Over more than 30 years in west Africa, Tony Rinaudo has regenerated more than 6m hectares – an area nearly as large as Tasmania. His farmer-managed natural regeneration technique is responsible for 240m trees regrowing across that parched continent, The Guardian reports.
Having grown up in Myrtleford, in country Victoria, Rinaudo moved to Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, in 1981, inspired by his Christian faith and a desire “somewhere, somehow to make a difference”. But after two years of intense tree-planting and trying to coax some life from the arid landscape regularly devastated by severe drought, he despaired.
But one day, he looked more closely at the few low desert bushes scattered around the landscape, the only thing that would grow there.
Rinaudo realised that, if pruned and allowed to grow, they stood a chance of flourishing.
“In that moment, everything changed. We didn’t need to plant trees, everything you needed was in the ground.”
The root system of the chopped down trees remained alive under the ground – Rinaudo describes it as an “underground forest” – it just needed to be pruned and allowed to grow.
“Nature would heal itself, you just needed to stop hammering it.”
Thirty years on, his technique has a name, farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR). It is, Rinaudo says, an “embarrassingly simple solution” to what appeared to be an intractable problem. But it involved overturning generations of accepted wisdom, and a resistance to giving some land back to nature.
For his work on regeneration, Rinaudo was recognised this year in the Right Livelihood Awards, often described as the alternative Nobel, and focused on fields such as environmental protection, human rights, sustainability and peace.
World Vision / YouTube