World-renowned agronomist Tony Rinaudo – who spoke at the LWCCN conference in Jordan in October 2022 – has helped millions through his work in Niger. Now he wants to inspire the next generation by telling his story. Nicknamed the ‘Forest Maker’, Tony Rinaudo is widely known for bringing back forests without planting trees. His work has been called “the largest environmental transformation in the Sahel and perhaps in all of Africa.” For his influential contributions, Tony has received numerous awards including the Right Livelihood Award, and was appointed as a Member of the Order of Australia.
A Rocha Australia asked him about his miraculous journey and recent autobiography, The Forest Underground: Hope for a Planet in Crisis – Australia’s Christian book of the year, 2022. This version has been edited for the Pollinator:
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you’re known for!
I am 65 years old, married with four children and eight grandchildren. Liz and I spent 17 years in Niger Republic, West Africa with SIM, working to improve the livelihoods of rural communities. Now, I’m the Principal Climate Action Advisor for World Vision. I’m called the ‘Forest Maker’ because of my work on restoring trees and landscapes. While in Niger, I began developing and promoting a low cost, rapid form of reforestation called Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR), which is spreading around the world.
So, what is FMNR, and what potential does it have?
Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) is both a technical practice and community development approach for mobilising and empowering local communities to restore their natural environment through the systematic regrowth and management of remnant vegetation on diverse landscapes, which has climate change mitigation and adaptation benefits. Basically, FMNR is an embarrassingly simple and affordable method of regreening land by reviving trees rather than planting new ones. You can find out more about it and all its benefits at https://fmnrhub.org.au.
There is enormous potential to implement FMNR across large swathes of land in a wide range of environments – from hyper-arid, through arid and semi-arid zones, tropical, alpine and even coastal environments. Tens of millions of hectares contain remnant living tree stumps with the capacity to re-grow, or dormant seeds with the ability to germinate and grow given the right conditions. Even where there are no seeds or living stumps, if land management patterns change in previously forested areas nature has a chance to colonise the land with grasses, shrubs and trees.
What is The Forest Underground: Hope for a Planet in Crisis about?
The Forest Underground is my autobiography, tracing my early years growing up Australia, my struggles to find solutions to severe desertification and the global spread of FMNR and challenges ahead. The book speaks of my motivation and faith journey and outlines how the Lord has called, provided, and led me. Ultimately, The Forest Underground is a story of hope in the face of climate change, deforestation and land degradation, biodiversity loss and poverty. It really is the good-news story that, I hope, will move hearts and hands to care for God’s planet.
This is an incredibly powerful story. What do you hope readers will take away from it?
I hope readers will not just be inspired, but moved to action in whatever capacity God has provided an opening for. I hope those in the land restoration sector will take the hard-earned lessons to heart and incorporate an FMNR type approach to environmental problem solving to their work; that donors and governments will increasingly give to these types of interventions. I think too that The Forest Underground is a call to all of us to trust God and listen to him in the face of our most pressing problems. He is there for us. Let’s reach out and let him lead us.
If God is calling you to this type of work, or calling you to support somebody else who is—then please consider it prayerfully and with wise counsel from others.
And finally, how can we buy the book?
It’s available as hardback, paperback and e-book from major online retailers. Royalties go towards the FMNR movement! (Amazon). Tony was interviewed by Christianity Today last fall.