Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration
In various countries in the Sahel, vast tracts of degraded land have been restored by the local population by nurturing what spontaneously springs from the soil. They do this using a method called 'Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR)'.
About 70% of the world's drylands are affected by degradation. In the Sahel, this is one of the biggest threats to the traditional livelihoods of millions of people, including farming communities and pastoralists. Unsustainable agricultural practices, notably the cultivation of non-indigenous and irrigated crops, as well as overgrazing, are major drivers of land degradation. This process is exacerbated by changes in climate that cause even more erratic rainfall patterns, longer periods of drought and unpredictable growing seasons. As a result, conflicts between farmers and pastoralists over access to water, land use for cultivation and grazing grounds are intensifying, to which the current policy frameworks do not have an effective answer.
Planting trees as a means to regenerate ecosystems is often not feasible in drylands due to a lack of water, human capacity and recurrent spells of drought. A solution that proves to work, however, is Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR). In various countries in the Sahel, vast tracts of land have been restored by the local population by nurturing what spontaneously springs from the soil and protecting the sprouts from cattle and hazards. Central to FMNR is the idea to allow nature to do its work and let the dormant but still active 'underground forest' of roots, stumps and seeds sprout spontaneously.
This low-cost, low-technology and farmer-led method enhances local food security and income and leads to ecological stability and resilience to climate change in the long run. The growing forest provides local communities with fruits and nuts, construction materials and fodder and shade for their cattle.
A social practice
An important factor for successfully introducing the method in the community, is an agreement between village farmers and other land users like cattle herders and nomadic populations on land use and the protection of seedlings from 'cattle & axe', especially during the first period of 3 to 4 years.
Furthermore, women should be involved in the implementation of FMNR, and get their equal share of decision-making- and negotiation power. In these Sahel countries, women play a vital role in farming food crops, animal husbandry, harvesting and processing of non-timber forest products and the provision of basic needs such as water and firewood for their families.
Government support and market access
Effective Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration in the Sahel also requires an enabling environment in terms of governance and access to markets. By having local authorities participating in the training sessions, organising field visits for them and update councillors and village chiefs on the progress of the FMNR-activities, local formal and customary policy-makers get involved in the project activities. This way they are more likely to support and adopt these initiatives. For example by including FMNR in Community Development Plans and adjusting legislation for land tenure, forest management and communal land for cattle grazing.
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All around the world small-scale farmers are using sustainable and inclusive methods to produce food. Working together with nature and each other, they provide their families and communities with sufficient and healthy food. But their production methods are under pressure from large-scale agriculture and the globally dominant system of industrial food production. Together with our partners, Both ENDS is trying to turn the tide in favour of sustainable, local practices that are mostly known as 'agro-ecological' or 'nature-inclusive'. Why are we focusing on these methods? Agro-ecological practices are climate-proof and inclusive and increase the opportunities for communities around the world to produce their food sustainably.