Charting New Territories for ECHO: First Ever Caribbean Regional Conference

“Latin America has lost nearly 100,000 square miles of forest -- an area larger than the state of Oregon -- between 2001 and 2010.“

ECHO’s first Caribbean Regional Conference, was held October 29-31, 2013 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. This Conference, nestled in the heart of the Caribbean, provided a network and training opportunity for those involved in alleviating hunger and poverty in the Caribbean Region and throughout Central America. Offered in Spanish and Haitian Creole, three mornings of plenary sessions featured knowledgeable and experienced speakers. Afternoon workshops and discussion groups led by regional agricultural development workers and experts rounded out the networking experience.

We wanted to take the opportunity to profile one speaker in particular and give you a glimpse into one of the topics that delegates learned more about last October. 

Tony Rinaudo and his wife Liz spent 18 years in Niger Republic from 1981 to 1999 where he managed famine relief interventions and a long term agricultural development program promoting organic farming, reforestation, diversified food production systems and community based health. Today, Tony is the Research and Development Advisor for natural resources with World Vision Australia, primarily focused on environmental restoration for food security. He is involved in the promotion of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) globally through workshops and conferences, training of trainers, media and creation of resource material.

Tony has been an ECHO network member for many years. In fact, he was one of the 36 network members to receive the very first issue of ECHO Development Notes in 1981. In the early years, he tested ECHO seeds in his work in Niger and relied regularly  on communications with ECHO to stave off the loneliness of rural agricultural development. These experiences make Tony an excellent presenter, understanding both the struggles and joys of ECHO’s network members all around the world. 

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His presentation, Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) was first shared at ECHO’s West Africa Networking Forum.  According to Tony, “From 1984 to 2004 average tree density on Nigerien farms rose from 4 trees/hectare to 50 with some farmers leaving up to 150 trees per hectare. Today, some 5-6 million hectares of formerly bare, windswept farmland have been reforested through FMNR. These changes make a huge impact on food security, income and environmental preservation.” Simply, FMNR is a method of caring for and cultivating existing native tree potential and integrating these trees into the field agriculture system. Already adapted to and presented in the West African environment, many delegates were motivated and equipped to put what they learned into immediate action.

Even though FMNR was developed in the semi-arid tropics of Niger, it has great potential in the humid tropics as well. It is a form of selective pruning which goes back centuries in many climatic regions of the world. FMNR is now being promoted in the Philippines, East Timor, Indonesia, Myanmar and wetter parts of Africa. 

The need is great throughout Latin America. According to the journal Biotropica, Latin America has lost nearly 100,000 square miles of forest -- an area larger than the state of Oregon -- between 2001 and 2010. 

When asked about his vision for the potential of FMNR in the Caribbean, Tony shares, “My vision for the Caribbean is for a re-greening movement that reverses deforestation trends, builds a sustainable, robust and productive agriculture and contributes to environmental restoration. I see this happening through awareness creation and by building on the indigenous knowledge that is already there, by exploring ways of reviving good traditional practices, by enhancing them and being intentional about promotion and implementation of agroforestry and community management of water sheds.”

“I am greatly encouraged each time I present on FMNR and I witness the ‘aha’ moment, when the audience ‘gets it.’ It is invigorating to be reminded that there are so many enthusiastic and committed people of all ages and from many organizations (and in some cases simply working on their own out of conviction) working towards improving the lives of the world’s poor. In particular, meeting the next generation of development workers is very encouraging.”