Bolgatanga, May 31 GNA - It is worth noting that conventional methods of reforestation in Africa have often failed. Even community-based projects with individual or community nurseries struggle to keep up the momentum once project funding ends. The obstacles working against reforestation are enormous.
But a newly discovered method of reforestation called Farmer Managed and Natural Regeneration (FMNR) being implemented by World Vision of Australia throughout African countries particularly in the Sahel countries have proved to be more reliable, cheaper and sustainable than the usual conventional methods of tree planting.
The FMNR involves selecting and pruning stems regenerating from stumps of naturally grown trees on the field to give fewer ones more space to grow. This stimulates faster growth of the trees.
It should be pointed out that the brain behind the FMNR is Mr Tony Rinaudo, an official of World Vision Australia. He is the originator of this model and deserves to be acknowledged and commended for that.
Three years ago he was in Ghana, specifically at Tongo in the Talensi-Nabdam District of the Upper East Region where he begun to teach the community members, the application methods of the FMNR Project.
I quite remember well that the Programme which was organized by the World Vision Area Development Programme (ADP) of Talensi- Nabdam District in the District Assembly Hall was full to capacity with people listening keenly about how to acquire the technology after which they were taken to the field for demonstrations and practice.
But one may ask how the originator of the FMNR discovered the method?. Narrating how he discovered it, he said after going through several ordeals in using the conventional methods of planting trees in Niger it could not work so one day he finally discovered that using simple tools like sickles, cutlasses, axe to prune down the stumps of natural grown trees on the field stimulated the trees to grow faster.
This method of stimulating growth Sustainability is a key feature of the programme which requires very little investment by communities, government or NGOs to keep it going.
Two years later after putting into practice the technology, some communities in Tongo instead of using the conventional methods such nursing of tree seedling to transplant on the land as means of curbing desertification have shifted to the FMNR with technical support provided by World Vision International.
Over 200 hectares of degraded lands by human activities have been reclaimed in the Talensi-Nabdam District through the FMNR Project. Ten communities are implementing the project. Each of the communities has reclaimed 20 hectares of degraded lands. Through capacity building training of the FMNR Project and support, more of the communities are advancing on their own, in practicing the concept and this is greening the environment considerably.
The area is fast becoming a forest. The Balungu Traditional Council has offered 500 hectares of land for the exercise to commence very soon through the support of World Vision International.
Community members have started enjoying the benefits of the FMNR as children eat the fruits yielded by the Project. Many of the beneficiaries have begun harvesting fuel wood and fodder for their animals and medicinal plants that were difficult to find are now available. People can now harvest grass to roof their houses which hitherto they could not do.
Due to the success story of the Project, World Vision Australia has extended the Project to three Districts in the Region including Garu-Tempane, Bawku West and Kassena-Nankana West. All the District Chief Executives (DCEs) have pledged to support the programme implementation so as to maximize benefits from it.
At Bawku West the District Chief Executive, Alhaji Anaba Imoro, said he would adopt the project as a ''Baby”. He stressed that the Assembly has spent huge sums of money including time and labour through the conventional methods of growing trees but nothing have been achieved. Similar sentiments were expressed by the other DCEs. They indicated that it is the best intervention method of fighting desertification.
Speaking to this Writer, the Base Team Leader (BTL) of World Vision in charge of Upper East, Madam Benedecta Pealore and the Area Development Programme Manager in charge of the Talensi-Nabdam District, Mr Norbert Baba Akolbila said World Vision Australia decided to embark upon the project in the area because of the spate of environmental degradation in the three Northern Regions and noted that the FMNR Projects is the best, fast and cheapest methods of combating desertification. He noted that World Vision has been promoting this method in a number of other Africa countries.
Mr Peter Abugah , the Project Manager of World Vision in charge of the FMNR indicated that in order to sustain the project his outfit formed community structures involving traditional authorities, opinion leaders, Assembly members, the youth and fire volunteers to keep vigilant over the implementation of the projects in the communities and that had led to the success story.
He said crop farmers, tree farmers and animal farmers were taken through how to co-exist in the management of the project and livelihoods also incorporated into its implementation. Farmers were given livelihoods support in the form of free groundnut seeds, beekeeping, donkey carts among others and community saving accounts opened from the proceeds of the livelihood support.
The savings is loaned to community members to undertake other viable economic activities which take the people away from destroying the environment for their livelihood.
He said the farmers were also taken through how to practice the FMNR including techniques in pruning, the period of pruning, and the type of tools to use in the exercise among others.
The question now is what can stakeholders especially chiefs, opinion leaders, District Assemblies, Assembly Members including Government learn from this reliable and simple method of environmental conservation and preservation. In fact the practice of FMNR have been tried and tested and has proved its reliability more than the conventional forms of tree planting.
Research has revealed that by contrast, FMNR is very cheap, rapid and replicable without ongoing external or government support. It is very effective and has the capacity of reclaiming large scale of degraded land and forest regeneration, Bio-diversity with the return of wildlife, rate plant species and natural pest predators.
In Niger Republic one of the world's poorest nations for instance, more than 3 million hectares has been re-vegetated using this method.
Also using satellite imagery, researchers at the United States Geological Survey have been able to identify where tree densities and tree cover in Niger have increased over time and where these changes are likely attributable to FMNR. Estimates from high-resolution images acquired during 2003 to 2008 pegged FMNR at nearly 5 million hectares in Niger.
Because of FMNR, farmers in Niger are producing an estimated additional 500,000 tonnes of cereals a year. This additional production covers the requirements of 2.5million people out of a total population of about 15 million in 2009. FMNR also has an indirect impact on food security through tree crop products, which farmers can harvest and sell in local markets.
Moreover, despite a near-doubling of the population since 1980, Niger has been able to maintain per capita production of millet and sorghum, which make up more than 90 percent of the typical villager's diet. Per capita production remained at approximately 285 kilograms between 1980 and 2006.
Researches have also proven that Farmers in the Central Plateau of Burkina Faso have rehabilitated at least 200,000 hectares of land using the techniques. If cereal production increased by an average of 400 kilograms per hectare, conservative estimate-farmers has increased their annual harvest there by 80,000 tonnes or enough to feed about 500,000 people.
With these increases, farm households that suffered from food deficits of six months or more during the early-1980s when the FMNR was not then practiced have been able to reduce their deficit periods from six months to two or three months, or to zero in some cases.
It is very significant to note that the FMNR techniques adopted by farmers in Burkina Faso and Niger have changed barren agricultural landscapes in those countries into complex agricultural systems with more vegetation and more varied vegetation. In the Central Plateau of Burkina Faso, rehabilitated plots have an average of 126 trees per hectare, compared with 103 trees per hectare on control plots.
Moreover, the trees on rehabilitated land are large and represent a wider range of species. The level of water in wells has improved significantly since land rehabilitation started, and farmers have created small vegetable gardens around several wells, adding their incomes and improving nutrition. Increased water recharge appears to result from increases in rehabilitated lands and not from increases in rainfall.
Although millet and sorghum remain the dominant crops in Burkina Faso, farmers are also increasingly growing cowpea and sesame. In some villages, they have begun reintroducing small plots of cotton on rehabilitated land. More on-farm trees and more livestock also add to diversity.
With their increased supplies of fodder and crop residues, farmers can keep livestock closer to their fields, contributing to more intensive and profitable livestock production. In turn, livestock produce manure that can be used to improve soil fertility.
Twenty year ago, most manure was used as a source of domestic energy, but it is largely returned to the fields. In many places, a market has sprung up for manure, as well as for transporting manure by donkey cart.
It is also worth mentioning that these developments have also improved rural people's livelihoods. After the harvest, men once commonly migrated to urban areas for employment, but some indicators suggest that this pattern is changing as more men remain in the communities where they can now earn sufficient incomes from agriculture.
The innovations have greatly improved the supply of fuel wood over the past 20 to 30 years, allowing women to reallocate the time once spent on collecting fuel wood to other activities, including producing and preparing food and caring for children. Women in the Zinder region in Burkina Faso, who own baobab trees also earned substantial annual income (up to 210 dollars) from the sale of tree leaves used to make sauce for the daily porridge. Farmers report that women involved in FMNR have a stronger economic position and better capacity to feed their families a nutritious, diverse diet.
These stories are among the first examples of the success of poor farmers in enhancing food security while adapting to climate change and must therefore be embraced by all. In Burkina Faso and Niger, the wide-spread dissemination of innovations resulted from long-term collaboration between individual farmers, farmer groups, local and international nongovernmental organizations, bilateral and multilateral donors, and national governments.
In the Sahel, the projects that became successes tended to start fairly small in scale and to closely involve local farmers in designing technical solutions. Charismatic leaders, both local and from outside the community, stimulated change through their own choices and actions and provided personal role models for others.
In a number of the stories recounted, leaders were willing to take socially risky actions that diverged from customary behavior. These types of strong local leaders will need to play a large role in tackling tough conservation problems in Ghana to combat desertification.
In the 1980s, no one would have predicted the extent of re-greening in the Sahel today. Farmers in Burkina Faso and Niger have found low-cost ways of intensifying agriculture that allow production to grow along with population. It is therefore not true by the popular perception that because dry land environments are difficult and market infrastructure is often lacking, investing in them does not pay. Moreover, the longevity of these innovations from two to three decades-attests to their social and political sustainability.
FMNR is a cheap and rapid method of re-vegetation, which can be applied over large areas of land and can be adapted to a range of land use systems. It is simple and can be adapted to each individual farmer's unique requirements, providing multiple benefits to people, livestock, crops and the environment, including physical, economic and social benefits to humans.
Through managing natural regeneration, farmer can control their own resources without depending on externally funded projects or needing to buy expensive inputs (seed, fertilizers, nursery supplies) from suppliers. Its beauty lies in its simplicity and accessibility to even the poorest farmers, and once it has been accepted, it takes on a life of its own, spreading from farmer to farmer, by word of mouth.
What is needed most is that communities may need to be sensitized before introducing FMNR, particularly where there is a history of free exploitation of all tree resources. All stakeholders should be consulted. Nomadic herds may interpret reforestation as a ploy to hinder their access to grazing areas. Care must be taken to work with all groups, explaining the mutual benefits of reforestation. Considerable effort needs to first go into gaining community consensus and collaboration before promoting FMNR, otherwise, trees may be destroyed.
This is exactly what World Vision International did when it initiated the Project in the Upper East Region. There is therefore the need for stakeholders who are into combating desertification to learn this indigenous technology from World Vision since it is one of the best methods of curbing desertification and cheapest and less labour intensive as compared to the conventional forms combating desertification.
Viewing the success being chalked by the FMNR project implemented by World Vision International, the Upper East Deputy Regional Minister, Mrs Lucy Awuni, commended World Vision at Yameriga one of projects areas during durbar of chiefs to thanked Tony Rinaudo for the project and asked that it should be replicated in all the communities in the nine Districts of the Region.
In fact if FMNR is well embraced and practiced, it has the capability and capacity of reducing burden on Women and children's welfare as fuel wood becomes more plentiful and is close at hand. Human and animal nutrition would increase as many regenerated species provide edible leaves and fruits.
The local economy stands to improve through harvest and sale of firewood, poles and non wood products. The quality of life by providing shade, reducing wind speeds and high temperatures and beauty is assured. Improved water infiltration and hence groundwater recharge. Increased crop yields by providing shade, wind protection and through soil enrichment.
In conclusion no one is suggesting that the conventional forms of tree growing must be stopped but let us incorporate it into the FMNR to ensure that our environment is prevented from degradation. Posterity would judge us if we fail to do so. The FMNR technology is there with World Vision and we can get it from them.
GNA Feature - By Samuel Adadi Akapule