Tony Rinaudo at the launch of the Uganda FMNR network

June 22, 2015

On 04 June 2015 the Uganda FMNR Network was officially launched. The network idea was floated last June during the FMNR National Conference hosted by World Vision Uganda. A wide range of NGOs, the World Agroforestry Centre and government departments were represented. Three things which stood out were: the passion that the participants have for their environment; their conviction that rolling out FMNR at scale could make a significant difference to environmental restoration and their commitment to forming a national FMNR network, demonstrated by working well beyond the time for the workshop closing time until they had formed a task force, produced a workable plan, set milestones and designated responsibilities. As there was no allocated budget to form the network they devised ways around this such as by rotating which organization hosted meetings, each organization covering individual task force members costs finding and appointing an intern to assist with liaison, etc. After 12 months of hard work organizations and government departments still interested in forming the network assembled to vote for the secretariat.

Tony Rinaudo, pioneer of FMNR, was present at the event and addressed the audience with these words.

It is an honour and privilege to speak at this launch, which I see as an historic occasion.

I only know of three other FMNR networks in the world and they struggle financially, motivationally and structurally. Even though the Uganda FMNR network is new, from the work the task force has done you have laid a firm foundation for a successful network.

Have you ever seen one of those movies where a bus is perched on a precipice. There is always a hero in the bus who stands on the pivot point. One wrong move will spell disaster for all on board. One right move will mean salvation.

In this analogy, Uganda is the bus. Uganda is on the cliff edge and it could go either way: total forest loss by 2050, or aggressive reforestation.

2050 is only 35 years away! At a stretch, I may still be alive then, but many of you certainly will be. What will we find in 2050? The time to act is NOW. There is so much at stake. In 1944, Richard St. Barbe Baker, of the Colonial forestry service wrote:

A man can live less than five weeks without food, and trees make the production of food possible;
We live less than five days without water, and trees preserve watersheds and regulate the rainfall;
We live less than five minutes without air; and trees purify the air;
In short, the quantity of our food, the purity of water and air depend upon trees.

Trees deserve our consideration, for our attitude towards them to-day may determine the feast or famine of tomorrow. Their presence or absence may decide for posterity health or disease, food or starvation, pure water, or rectified fluids, crops or failure, rain or floods, helpful birds or harmful insects prosperity or poverty, pure air or foul air, fertile or desert land – we may have our choice. When the forests go, the waters go, the fish and game go, crops go, herds and flocks go, fertility departs. Then the age-old phantoms appear stealthily, one after another – flood, drought, fire, famine, pestilence.

Richard St. Barbe Baker (I Planted Trees, 1944)

Baker was both a historian (since everything that he wrote can be gleaned from history) and a prophet (because since 1944, many nations which allowed their forests to be destroyed have experienced the disasters outline in Bakers words). Let’s ensure that Uganda is not one of the countries which fulfils Baker’s dark prophecy!

If Uganda is the bus, the hero is the FMNR network. This network has the power to tip the balance, one way or the other.

One year ago in the National FMNR conference, the idea of this network was floated. We had already sat for 2 days. It was getting close to finishing time, but you refused to leave until you produced a meaningful, executable work plan for the network.

You knew what was at stake and were passionate about Uganda’s environment. You were convinced of the power of FMNR to turn things around. One author wrote that FMNR is a “bafflingly simple concept”. So simple, so cheap, so scalable, yet such a powerful tool to transform. And in the conference you got it. So you insisted on staying until you made a plan and found a way where there was no way, because at that time there were no designated funds or staff and you came from different organizations, separated by distance, mandates and philosophies. I salute you for that and for persevering through to this point of officially launching the network.

An old man was interviewed about his  experience growing up in the American dust bowl experience of the 1930’s and 40’s in which millions of tons of fertile soil blew away, ruining the country side, causing hunger and poverty and destroying livelihoods. He said “each year you didn’t try something different, but you just tried the same thing that didn’t work last time, but you tried harder.

The time for just working harder at the same thing has past – tree planting; organizations working in their separate corners etc. we now have to work smarter. The FMNR network is an acknowledgement of that. The FMNR network gives us the opportunity to work smarter.

By forming the network you have pronounced that by working together we can achieve much, much more than by working alone or in competition with each other. You have acknowledged that there

  • Strength in numbers – more powerful in advocacy, and better able to reproach corruption
  • You can achieve scale
  • There will be mutual encouragement
  • There will be learning opportunities
  • And yes, healthy rivalry

Loyce asked me to give advice on networks – what lessons have been learnt? How can a network be more effective? My experience has not been good!

  • It’s hard for networks to maintain momentum and enthusiasm
  • It’s hard to keep member interest and participation
  • It’s hard to find funding
  • Organizations are busy and get distracted easily by other issues – they can lose their vision for a network

I think that a network can be likened to a marriage:

  • Marriages often start off strong with lots of love and promise, but time and distractions can weaken the relationship
  • Marriages go through different stages – young and free when everything is new and possible; when children come along it can get hectic; pressures of work and financial issues add new pressures
  • Strong marriages don’t stay the same, but self-adjust with the changes
  • Strong marriages are made up of two individuals who are different but who share a common purpose. They give space for each to bloom, to be themselves and they acknowledge differences while working together.

So, here are some recommendations that I have for the Uganda FMNR network

  • Keep your vision alive and to the forefront, remembering why you came together in the first place. Pressures will come and go; there will be financial constraints, but if your vision is clear you can weather the storms
  • Set measurable, achievable, meaningful goals that contribute to the vision and that are relevant to the mandates of the member organizations. Anybody can set pie in the sky goals – but if they are unachievable, members will become disillusioned. And if they are not relevant to the member organizations – the organizations will begin to distance themselves from the network.
  • Communicate regularly. Review progress, make adjustments. Stay relevant. Discuss issues and problems – especially if the network is struggling – be honest about it and put it on the table to find solutions together.
  • Keep it simple – don’t burden member organizations with heavy finance and time demands, or administrative loads. Be realistic with the demands made on members. Perhaps divide tasks according to the strengths and mandates of member organizations. E.g. one organization will be stronger in advocacy, another in awareness creation or training and another in research etc.
  • I commend the model that you have used to date of rotating who hosts the meetings. This shares costs and responsibilities and in the process, draws in managers of participating organizations who may not normally attend meetings or be involved with the network – it builds the sense of ownership and responsibility amongst member organizations in a way that individual participants may not be able to alone
  • Have a good time – enjoy the work that you do and do the work that you enjoy. Make it and keep it fun. FMNR is brining great joy to many people around the world. It would be sad if network members felt that this work was a burden, an extra imposition on their time. Through your work, you are brining joy to others – remember to enjoy yourself along the way and you build a better future for Uganda.
  • Take time to Celebrate successes as you complete each task set

To finish – thank you for persevering to this point. I wish you every success and my prayer is that in 5, 10, 15 years you will all look back and say that because you made the difficult decision to form the Uganda FMNR network and because you weathered the burdens and the storms that will come, Uganda has achieved net afforestation and the goals of the network have been achieved.

God bless.

Tony Rinaudo is Natural Resources Advisor in the Food Security and Climate Change Team at World Vision Australia. Tony pioneered FMNR in Niger during the 1980s and is currently travelling in East Africa to provide monitoring and technical support to  the FMNR for East Africa project