What is Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration?


MARCH 2017

By Reini Marissens

Make yourself comfortable with a nice cup of coffee or tea, while reading this blog post. It’s a seven minute read – just enough to finish your cup and continue your day.

With climate change knocking on our door, increasing deforestation and droughts, the future sometimes looks very dark and scary. Even more for people who live close to nature and are dependent on her for their survival. It seems as if solutions are further away than ever – and if there is one, it must be very sophisticated and ask for an enormous amount of effort, time and money.

But who says it needs to be this way? Sometimes the solution can be very easy. Sometimes you don’t need to fight nature, you just have to use what she provides. What if we say that there’s not only a solution for deforestation and agricultural degradation, but also for poverty and malnutrition, and that this solution is a sustainable one? It’s no daydreaming and it’s no fairy tale. It’s called Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration.

“Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration is a low-cost land restoration technique used to combat poverty and hunger amongst poor subsistence farmers by increasing food and timber production and resilience to climate extremes.”

Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) is a mouthful to say, just as it seems there’s no end to its definition. The FMNR Hub defines it as follows: “Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration is a low-cost land restoration technique used to combat poverty and hunger amongst poor subsistence farmers by increasing food and timber production and resilience to climate extremes.”

That’s a lot to process. Let’s look a little closer. What is FMNR?

  • The World Agro Forestry describes FMNR as “a quick, low-cost, sustainable and easy-to-replicate technique to restore and improve agricultural, forested and pasture lands.” 
  • FMNR also “encourages the systematic re-growth of existing trees and shrubs from tree stumps, roots and seeds. It can be used wherever there are living tree stumps with the ability to coppice [re-sprout] or wherever there are seeds in the soil that will germinate.”
  • “FMNR adapts centuries-old methods of woodland management, called ‘coppicing and pollarding’ to produce continuous tree-growth without the need for frequent and costly replanting” is how World Resources Institute describes it. There’ll be more on ‘coppicing and pollarding’ below.
  • Importantly, “it is used to combat poverty and hunger amongst poor subsistence farmers in developing countries by increasing food and timber production.
  • FMNR also increases resilience to climate extremes.

Sounds too good to be true? Let’s look into how it works.

The Three Principles of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration

Actually, it’s very easy to explain how FMNR works. Even more, you’ll see that it’s not that hard at all to bring it into practice either. The FMNR Hub explains it very well by dividing the concept into three main principles.

First of all, you need to allow the trees to grow. Very often the forest is already available, but it’s hidden underground. We simply need to give it the time to establish itself. Beneath the soil is a so-called ‘underground forest,’ a rich expanse of tree stumps, roots and seeds. Farmers can give this ‘underground forest’ a chance to grow in a few ways. One, they can stop burning stumps since that destroys their regrowth. Two, farmers can stop harvesting regrowth from tree stumps and roots, as well as the regrowth from sprouted seeds in the soil. Three, farmers can prevent livestock from continuously grazing the land. This way, seeds and saplings can reach mature to a point that grazing won’t harm them anymore. With these principles in mind, the underground forest is regenerated above ground very quickly – and very important to mention, without spending money on replanting.


FMNR is best learned in person – you can find a workshop near you, such as at the annual Zambia Festival of Action.

Secondly, in order to get healthy, well growing and fine shaped trees, the pruning and thinning of the regrowth needs to happen in a carefully selective way. Correct pruning stimulates “rapid growth and results in taller, straighter, more useful tree trunks” as the FMNR Hub emphasises rather firmly.

But what are the pruning selection criteria? The first step is deciding how many stems are to remove. Select the tallest and straightest stems and remove the unwanted ones. Farmers will achieve a more successful outcome when they return regularly to prune all side branches and new stems that might have appeared in the meantime. The removed stems are perfect for firewood. Since the remaining ones have now more space to grow, their growth will go faster and better. Whenever you decide it’s time to harvest a stem, make sure you don’t forget to choose a new and younger one to replace it. 

The technique is ‘coppicing and pollarding’ and has benefited farmers all around the world for centuries.

Coppice trees

Coppicing is a method of pruning to promote continuous tree-growth. Pollarding is a similar method, where the pruning is done higher on the plant.

One of the biggest advantages of FMNR is the fact that there really is no fixed way to implement it, so farmers can practice FMNR in a number of different ways. The farmers have absolute freedom in choosing which tree species they’re going to use and conserve and which ones they want to remove. They can choose fruit trees, berry trees, nut trees, or medicinal trees. They’re free to choose the density of the trees, and when and how the pruning takes place. Farmers are able to make these decisions based upon their own knowledge and experience. An important element to keep in mind though is to take into account what kind of trees are locally available, what their value is for both the farmer and the community, and that the trees are capable to re-sprout after being cut.

Finally, the last principle of FMNR is the individual and community engagement that comes with it. Not only the farmers, but the whole community should actively engage in the implementation and maintenance of FMNR. This makes sense, since the people living closest to the land, are also the first ones to benefit from it. Negotiating land ownership and user rights of the trees that are in their care, hugely increases the empowerment of the community. Farmers are able to use their skills, knowledge and resources.

Importantly, farmers can also teach other people how to implement Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration. The techniques can be spread very easily from one farmer community to another, without government or NGO intervention. 

Oh, so that’s FMNR!

This wasn’t as hard as it sounded in the beginning, now did it? If you think about it, anyone can practice FMNR – all you need is patience and some knowledge about the trees you are allowing to grow. Since it’s so easy and cheap, even farmers and communities who are struggling financially can recreate a forest, thus tackling both deforestation and nutrition issues. The only thing you need is a piece of land, patience to allow your underground forest to grow into the outer world, a pruning and thinning plan, and of course lots of love for your trees.

Want to learn more?
If you want to learn more about Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration first hand, you can join Greenpop’s Zambia Festival Of Action. You’ll have the opportunity to take workshops on FMNR and on many more sustainable, ecological topics. 

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