Plenty in Times of Scarcity

May 31, 2016

by Tony Rinaudo, World Vision Australia

The discovery of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration in Niger Republic was an answer to prayer. Communities used this low cost, rapid, scalable reforestation method to restore denuded landscapes. Reduced wind speed, temperatures and evaporation rates followed. Soil fertility increased and crop yields doubled. Women had ready access to firewood and there was more fodder for livestock. Today, as a consequence of FMNR, 200,000,000 trees cover 5,000,000 hectares, earning Niger’s farmers an $900 million and helping them to grow an additional 500,000 tons of grain annually – and this in one of the world’s poorest countries.

In 2006, World Vision Ethiopia initiated the Humbo community based natural regeneration (HCBNR) project. Within one year, communities which had had to buy their fuel wood were meeting domestic needs and selling surplus wood and hay from the forest. Annual flooding which had caused crop and infrastructure loss was now a thing of the past. With reduced risk, farmers began investing in improved agriculture.

In the context of the worst drought in 30 years, one of the seven Humbo cooperatives we visited this month had 30 tons of grain in storage. We saw no signs of malnutrition – in fact children, the vast majority of whom attend school, were like marathon runners chasing our cars!

This is doubly significant in that prior to HCNBR, Humbo received food aid every year to one degree or other since 1984. In 2013, seven years after project commencement, the cooperatives sold 106.7 tons of grain to the World Food Program! Out of World Visions some 1,687 ADPs, I only know of one, Humbo, which has sold grain to the WFP. Promotion of FMNR in tandem with improved agricultural techniques and Economic Development has resulted in a food surplus and increased economic activity.

FMNR is a foundational intervention upon which everything that we are trying to achieve through ADPs becomes achievable in a sustainable way. FMNR does not compete with other ADP activities, it is supportive, complementary and very necessary – because – you need a healthy, functioning environment to support for food security, economic development (which depends on production and processing of raw materials), DRR, resilience, peace building, health and education.

Without a functioning environment and in the face of cyclical patterns of droughts and floods, rural communities will be perpetually in survival mode where the risks of farming are so great that there is no incentive to invest in the necessary improvements that drive productivity gains and economic development. As community capacity is built, land is restored, resilience and opportunities increase. In addition, the proper application of FMNR principles results in true empowerment of communities, participation and representation, gender equity and conflict reduction. This is because, in order to sustainably manage a shared natural resource, all stakeholders need to come together, discuss how it will be managed, by whom and when, what not to do, and what the consequences of non-compliance are.

In the words of one cooperative member, “Mr. Tony, we are too much happy.”