FMNR and Tony Rinaudo: ‘The Tree Whisperer’

World Vision's Natural Resources Advisor, Tony Rinaudo, demonstrates how simple pruning can help to regenerate degraded lands in Ethiopia.

Posted by World Vision | 31 July 2013

The father of what is quickly becoming a global development movement, Tony Rinaudo has more than once been described as ‘the Tree Whisperer.’ He has committed his life to reforesting degraded lands and bringing hope to poor communities through Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR).

In 2012, The Guardian named FMNR one of the top 15 innovations to transform Africa. In June World Vision won second prize in the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification 2013 Land for Life Awards for its role in championing the roll out of FMNR in degraded lands all around the world.

For the past 13 years, Tony has worked as Natural Resource Management Advisor at World Vision Australia. Here, Tony explains how FMNR is sprouting new hope for poor farmers.

What is Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration?

Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration, or FMNR, is a very rapid and sustainable method of reforestation. It involves the selection and pruning of regrowth coming from tree stumps, roots or even naturally-occurring seeds growing from the ground. Millions of hectares of land have been cleared around the world and the one redeeming factor is that many of the remaining tree stumps are still alive. Even in a barren landscape you can often find an ‘underground’ forest. Poor land management means that small sprouts never grow tall as they are regularly harvested by wood collectors or chewed off by livestock. All they need is protection for 6-8 months and a little bit of pruning and they can become trees. The leaves and branches can be used for fertiliser and firewood, and will protect crops from drought by holding moisture in the soil.

What are the advantages of this method?

The advantages of FMNR over traditional tree planting methods are, firstly, that it’s very, very cheap, so it’s not reliant on overseas investment. Secondly, FMNR can be very rapid. Even in the first and second year farmers are starting to harvest small amounts of firewood and getting fodder for their livestock. Thirdly, FMNR is very simple so anybody can practice it without depending on outside experts. Finally, in terms of reversing land degradation, FMNR can be done on a large scale very quickly, compared to tree planting which is expensive and often doesn’t work in harsh African climates.

Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration: A Good News Story.


How have communities responded to FMNR?

The response to FMNR has been very dramatic. In Niger, farms that had no trees or only one or two trees per hectare now have an average of forty trees. Once the farmers have embraced this technology, they’ve shared it with their neighbours. So that’s been very exciting. In the last five years, through World Vision, we’ve introduced FMNR in Senegal, Ethiopia, and even into Myanmar in Southeast Asia. Wherever the concept has been introduced people have embraced this idea – its simplicity and the speed at which you can make a change has really captured their imagination.

As with the introduction of any innovation, there are challenges involved in introducing FMNR. Perhaps the biggest challenge initially was the need to have the appropriate legal frameworks to secure user rights to the trees. Unless farmers are confident that the effort and time that they put into protecting these trees will benefit them, there’s no incentive for them to do that work.

Another fear is that crop yields will be negatively impacted, and it takes a lot of effort to demonstrate to farmers that with the right pruning and density of trees, crop yields can actually increase because of increased soil fertility and the protection afforded by those trees.

Can FMNR benefit communities during times of drought?

FMNR can assist communities in times of drought. During the 2004 famine in Niger, farmers who had adopted FMNR did not require food handouts, as they were able to sell wood, graze their livestock on leaves and eat the fruit and seeds of certain tree species. If not for FMNR more people would have starved. The recent famine situations in East and West Africa have given greater incentive to introduce FMNR in more areas.

Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) is a simple, proven and low-cost farming method that is repairing degraded farmlands, increasing incomes and putting food on dinner tables all around the world. World Vision is now poised for the global roll out of FMNR in such countries and regions as East Africa, Indonesia, East Timor, Myanmar, Southern Africa, India and Latin America.

Contact us to find out more about the FMNR Hub project and how you can help to liberate hundreds of thousands of subsistence farmers from the cycle of hunger and poverty.

Read more about FMNR.

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