World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)
United Nations Avenue, Gigiri, Nairobi, Kenya
I first visited the Talensi-Nabdam district in Ghana in July 2009. I was there to run a workshop with community leaders on Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR), the reforestation method that I had stumbled upon while living in Niger back in 1983.
When I returned to Talensi in June 2011, what I saw and heard convinced me more than ever of the importance and far-reaching impacts of environmental restoration to achieving not only World Vision’s child well-being goals, but also sustainable development and the well-being of whole communities.
What was achieved in Talensi in the space of just two years was simply astonishing. The physical impacts were impressive enough, but the big thing which struck me was the happiness and pride people had in practising FMNR. Everybody was so amazed that a once burnt-out, barren hill was now covered in a forest of trees, one to three metres tall. And it was all done without planting a single tree.
The people had been transformed into forest guardians – preventing and stopping bushfire and wanton destruction of the forest and facilitating its rehabilitation. In return, the community was quite literally enjoying the fruits of their labour; edible wild fruits, leaves and tubers were abundantly available, firewood was close at hand, there was fodder for livestock and even the return of some wildlife.
The experience left me with the overwhelming impression that community adoption of this method held powerful promises for not only the region, but for people right across Africa and the world.
I’m proud to report that FMNR is now practiced in eight countries in Africa and three in Asia. It began in the Maradi district of Niger, an area where crops are regularly hit by treacherous 60 – 70 km/hour winds, where high temperatures and low humidity give young plants little or no chance of survival. When I arrived in 1980, deforestation had created devastating consequences, worsening the effects of recurring drought. I saw women walking for miles for fuel such as small sticks and millet stalks. Farmers often had to replant crops up to eight times in a single season.
Three decades on, and half of Niger’s farmland – or 6 million hectares - has been transformed by FMNR. The land now produces triple the yield – feeding an extra 2.5 million people annually and doubling farmers’ incomes. What began with 12 farmers has spread far and wide, and it is my hope that it will continue to spread to many other corners of the globe. All too often we have seen conventional methods of reforestation fail in Africa. Even community-based projects with individual or community nurseries struggle to keep up momentum once project funding ends. And now more than ever, the need is immense. The suffering in the Horn of Africa last year and the escalating food crisis in West Africa remind us of the need for a long-term sustainable approach to food insecurity and famine. These crises call for us to be brave, to innovate and to challenge long-held views.
It is my belief that Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration can play a significant role in this innovation. It is a simple technique of selective pruning. It is low cost, community-driven and proven. It can reverse land degradation and desertification, lift incomes, mitigate climate change and prevent famine.
It should not be forgotten that there are many other people around the world working on similar or related agroforestry and reforestation methods and many of these also hold great potential. The up-coming Beating Famine conference (to be held in Nairobi April 10-13) will give leading thinkers in the development and environmental sphere a chance to meet, learn and innovate. Participants will be encouraged to develop re-greening programs in their areas of influence and ultimately, to spark a re-greening revolution around the globe.
By Tony Rinaudo
Natural Resources Advisor, World Vision Australia