Introducing Custodian – Tony Rinaudo

When I was researching my book Custodians, I came upon a large project in Africa to plant a ‘green wall’ of trees across the width of Africa to keep the Sahara from expanding and creeping south. When I looked into it, that was only the marketing blurb in order to get politicians to sign up and support it, as they like big things to put their names to.

On the ground there were already many small projects getting lots done on restoring what was original vegetation but for various reasons had been degraded over the years. One of these projects had been developed by an Australian, Tony Rinaudo. Tony was in Africa as part of his work with World Vision.

When I heard Tony describe how he came upon the idea for his specific type of regeneration, I knew he was a true custodian of nature. At the time he had almost given up as the saplings he was planting with the locals in Africa were dying. Tony describes a low moment when he pulled his pickup truck over and asked for help from whatever higher power was listening. He noticed a stump of an old tree which had been over-pruned by locals for firewood or eaten by animals and saw that the leaves were the same leaves as much larger trees that he had seen in the area. It came to him that these stumps, being of old trees would have a large root system under the ground, and if only some branches taken for firewood and if they were protected from animals, then they might regenerate. This is what happened, Tony worked with local people to manage the old growth stumps, taking some of the side shoots but allowing the main shoot to regenerate. Because of the huge roots underground, the trees shot up into abundance. Flying over in an aeroplane years later Tony saw swathes of green where there was once bare soil.

When I contacted Tony as part of the research for my book, I was inspired by his warmth and also by his matter of factness, he’s a very practical guy which is why I guess he has done so much on the ground through community development work with his regeneration projects where everyone wins, the trees, the locals and the Earth. I wanted to use one of his images in my book and not only did he say yes, he actually included another image that he used in his presentations and thought might work better for me.

Here’s a wonderful video with Tony explaining the project in Niger. It’s hopeful and I promise it will put a smile on your face!

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