By Brian Hilton, Food Security Advisor, World Vision Australia
Kibinzi Rutana is a steep rocky outcrop in Burundi, where rocks on the ground still bear the scars of burning.
In some countries it would be illegal to farm this land. But in Burundi, a tiny densely populated country in East Africa, anything goes. The population is so dense and land so limited, that even these marginal lands are fair game for farming. The farming group led by Ezekiel Sindabavimbere used to burn this area every year to try and produce grass for grazing.
Enter a new idea and a new motivator. The new idea is FMNR (farmer managed natural regeneration). The new motivator is Isaac Munyengingo. While FMNR has been around for 30 years, it is new to Burundi. FMNR is the idea of regenerating forests through the pruning of tree stumps to encourage upward growth. Burning also needs to be reduced or eliminated so the forest can grow again. This is cheaper and faster than planting trees and results in a diverse forest.
Isaac Munyengingo has also been around a while. He is a passionate advocate of land care in Burundi where he sees such devastation. Isaac is a technical leader with World Vision Burundi. Before, he was trying various things with farmers to improve land. He attended training lead by World Vision Australia's Tony Rinaudo in 2016, where he learned and practiced FMNR. The training in FMNR was a light bulb moment for him-a real revelation. Isaac realized that this was a cheap, easy solution to reforestation, without expensive tree planting. Isaac was able to combine his passion of restoring land, with a rapid and cheap method of growing a new forest. The concept of FMNR focused Isaac’s energy. He tried it, saw that it was working and then he was able to connect and motivate other champions.
Thriving indigenous fruit trees in foreground
A local hero
One such champion is Ezekiel Sindabavimbere, a hill leader in the Kibinzi area. Ezekiel’s group was desperate to make the 7 ha-blackened outcrop of rocky land productive. Seven hectares is a huge area in crowded Burundi and the farming group was desperate for the land to provide some income for them. The group had been burning it regularly to help produce grass. But this exposed the land to severe erosion. He needed help. This is when Ezekiel met up with Isaac, who offered to train and supervise the group with their FMNR activities. The group was skeptical about adopting the new method of FMNR, but they needed to try something - anything. Isaac trained the group on how to find the tree stumps that still remained and to prune them, leaving two to three shoots to promote upward growth. Although it was 7 hectares this small amount of work was done in a short time. The group noticed the tree growth right away. The grass growth was as much as it had been, which was encouraging. In the second year the growth was better. In the third year indigenous fruit trees started to bear fruit again. Rabbits came back and a small group of gazelles took up residence in the regenerated forest.
Ezekiel Sindabavimbere FMNR promoter and chief of the hill, next to an indigenous fruit tree, now giving fruit after only 3 years of FMNR being practiced at this site. Far right, team members stand at another FMNR area.
Yielding the benefits
Pole beans is a main crop for the group. The regenerated forest supplied the branches and poles that the beans need to climb on as they grow. Without the pole beans, they have to grow bush beans which are lower yielding. With the pole beans the forest was starting to pay some real economic benefits. With the fruit, families were able to practice greater diet diversity as malnutrition is rampant in the areas. The stream down below the hill doesn't run by the end of the dry season. Rainfall on the reforested area and is now absorbed into the soil, instead of running off. Interestingly there is still grass for their grazing cattle. Most importantly there has been a transfer of skills. Ezekiel explains lovingly the types of fruit trees now growing, the care for the land and what the farmers can harvest without effecting the ecology.
FMNR is not just the solution for 7 hectares in Kibinzi, but for thousands of hectares of degraded land in the Burundi and around the globe. Burundi is just one of more than 40 countries around the world where the practice of FMNR is expanding.
If you are interested in becoming an FMNR champion from afar follow this website https://fmnrhub.com.au/ and support the FMNR hub.