World Vision's Tony Rinaudo demonstrates trimming a eucalypt to World Vision's Cecundina Pereira (centre) and a local farmer in Aileu. Photo: World Vision

Aussie 'forest-maker' in Timor-Leste wins prestigious international award

 World Vision’s Tony Rinaudo has won the Right Livelihood Award, a 'People's Nobel Prize' of sorts, after more than 35 years working across Asia and Africa, including Timor-Leste.  “Most people don’t realise that protecting the environment can help reduce hunger. Having trees on your land or forests nearby helps improve soil fertility, reduces rain runoff and boosts crop yields,” Tony says.  “They even help mitigate the effects of climate change for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”  Tony was travelling in Niger in 1983, when he encountered a dilemma with the tree-planting movement.  “The international community was planting trees, but many of these trees kept dying. They wouldn’t survive the drought, while people were chopping them down because they desperately needed wood for fuel, shelter and to sell,” the 61-year-old Australian agronomist says.  Tony was in the middle of barren landscape in Niger in 1983, when he made a surprise discovery that there was an existing underground network of tree roots struggling to grow.   He realised he could train local farmers to help these trees to grow by educating them about the benefits of trees and teaching them a technique to prune them with a sharp knife.  The simple method is called Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration, also known as FMNR. Since the 1980s, it has been credited with helping restore six million hectares of forest in Niger.  “In these areas, farmers say they’ve been able to double their crop yields and incomes. They’re now producing enough food to feed an extra 2.5 million people a year,” Tony says.  FMNR in Timor-Leste After its success in Niger, Tony introduced FMNR to Timor-Leste in 2012 through a World Vision climate change resilience project in Aileu Municipality. Since then, World Vision has continued to adopt FMNR in its agricultural projects. The award, which is given to four Laureates worldwide each year, recognises courageous people and organisations offering visionary solutions to the root causes of global problems.  Past recipients include Syria’s ‘The White Helmets’ and human rights advocate Bianca Jagger. “Tony Rinaudo presents practical solutions to counter desertification, famine and despair. His Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration method has proven to be very successful,” Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, said.  “If policymakers are ready to support this approach, degraded drylands with an area the combined size of India could be restored.”   Tony says he hopes more organisations and policymakers will promote and incorporate environmentally sustainable initiatives like FMNR into development work.  “It’s an honour and it’s also exciting to think what this could mean for FMNR,” Tony says.  “FMNR isn’t a silver bullet, but it definitely has the potential play a major role in mitigating climate challenges and reducing hunger in Timor-Leste.”