The Forest Maker
The Forest Maker who turned barren lands into fields of green.
World Vision’s Tony Rinaudo is the man who championed a reforestation technique over 35 years ago that led to the largest possible environmental transformation across Africa. Known as Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration or FMNR, the simple farming practise has morphed desert plains into reforested and productive farmland.
The Fruits of his Work
The satellite is showing the tree cover that increased greatly in Southern Niger. Trees are shown as black dots, Source: US Geological Survey. Photos are taken in 1975 (Left) and 2005 (Right).
In Niger, five million hectares of land with over 200 million trees have been restored through FMNR with two and a half million lives impacted from the use of the land.
Over 27 countries under World Vision’s purview such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Kingdom of Eswatini, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, Burundi, Ghana, Senegal, India, Myanmar, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Haiti, India, Lebanon, and Sri Lanka are practising FMNR today – decreasing the risk of famine and improving child nutrition.
Armed with a Bachelor of Rural Science, Tony arrived in the parched farmlands of Niger in 1981. The country was besieged by drought and famine. Tony soon assessed that a lack of trees was the problem (average tree density was only about four trees per hectare or most of the time zero). He also realised that deforestation was not primarily caused by drought and goats, but by false beliefs, negative attitudes, and destructive behaviour towards trees and land.
From that point on he set about respectfully, patiently, and persistently trying to convince people that it was in their best interests to have trees in their landscape and to care for the land. Trees are the glue that holds the land together; trees shade the soil and grazing animals from fierce heat, and they help keep it fertile. However, his attempts two years at introducing sustainable agricultural practices to farmers were becoming futile.
“Most trees that we planted just died, the people weren’t interested and they called me the ‘mad white farmer’ for even wanting to think of such an idea because in their minds they were hungry, they were poor, and trees competed with the crops they were trying to grow—in their thinking,” said Tony.
One day, he was driving down a dirt track in Niger when he stopped to change a flat tyre. Exhausted, Tony stared down the dirt track and out into the harsh desert.
“It dawned on me how useless it all was. In every direction there were no trees. But then these shrubs caught my eye, and I suddenly realised this wasn’t a shrub but a tree trying to regrow.”
For the first time, he noticed the small green leaves sprouting from a nearby tree stump. Tony knew that this tree stump had the potential to flourish. All along, it was “an underground forest” just waiting to bounce back to life. It was a revelation that has transformed the lives of millions of people today.
Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration
The successful regreening program involves selecting and managing stems growing from live stumps, roots and seeds in the landscape. The original tree population is regenerated to produce thriving forests and productive farmland. From revitalised lands, farmers are able to improve their harvests and livestock productivity resulting in increased income.
Grooming the Next Generation
“If you work with nature instead of fighting against it all the time, nature will work for you.”
World Vision field staff visit schools around Africa to plant the seeds of FMNR, witnessing first-hand the joy on young children’s faces as they share the secrets of the technique.
Tony proudly says how children are groomed to become ambassadors to safeguard their land.
“A lot of the kids tell us they have to go out and find wood both for school kitchens, and the home, and it’s a real burden. It means they can’t play, can’t do homework. Our field staff and volunteers show them how to prune useless-looking bushes, selectively trim branches, and grow them into trees and explain why they should not chop down trees. Their faces light up when we tell them about what we do, and they go home and start pruning and telling their parents about it. They see red when they see trees being cut down and say things like - ‘You are destroying our future’,” says Tony.
By educating children, World Vision continues to raise awareness so that history will not repeat itself and we raise a generation that lives in harmony with nature. No matter the crisis, #hiddenheroes like Tony Rinaudo has risen up to make an extraordinary impact.