FMNR Is Now a Widely Scaled-Up EverGreening Practice: A Robust Legacy of Tony Rinaudo’s Career

The following article is a shortened article by Dennis Garrity, featured as an endorsement in Tony’s upcoming autobiography The Forest Underground: Hope for a Planet in Crisis, to be published by ISCAST in early 2022.

The full endorsement can be downloaded as a PDF here.

FMNR Is Now a Widely Scaled-Up EverGreening Practice: A Robust Legacy of Tony Rinaudo’s Career

Dennis Garrity

Tony Rinaudo had an epiphany in Niger in the mid-1980s about the power of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) to transform the African drylands. His journey to build on that epiphany, was a powerful awakening for him and many, many others. But it was, perhaps, not the most significant aspect of his journey and the most significant impact of his work. What was most significant was his sheer determination and lifelong dedication to sharing the implications of that experience— initially in the pilot villages of Maradi, Niger, and then far and wide across Africa and around the world. This is what has made that discovery so globally important today. Tony has made it his life’s work to inspire thousands of farmers and hundreds of fellow professionals, such that today, FMNR is generally recognised as a foundational practice for a more productive and sustainable dryland agriculture in countries throughout Africa, Asia and the tropics worldwide. It was that perseverance which made all the difference.

FMNR is a practice that directly confronts the conventional paradigm of agriculture: crops ought to be produced in clean, treeless fields. He has fought for a new paradigm: trees and shrubs make farming much more productive and sustainable. FMNR is a very low-cost and scalable way of doing that. But such a new paradigm must be justified — by farmers’ experience and by science. That justified knowledge base has been accumulating in the decades following the epiphany in Niger. The evidence base is growing rapidly. There is now solid documentation of millions of smallholders around the world successfully practising FMNR on their farms, and in their community forests and grazing lands. And there is also a growing body of literature validating farmer observations on the multidimensional benefits of this practice. Seventy percent of the 700 million food insecure people in the world live on rural smallholder farms. These families are hungry because they cannot produce enough food to feed their families on their own land. This is usually degraded land. They also cannot afford to improve it to increase its productivity. Restoration of the productive quality of this land will increase food production and make it more resilient to droughts and other stresses. FMNR can provide them with trees for food, fuel, and sellable goods: this is an obvious way to overcome food insecurity, increase incomes sustainably, and provide these families with dignity.

FMNR has great potential to enhance the lives and livelihoods of the poor in a very practical way. It reduces their vulnerability and increases their resilience to shocks, in the dryland regions of sub-Saharan Africa and around the world. It can not only restore degraded land, it can help restore the livelihoods, the dignity, and the local environment of the rural poor. And it is a practice that is fully accessible to the poor. It can be implemented conveniently with their own resources and through their own efforts.

The potential of FMNR is enormous, but it is not appreciated nearly enough by those who command the resources to invest in restoration, climate mitigation, and poverty alleviation. Much work remains to be done to change the mindsets of policymakers, development professionals and even technical specialists such as researchers and extension agents in order to ramp up investments in poor communities, to share the evidence and build their own capabilities to spread the practice widely.

Unfortunately, for many leaders in agriculture and forestry, the idea of integrating trees with crops or pastures, or assisting the natural regeneration of forests is still considered to be unconventional, backward, and to be avoided, even in the face of all of the experience, and scientific evidence that has verified it during the past few decades, Yet, this growing body of evidence shows clearly that successfully integrating trees into farming and livestock-keeping systems can be extremely profitable, provided the appropriate species and management practices are used.

Tony Rinaudo’s epiphany about FMNR in Niger and his steady persistence in building awareness and expanding training efforts across many countries has inspired scale-up efforts that we see taking root all over Africa and across the world. They set the stage for the development of an Evergreen Agriculture Partnership in 2012, that has now grown into a strong alliance of development NGOs and international organisations, governments, research and educational institutions and the private sector—joining their efforts in amazing ways to foster the spread of FMNR and other greening solutions.

The Partnership ( championed all aspects of the scaling up of FMNR, as part of a vision to fully exploit the potential for trees to be integrated into agriculture, forest and rangeland systems around the world. That Partnership laid the groundwork. It has now evolved into a global organisation—The Global EverGreening Alliance—which is dedicated to marshalling the capacities of many more organisations, and attract much greater levels of resources, to scale up restoration solutions on a much bigger scale. The Alliance now includes about 50 key organisations and is continuing to grow rapidly.

The deep strength of this broad-based commitment has now led the Alliance to launch the EverGreening the Earth “Green Up to Cool Down” Campaign, at the New York Climate Summit in September 2019. The Campaign is mobilising efforts to to capture and restore back to the land 20 billion tons of CO2 annually from the atmosphere by the year 2050. It aims to achieve this by landscape restoration that engages with the poorest rural families, first and foremost, to enhance their livelihoods by caring for the land.

It will restore degraded forest, agricultural and grazing lands, and draw down these vast amounts of carbon into regenerated landscapes, while ensuring the most valuable benefits redound to rural people, particularly the least well-off inhabitants of the drylands: For it is the dryland inhabitants who are by far the most vulnerable to the changes that are occurring as a consequence of this global warming emergency.

One of the unique features of the Campaign is its focus on achieving six targets that emphasise the capture of these large quantities of CO2 through the scaling-up of highly cost-effective evergreening solutions, including the assisted natural regeneration of forest lands, farmer-managed natural regeneration of trees on farmlands, the incorporation of leguminous shrubs into agricultural systems, and the regeneration of grazing systems with better silvopastoral practices. All of these solutions have already been demonstrated to be highly scalable across tens of millions of hectares, and they are very effective in improving the livelihoods and resilience of the poorest people in the developing world.

The Campaign is being spearheaded by the Global EverGreening Alliance, which is composed of nearly all of the major development and conservation NGOs around the world ( involved in restoration. They have pledged their joint capacity to restoring hundreds of millions of hectares of degraded lands through the spread of tree-based systems. The Campaign draws inspiration from the large-scale successes that have in the drylands of Africa, including the millions of hectares of croplands that have been restored through the practice of farmer-managed natural regeneration in Niger and throughout the Sahel, and the several millions of hectares of watersheds and grazing lands that have been restored through assisted natural regeneration in Tanzania and Ethiopia, and elsewhere in eastern and southern Africa.

There are currently about 1 billion hectares burned annually in Africa. Burning is commonly implemented to regenerate pasture regrowth, but it reduces soil carbon reserves and it severely degrades the land over time. Burning can be replaced by more holistic systems of planned grazing that regenerate the health of the land, build up soil organic matter, and increase pasture productivity.

Pastureland-managed natural regeneration will be deployed to restore a healthy balance of grass, trees, and bushes, enhance fodder production, and create a more moderate microclimate to improve animal welfare and productivity. The target is to regenerate 20% of the Africa’s degraded pasturelands by 2050 by expanding the scale of these successful systems, and continue on to restore the remaining 80% during the second half of the 21st century.

The Alliance is working closely on all this with the African Restoration Initiative. AFR100, an Africa Union Program that has mobilised nearly 30 countries to declare national restoration targets, adding up to over 116 million hectares. The Alliance has already developed several major multi-country evergreening programs that are being implemented in the drylands. These programs emphasise learning from, and scaling-out, the most inspiring successes that have already occurred on the ground in many countries.

The Alliance has now grown into a powerful global movement on land restoration. It supports national evergreening movements everywhere that are spreading the word about FMNR. That’s a pretty significant legacy for a humble guy who stumbled unexpectedly onto a very big idea.

Continue reading the full article here.

Dennis Garrity

Dr Dennis Garrity is a systems agronomist and research leader whose career has been focused on the development of small-scale farming systems in the tropics. He is currently Drylands Ambassador for the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, Senior Fellow at the World Resources Institute, and Distinguished Senior Research Fellow at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Nairobi. He served as Director General of the Centre from 2001 to 2011. He is currently focusing on building an African land restoration movement and is leading an effort to perennialise global agriculture in the 21st Century by chairing the global Partnership to Create an EverGreen Agriculture. He also chairs the Steering Committee for Landcare International, a worldwide effort to support grassroots community-based natural resource management.