Faith and Natural Regeneration

Connecting farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR) practices with communities around the globe to “be stewards of the land” (Genesis 2:15).

Right Livelihood co-organised a workshop together with the World Council of Churches on 12 May 2023, connecting the work of Right Livelihood Laureate Tony Rinaudo in farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR) practices with communities around the globe. Learn more about Tony Rinaudo, Irene Ojuok, Ethiopian Orthodox Church Forest Initiative and other living testimonies of the farmer-managed natural regeneration.

About Natural Regeneration

‘Miracles happen when you work with nature’, maintains Tony Rinaudo, known as the ‘forest maker’ and the ‘father of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR)’. FMNR is the systematic regrowth and management of trees and shrubs from felled tree stumps, sprouting root systems or seeds. It has multiple livelihood and ecological benefits, and contributes to both climate change mitigation and adaptation. Credited for 'probably the largest positive environmental change in the Sahel, if not all of Africa', (1) FMNR is a practice which all concerned for the care of Creation can heed. FMNR builds on indigenous knowledge and practices of land care.  It has acquired vernacular names in different countries:  Kisiki Hai - ‘living stump’ - in KiSwahili; sassabin zamani - ‘modern day land preparation’ in Hausa; and beysatol - 'work the land' - in Senegal. It is low-cost and spreads spontaneously under the right circumstances; as such, it is a powerful tool for climate action in the hands of the rural poor. FMNR is a form of ‘assisted natural regeneration’, which includes forest restoration and re-wilding. It is complementary to other regenerative approaches of land stewardship which churches can foster and implement. In the face of the growing environmental and climate crises, putting effort into assisting natural regeneration gives hope that humanity can still work in harmony with nature and with God, and so realise the truth of Scripture that ‘the Earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof’.

Right Livelihood and its cooperation with the WCC

“For over 40 years, Right Livelihood has honoured and supported courageous people solving global problems. Each year, Right Livelihood highlights change-makers committed to peace, justice, and sustainability for all through the Right Livelihood Award. By recognising the actions of brave visionaries and building impactful connections around the world, Right Livelihood boosts urgent and long-term social change. Today, the work of Right Livelihood extends beyond presenting the Award by connecting Laureates to each other and our network, contributing to their protection when needed and continuously informing about their work. Through this support work, Right Livelihood co-organised a workshop together with the World Council of Churches, connecting the work of Right Livelihood Laureate Tony Rinaudo to communities around the globe, collaborating to increase the reach and use of farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR).

Learn more about Right Livelihood and the work of the 194 change-makers who have received the distinction since 1980 here.

Tony Rinaudo’s story

Tony Rinaudo grew up in the Ovens Valley in South East Australia where, he recalls, he ‘was surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation. My playgrounds were the mountain streams, fertile farms, and rolling hills....’  Then came ‘widespread clearing of the forests I loved…'.

Tony recalls that he was 'angry and frustrated at [his] powerlessness to change anything'. So he did the one thing he could do - he prayed, 'asking God to use [him] somehow, somewhere, to make a difference.' 

After studying agronomy, Tony and his wife Liz took up a post in Niger in 1981, with the evangelical missionary organization, Serving in Mission.  Part of Tony's work was to plant trees. 

Two years later, he felt deeply frustrated.  'Nothing worked in an economically viable or sustainable way. Eighty per cent of the trees planted died and, for the most part, the people I was trying to help weren't interested.'

During his daily devotions one morning, Tony read, in Psalms 104, “When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.” 

A little while later, while driving through a barren landscape, Tony decided to stop the vehicle and reflect. ''I wondered if this land could ever be restored.'' he recalls. ''Then, looking down at my feet, I saw a tiny germinating plant pushing through a crack in the dry, hard ground and immediately I recalled the morning’s reading. I felt a great burden lift—the task of restoring the earth was not my burden alone. This was God’s work.'' 

Not long afterwards, a seemingly useless bush caught Tony's attention. From the shape of its leaves, he realised that it wasn’t a bush at all, but a felled tree that was resprouting from the stump. It suddenly dawned on him there were 'millions of such “bushes” in the landscape'.  In that instant everything changed for Tony:  'everything I needed was literally at my feet—an “underground forest.”  Tony began to experiment with farmers, pruning regenerating trees.  With their deep roots, these indigenous trees started to grow handsomely.  Farmer-managed natural regeneration had been born.

Tony spent 17 years in Niger. He was awarded the Commandeur de Merite, Agricole, for his services to the country.  In 2018, Tony won the Right Livelihood Award. Learn more

Irene Ojuok: Regreening hearts and minds

When Irene Ojuok was a child, she would sit on the shores of Lake Victoria, near her hometown of Kisumu in Kenya, and reflect. ‘I had a sense of connection with nature,’ she recalls.

‘We used to go on nature trips with the Pathfinder Club at my church. That strengthened my interest in the environment during my childhood. I learnt that in nature we see God.’

The third-born in a family of nine children, Ojuok grew up in a slum. She helped her mother sell maize and bananas in the local market during free time from school. ‘That was the way I was able to buy school books.’ She got the books she needed to enter university. Shortly after graduating in environmental studies, Irene applied for an internship with World Vision. She never looked back.

In the field

Irene Ojuok in the field. 


She was posted to her home area, in Homa Bay on Lake Victoria, to lead a climate resilience project based on FMNR. The practice took off, improving soil fertility and the availability of firewood in the area. Irene was awarded titles of ‘Tree Ambassador’ by Total Eco Challenge Kenya and ‘Climate Champion’ by Homa Bay County. Today, Irene is a doctoral researcher on FMNR at the Right Livelihood College, University of Bonn and an Ambassador for the Global EverGreening Alliance.

Her favourite motto is from Mahatma Gandhi: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ ‘I am passionate about FMNR because of the benefits’, Irene says.‘It’s effective and cost-effective. You can grow trees without the cost of purchasing seedlings and survival rates are high. It meets the needs of rural women, for example in ease of access to firewood, indigenous fruits, fodder for livestock, and income from bee-keeping, gums and resins among others. I am totally convinced that communities have a key role in restoring their lands.’ Learn more

Ethiopian Orthodox Church Forest Initiative

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church, one of the oldest Churches in the world, has more than 35,000 parish churches and monasteries endowed with indigenous forests ranging from 1 – 19,000 ha of land forest cover each. A patch of indigenous old-aged trees in the northern highlands of Ethiopia signifies the presence of a church/monastery in the middle. These church forests are visible from a great distance, with a majestic appearance, usually built on small hills overlooking the surrounding villages. 

Ethiopian Orthodox Church Forest Initiative, led by its partner the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Development and Inter-Church Aid Commission (EOC-DICAC) has won the 2023 ACT Climate Resilience Award. Since 2018, Norwegian Church Aid and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s development wing, have been working to protect these Church forests and to expand them to other areas. Learn more

Ethiopian Orthodox Church Forest Initiative
Ethiopian Orthodox Church Forest Initiative

Monks walk through the Church forests of Menagesha Medhanialem Monastery in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian Orthodox Church Forest Initiative

FMNR is the systematic regrowth and management of trees and shrubs from felled tree stumps, sprouting root systems or seeds. The regrown trees and shrubs help restore soil structure and fertility, inhibit erosion and soil moisture evaporation, rehabilitate springs and the water table, and increase biodiversity. Some tree species also impart nutrients, such as nitrogen, into the soil. 

FMNR works by integrating the age-old practices of coppicing and pollarding into a systematic methodology that enhances effectiveness and scalability. Farmers can grow crops, and keep livestock, between and around the trees. 

FMNR can increase crop yields, provide building timber and firewood, fodder and shade for livestock, wild foods for nutrition and medicine, and improved living standards for farming communities. It is a tried and tested, low-cost approach to reducing vulnerability to climate change.  Furthermore, when regenerated trees are not exploited for timber or fuel, FMNR also sequesters carbon from the atmosphere and can contribute to climate change mitigation.

FMNR complements other forms of sustainable land management and responses to climate change, including tree-planting. It is a way of working with nature that benefits human livelihoods, and as such is a practice which all churches can encourage. Learn more

Land regeneration

Natural systems, from whole biomes to the human body, have enormous powers of self-healing.  Human-assisted natural regeneration is to work with natural forces of recovery for the common good.

Assisted natural regeneration takes different forms. Farmer-managed natural regeneration is at one end of the spectrum: it takes place within agro-ecosystems governed by food production for humans. At the other end of the spectrum is re-wilding: allowing ecosystems degraded by human activity to return to their natural state. The latter can happen over large tracts, or in small urban pockets. In between these two extremes are many forms of assisted natural regeneration, with different levels of human intervention, from regeneration of sustainably-managed forests to pastoralist-assisted regeneration of rangelands.

The world’s vegetation has been described as ‘the planet’s carbon closet’. It is currently estimated to hold 450 billion tonnes of carbon - the equivalent of 50 years’ worth of burning fossil fuels at present rates. If all the earth’s vegetation were to be restored to a pristine state, the figure is estimated to rise to 900 billion tonnes. Natural regeneration holds enormous potential for climate change mitigation.

While the effects of natural regeneration on climate change mitigation are long-term, and can seem remote, the effects on adaptation are short-term and immediate. Forests provide water catchments; vegetation inhibits landslides and flash-flooding; mangroves hold back storm surges, and urban trees provide localised cooling.

Discovering how to assist nature’s power to regenerate is to rediscover what it means to be a steward of God’s earth.

Natural regeneration

Christians are called to tend the garden; to be stewards of the land (Genesis 2:15). At the dawn of the Anthropocene, defined by widespread biodiversity loss and anthropogenic climate change, how are we meant to interpret these injunctions? 

It is not too late to harness, and benefit, from the self-healing powers of nature. Many encouraging examples exist, from the regreening of five million hectares of farmland in Niger with FMNR; to the restoration of the steppes of central Kazakhstan, where saiga antelopes have increased more than ten-fold in 15 years [1];  to the spontaneous recovery of over four million hectares of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest [2].

Churches have jurisdiction over vast swathes of land. Church leaders have moral influence over millions of congregants, from farmers and foresters, to captains of industry and government ministers.

As Psalm 104 reminds us: 

‘He makes springs pour water into the ravines;
It flows between the mountains.
They give water to all the beasts of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The birds of the sky nest by the waters;
they sing among the branches.
He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work.

He makes grass grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to cultivate -
bringing forth food from the earth:
wine that gladdens human hearts,
oil to make their faces shine,
and bread that sustains their hearts….

How many are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
The earth is full of your creatures….

All creatures look to you, 
to give them their food at the proper time….

When you send your Spirit, 
they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.’   

Group of people overlooking the valley

We are called to sustain the land. It is also the land which sustains us.


[1] Go wild in these countries: five exciting re-wilding projects to visit:

[2] As large areas of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest regenerate, the gains don’t last:,had%20survived%20as%20of%202019.

Practical resources
FMNR Manual

Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) Manual is available in English, French and Spanish.


Walk the Talk

A Toolkit to Accompany the "Roadmap for Congregations, Communities and Churches for an Economy of Life and Ecological Justice"

“Walk the Talk” builds on Roadmap for Congregations, Communities and Churches for an Economy of Life and Ecological Justice,” a 5-step programme to change the way we deal with the economy and our ecological surroundings.

This toolkit aims to enthuse congregations and churches through concrete examples of communities in action as well as offer good practices and practical materials to “walk the talk” on economic and ecological justice, in each of the areas:

  • Living in Accordance with the Covenant with God and Creation
  • Renewable Energy and Climate Protection
  • Just and Sustainable Consumption
  • Economies of Life
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