Accelerating land restoration by building on farmers’ experiences. Lessons from African drylands

November 7, 2022

Land restoration improves local livelihoods, reduces poverty, allows communities adapt to climate change, and sequesters carbon in trees and soil. Trees are central to most restoration efforts, yet large-scale plantations are criticized for their negative environmental and social impacts. However, in some countries a growing number of farmers are encouraging trees and shrubs to regrow on their farmland, and this is leading to widespread regreening, a practice called farmer managed natural regeneration (FMNR).

Wageningen University and Research, World Vision and Tropenbos International joined hands to share stories, experiences and opportunities for dryland restoration on 11 October 2022, with more than 100 people gathered in Wageningen and 100 more following online. They listened and asked questions to leading experts on farmer managed natural regeneration. Special guest was Tony Rinaudo, chief climate action advisor at World Vision Australia, and winner of the Right Livelihood Prize (2018).

Professor of tropical forest ecology Frans Bongers opened the symposium with a news article Phantom Forests: Why Ambitious Tree Planting Projects Are Failing showing how and why large tree planting
campaigns fail, and brings forward assisted natural regeneration, including FMNR, as an alternative to tree planting with significant benefits.
Tony Rinaudo then introduced a short version of The Forest Maker, a new film produced by Oscarwinning filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff. It told the inspiring story of his role in pioneering the early spread of
FMNR in Niger since the 1980s, and that later spread to more than 5 million hectares − land now restored and regreened, and yielding larger harvests for 2.5 million people.
Chris Reij, a leading voice on regreening Africa’s drylands, built on this by explaining that satellite data and field research show large-scale regreening by farmers not only in Niger, but for instance also in Mali, Tchad, Ethiopia and Malawi. In the latter country one finds FMNR on 3.2 million hectares. This large-scale regreening in Malawi has flown under the radar and was uncovered in 2019.
Madelon Lohbeck from Wageningen University presented the science behind FMNR, and that there is a great need to unravel the mechanisms underlying natural regeneration to be able to know where it is most effective and where it may need to be complemented with tree planting. Though she also noted that "even though further research is needed, this should not stop its implementation right now."

A panel of the speakers plus Nick Pasiecznik of Tropenbos International, then took questions from the
audience, chaired by André Brasser. These include questions from Acorn (Rabobank), VU Amsterdam, the
Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a number of NGO’s (e.g. CARE, Justdiggit, Woord en Daad, CARE…)
and other experts, all active in areas related to restoration.

For the full text and the most important learnings from the symposium: visit