Remaking the Forests with Tony Rinaudo

By 7 April 2024No Comments

Remaking the Forests with Tony Rinaudo

Bob Simpson

Recently, friends from Coronella Village in Nunawading arranged for others to hear “a crazy, white farmer”, Tony Rinaudo. Through nature-based Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR), Tony helped to re-green Niger’s forests and slow the spread of the Sahara Desert.

What wonderful change this FMNR process is making. On over 5,000,000 hectares, 200,000,000 trees have been regreened from dormant underground root stock. Ground temperature fell and retained water levels rose. Food security rose for 4.5 million people and income security is rising, too. Time spent by women and children foraging for food, water, and firewood has fallen by as much as 80 percent. Children now attend school, regularly. The benefits are profound. So, I wonder what lessons there are for Australians, even in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Lessons about urban sprawl, tree removal, land pollution, etc?

Tony told us that he and wife Liz chose to live with the people of Niger, as a sense of mission, to plant trees and reforest the desert. For this, Tony was tagged, ‘crazy white farmer.’ Tony told of a later sense of failure when most of the trees died. ‘Crazy white farmer’. And the task seemed too big to continue.

One day, while dropping pressure in his truck tyres to move across the sand, he noticed a small shrub. Grabbing for any new idea, he walked across to check it out. Surprisingly, it was a tree, not a shrub. Examining it, he intuitively figured that pruning could form it back into the canopy tree it truly was. And, by deduction, it must be part of an underground forest. How then could he bring the natural energy of the forest to the surface? With the help of a few crazy Niger herdsmen and farmers, this idea started FMNR. Disruptive people. Crazy people. Dangerous people challenging the status quo.

Tony talked about the most empowering quality in forest restoration – mindset change. And we all know forces that work against mindset change. These are some I gleaned from Tony’s talk. “I’m hungry, today. Tomorrow will have to look after itself.” “You’ll destroy what I’ve got and leave me with nothing.” “We’ve never done that before.” “How can we afford to do that.”

I also discerned valuable qualities that drive mindset change. One is intuitive revelation – something will work, even in the absence of scientific evidence. It also demands courage and persistence, particularly when faced with public ridicule. Crazy people. And with success, it needs humility to graciously allow others to take the glory.

Tony and these herdsmen and farmers are ordinary people who achieved extraordinary nature-based outcomes. As one of the Niger Chiefs said, “We did this without the help of the World Bank, or our government.” And research now indicates that success has changed the mindset of government from a default “produce for export” philosophy, to putting families and communities, first.

In the face of growing fear and hopelessness about climate change, particularly among children, Tony suggested there is good news. Around 3 billion hectares of degraded land across the world could be re-greened through low-cost nature-based regeneration methods. It’s already happening. And it’s happening without massive technological solutions, which often do as much damage as the good they claim to do.

In answer to a question, Tony wondered how this amazing nature-based story could attract advocates working in social enterprise, journalism, and representative politics to break through the market-based interests of government and profit-focused entrepreneurs.

And what about the Urban Forest Strategies for the cities and shires of Victoria? What counter-intuitive nature-based story can be crafted to advocate that elected representatives focus on nature-based solutions ahead of ‘default’ market/economic arguments. And help to bring some peace of mind to the children and grandchildren in our families and communities?

Watch this You Tube episode The Forest Maker for an inspiring look at Tony Rinaudo’s work at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltyAaebpyTg. If you are a tweeter, follow @RegreenAfrica for more on regreening Africa.