Revitalising Land through Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration

There is so much hope in nature. We need to nurture it more, get off our devices and connect with the world around us

Enabling Nature, Restoring Hope 🌳

Soil is integral to farming; we need it for food, animals, and human life. But did you know that it takes nature 500 years to grow 1 inch or 2.5cm of soil on a well-managed regenerative farm, that can occur in 3 to 5 years?

One reason the 21st century should be the century of the revered farmer. Over the last few years, I have been honoured to have such legends as Tony Rinaudo, Terry McCosker, RCS Team, Farmer's Footprint, Charlie Arnott, Charles Massey, and so many more.

A continual theme is rather than an adversarial relationship with nature; we need to have a supportive one. As Allan Savory said, “don’t blame the resource; blame how it’s managed”

The Importance of Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration

Well, this week, I had the pleasure of speaking to Tony Rinaudo, who is being described as The Forest Maker. He moved to Niger in the early 1980s with his wife and family and tried to start a land regeneration movement which proved initially at least to be very frustrating.

And in this episode, we go through what it means and what the movement that emerged from Tony’s work over many years became known as a global movement called Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration. And, you know, I’ve said in my book that the last century was the year of the revered financier or economist. And I don’t think as we reflect back on the social, environmental, and inequalities and the stresses which that century has laid the foundations of.

We’re now 22 years into the new century. I said in my book that I hope that the coming century, the 21st century, would be the year of the revered farmer. And this is a framework for that to happen globally. I mean, I think regenerative agriculture in a developed country where farms are, you know, their own big farms or owned in Australia.

And we’ve spoken to many people in the regenerative farming movement. I spoke to one of the legends of that and Terry McCosker and Grahame Rees, and people from The Farmer’s Footprint, David Leon, who’s the CEO of Farmers Footprint.

And that’s a whole movement that’s on that’s bringing together best practices. And Tony is certainly reaching across the globe into Africa, and at least 24 countries have now embraced or are exploring the FMNR Protocols. And to give you some idea of what he’s talking about, 200 million trees have been regenerated without planting any trees. Now, that’s all about enabling nature, not trying to domineer it.

When trees are cut down, and the stumps are left, if we nurture those and allow them to be appropriately managed. And again, this is going back to Allan Savory’s episode where he said, “Don’t blame the resource. Blame how the resource is managed.” And he’s talking about all sorts of things. They are about fossil fuel, animal agriculture, about soil management. You could be talking about anything, really.

Don’t blame the resource. Blame how it’s managed. Well, this is an example of an untapped resource, the tree stumps that are still there, the seeds. I asked Tony, what about the land that has been completely ripped up where all the roots are gone? Well, you know, seeds have a life, and that life can go on for decades, sometimes even longer, if we just enable the sprouting of those seeds by managing the land correctly. And there are ways of doing that.

And the episode with Tony, who is just… I mean, I heard first heard of him about three or four or so years ago when he was interviewed by Natasha Moore. You will recall the great episode I did with Natasha on The Pleasures of Pessimism. But Natasha has her own podcast as well through the Centre for Christian Studies, and Tony, who works for World Vision now as their Climate Change Ambassador, if you like, or advocating for practices which can reverse climate change, and FMNR is certainly one of those.

I was introduced to his work there, and I immediately had him on my must-get-him-on-my podcast list. Tony talks about restoring hope through restoring landscape. And I just think that if that is a mission for FMNR or for us all as we try to deal with what Charlie Massy refers to as the human social cycle, which is you and me, and how we contribute to this problem or farmers and how they make a decision whether to continue on the chemical charged production or whether they take control of that themselves and the attractive benefits which come with it.

It’s interesting, really, in all of these regenerative practices that they are vital for us as humans to actively engage in that. And by that, I mean the farmers, of course, because it takes nature 500 years to grow one inch or 2.5 centimeters of soil. But it takes a regenerative… On a well-managed regenerative farm that can occur in 3 to 5 years. And I think Tony’s experience in Africa would certainly reinforce that. I mean, literally transforming landscapes.

Now, I thought there were two particular clips that I wanted to share with you. One is to explore what FMNR, Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration, is all about. And the second one, which goes into how to actually what the procedure is. They’re very short videos. The very short you can if you’re listening to this is audio, you will not have lost anything.

What is FMNR?

But I would again encourage you to come on to YouTube and watch this particular episode on YouTube. But the first one is: What is FMNR? Everything is connected, from the tiniest of insects to the largest of forests and everything in between. When an ecosystem is in balance, all the plants, animals, and communities that live within it can thrive. But when trees are cut down, and land is burnt, the soil loses fertility and its ability to sustain life.

It leads to erosion, destructive winds, droughts, flooding, and biodiversity loss. And consequently, suffering for the world’s poorest people. But hope is not lost. I am just waiting underneath. What appears to be a barren landscape is an immense underground forest ready to regenerate into a productive ecosystem.

Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration teaches communities how the simple act of pruning can release the untapped energy of deep underground root systems—rapidly turning small shrubs and stumps into mature trees in a matter of years—ultimately transforming the world around them. When we apply this low-cost and very effective technique to much larger areas, something amazing happens.

More trees mean less soil erosion, wind, and heat damage. Trapping moisture in the soil and restoring fertility so farmers can grow bigger, healthier crops. More trees mean more feed for livestock. They are giving farmers healthier, more productive animals. More trees mean more firewood, timber, and hay, which can be sold to diversify income. And create new investment opportunities in the community. As habitats begin to regenerate, businesses like honey production become possible. As do previously unimagined income opportunities such as ecotourism and even trading carbon credits.

Everything is connected. All the wonderful, tangible outcomes created benefit not just the environment but the communities who depend on it for their survival. Families can put more food on the table, earn and save more income, build better houses and send their children to school — helping to break the cycle of poverty. Natural regeneration is a catalyst for sustainable development that leads to a brighter future for the next generation.

Now, this is truly an inspiring movement. And you’re wondering, well, what is the story? What is FMNR? And, you know, you might even want to practice that in your own backyard. But whenever we see, as we did recently, the devastation caused by fires, we’re reminded of nature’s ability to regenerate.

The three steps how to prune trees and stumps

And when land is cleared, the soil is degraded, and Tony goes into the episode, the episode goes into how you can actually facilitate a regeneration even when land is cleared. But in this second video, they talk about the three steps for Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration. How to prune trees and stumps.

Step One: Survey the land. Note how many and what species of trees are present. When selecting the stumps you want to regenerate, choose trees that best suit your specific objectives. Do you want to produce fruit? Firewood? Fodder for livestock? Or do you need trees that will improve crops? You should know the answer to these questions before selecting the stumps that you will regenerate.

Step Two: Pruning. For each stump, select at least five of the best stems to keep and prune. Use a sharp tool such as a saw, axe, machete, harvesting knife, or hoe so that you can make clean cuts. This will help the stems recover more quickly. When pruning, it’s essential to cut using an upwards motion to avoid bruising, splitting, and stripping of bark.

When pruning, do not cut down. Acts the tree’s ability to regrow and wounds can become an entry point for disease and pests. Cut off all the stems you don’t want to keep, but don’t discard your cuttings. They can be used in many ways. Prune inside branches off the selected stems to halfway up their trunk. Don’t bring stems too high up, as this will make them more prone to damage from livestock or strong winds.

Step Three: Follow up. It is best to prune every 2 to 6 months. This stimulates faster growth and produces straighter stems. Regrowth is fairly hearty, however, if possible, it’s best to keep livestock away for six months to one year after first pruning to promote stronger growth.

For success, it is important to plan your pruning for a time of year when conditions are best for tree regrowth. On farmland, trees pruned just before planting season will be better protected against livestock. And growth will be faster due to increased soil moisture.

You’ll also need to consider measures to protect regrowing trees from threats like fire. Working with the community and local authorities to come up with agreements and plans to protect regrowing trees is essential. Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration can restore barren landscapes into healthy and productive ecosystems.

So, let’s recap. (1) Survey the land and select the right species to regenerate. (2) Select at least five of the best stems and cull the rest. (3) Use a sharp tool and cut with an upwards motion. (4) Prune the selected stems to halfway up the trunk. (5) Repeat every 2 to 6 months. And (6) Have plans in place to protect regrowing trees.

So there it is. Well, you and I are a part of the human social cycle, and we definitely have a role to play. And if that didn’t inspire you, restoring hope by restoring landscapes, we hear so much bad news around the world. We are bombarded by it. I think we’re almost… I think that I personally believe that is a purposeful way to create despair and drive a consumer society that we are all in.

Well, I think we can take a step back from that. Turn off all your notifications. Turn off all your emails, Facebook, and Instagram, apart from my Instagram feed, of course… No. Turn off all those notifications. Just pick the information. There is so much wonderful information being shared, not just on my podcast but on many others, and make conscious choices about how you will contribute to that human social cycle.

How you will support regenerative farmers and farmers that are driving natural regeneration or regeneration of the land. We have the ability to support that movement. I hope this finds you well. Until next time.

This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, they should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests in this podcast express their opinions, experiences, and conclusions.