities to be involved in their own socio-economic development”. He found Lawarnou’s presentation, showing large scale land restoration happening as a grass roots movement, to be a source of hope and stated that there is a clear need to link development, environmental restoration and security in our approaches.

Marcela Ortiz Aranda from CCMSS (winner of Land for Life Award along with World Vision Australia’s FMNR) commented on how excited she was hearing this presentation: “this is all new to me”.

There is still an enormous need to get the news out about the breakthroughs that have occurred in the Sahel – the story is still relatively unknown and yet, it has application in large parts of the world.

Tony Rinaudo is Natural Resources Advisor for the Food Security and Climate Change Team at World Vision Australia. Tony’s FMNR techniques have already been adopted by farmers in different parts of the world. He is currently attending the UNCCD 11th Conference of the Parties in Namibia