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Reforesting the world

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https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/14/reforesting-world-australian-farmer-240m-trees

 

Reforesting the world: the Australian farmer with 240m trees to his name

 

Tony Rinaudo’s regeneration technique, developed in west Africa 30 years ago, has helped bring back forest over 6m hectares

 

Through the cacophony of the UN’s global climate talks, an Australian farmer is quietly spreading his plan to reforest the world.

 

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.

 

But it very nearly never happened.

 

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.

 

Nature would heal itself, you just needed to stop hammering it

“I was in charge of a reforestation project that was failing miserably, it wasn’t that I was particularly dumb, it was the same story all over west Africa. And I remember the frustration that just hit me: north, south, east, west, was a barren landscape, and I knew perfectly well that 80 or 90% of the trees I was carrying [in my car] for planting would die.”

 

But this day, crouching in the sand to reduce his tyres’ air pressure, he looked more closely at the few low desert bushes scattered around the landscape, the only thing that would grow there.

 

Rinaudo knew they were not small bushes, but trees that had been hacked down. Looking more closely, he 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, it wasn’t a question of having a multi-million dollar budget and years to do it, 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 – he describes it as akin to pruning a grape vine back to just one or two stems each season – 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.

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