Profile of Passion
Name: Tony Rinaudo
Title: Principal Advisor, Natural Resources
Company: World Vision is a worldwide community development organisation that provides short-term and long-term assistance to 100 million people worldwide (including 2.4 million children). World Vision has more than 45,000 staff working in 96 countries.
Before coming to work for World Vision I’d been working in Niger, West Africa for 17 years, and with the wear and tear I was ready for a change. Our older children needed higher education and it was time to come home. After a lot of prayer and too much worry I got a letter from World Vision saying that I’d been successful in my interview – I had a job with the Africa team, based in Melbourne.
I came to World Vision believing that a simple idea could change the lives of millions of people around the world. In 1983 after two and a half years of failure God answered my prayers in a way that eventually transformed vast tracts of degraded land into reforested, agricultural land. In those days, the standard approach to reforestation was to plant seedlings. However, in the harsh conditions of Niger, less than 20% survived. We raised seedlings in nurseries and delivered them to villages. And then we’d watch them die.
People’s living conditions were unimaginable. There were practically no trees as far as one could travel and this exacerbated problems of drought, pests and diseases – and ultimately poverty and famine. Women walked as far as 15 km to find wood to burn for cooking.
Realizing that we’d never succeed using conventional methods, I was at the point of giving up. It was all too hard. But I had a strong sense that God had called me to Niger and that He had prepared good things for me to do in advance. I prayed, asking God to forgive us for destroying the gift of His creation (contributing to poverty and hunger.) I asked Him to show us what to do – to open our eyes.
It was critical to restore trees in the landscape – trees reduce wind speeds, temperature and evaporation, protecting crops. Trees build organic matter and increase soil fertility.When you have an intact forest, organic matter on the forest floor acts like a sponge, soaking up excess rain and preventing floods, and releasing moisture during droughts. Farmers won’t get a bumper crop, but they still get a yield.
One afternoon, at the height of my despair, I stopped my truck – loaded with seedlings — to reduce the air pressure, and I noticed some little green bushes. On closer inspection I found that they were not bushes, but trees sprouting from stumps. We were so convinced the trees were gone we didn’t even see what was growing at our feet! The whole time we had been struggling to plant trees, there was underground forest just waiting to bounce back to life!
Working with just 12 farmers, we taught them how to thin and prune the stems. Within months, the stems turned into small trees. Within two years, they had grown into 4 meter tall trees. We called the process Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR), now promoted by World Vision around the world.
The trees improved soil productivity, reduced erosion, and provided a source of shade and food for livestock and people. Growing trees amongst crops increased yields and improved grazing pastures. There was timber for building – and now instead of the women walking all day to gather fuel, it was at their doorstep. Children could pick wild fruit, wildlife returned and water tables were restored.
The process of coppicing and pollarding is an age-old tradition, but poverty, poor farming practices and a lack of legal ownership to trees had led people to forget. So when we promote FMNR, often we are simply reviving and perhaps refining a traditional practice.
I have just returned from visiting World Vision’s reforestation project in Humbo, Ethiopia. What was once just a bare, rocky mountain is now a forest of 2,723 hectares with its own micro-climate. Peoples living conditions have greatly improved.
So far, World Vision has introduced FMNR into 24 countries, and has shared the approach through workshops, conferences and on line. We are being good stewards of the earth – creating this resilience in the landscape helps protect children and families from the negative impact of flood and drought. I would like to see FMNR adopted globally. As a Ghanaian chief said, FMNR is a gift of the almighty God and it brings life and joy.
05/07/2017 / Kit Densley