Equipping Communities in the Sahel

Wednesday, 9 November 2022 Equipping Communities in the Sahel Over many decades SIM workers serving with the Sowing Seeds project have transformed communities in the Sahel. One of our mission workers who served with this project was Tony Rinaudo.   

As a young boy, Tony Rinaudo felt a deep conviction to care for the natural environment and for vulnerable people. Feeling powerless to make a difference, he prayed for God to “use him somehow, somewhere to make a difference”. While studying rural science, Tony met his wife, Liz. Both Tony and Liz had an individual conviction that God was calling them to serve in agriculture in Africa. Tony and Liz went on to serve as SIM workers in Niger for 17 years. 

During their time in Niger, after unsuccessfully struggling for several years to establish planted trees, Tony discovered a very simple solution to regreening land without planting a single tree. The technique he pioneered, together with local farmers, came to be known as Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR). In recent years, FMNR activities have been identified on over 18 million hectares across 27 countries, reducing our carbon footprint, restoring degraded landscapes, restoring hope and transforming millions of lives and livelihoods. 

Today, Tony’s legacy continues through Sowing Seeds of Change in the Sahel (SSCS), a project that brings holistic transformation in the villages Tony served. Motivated to demonstrate the love of Jesus, the SIMaid project in West Africa seeks to transform lives through agriculture and community health. As well as advocating for FMNR, the project runs a demonstration farm where the team invites farmers to learn sustainable farming techniques. The communities where SSCS work consist of mainly subsistence farmers and herders who struggle to harvest enough to meet the basic annual food needs of their families. As well as equipping farmers with sustainable practices, the project also has a health training program with an emphasis on nutrition, prevention of diseases and traditional birth attendant training.  

Ruth Perkins, who has served with SIM for nearly 30 years in Niger, serves in the SSCS team from Australia. She continues to work with the project through the development of health training materials and other tasks. Ruth described the environmental condition of Niger 40 years ago when Tony was working in fields that were bare and sandblasted. She shared, “Sand drifts formed against huts. Crops failed in the poor soil. Tony Rinaudo and his team worked beside farmers planting thousands of trees, but few survived.” 

In the early days, Tony was ready to give up and go home, but felt that God must have a solution. Tony prayed “forgive us for destroying the gift of your creation, as a consequence of which, people are hungry, they are poor and they fear for what tomorrow might bring. But you love us, you sent your son to die for us. Show us what to do, open our eyes. Help us.”  

“In that life-changing moment, Tony realised that the ‘bushes’ that were slashed back each year before the crops were planted were actually trees, with a vast underground root system,” Ruth explained. “Here was the solution to the problem of deforestation! Tony then taught farmers to prune and leave some of these little trees in the fields, and Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) was born.” 

“It wasn’t easy to convince farmers that this was a good thing, but where the brave few persevered, the soil became more productive, and they again had firewood, building timber and all sorts of other benefits. Now people say they will never stop leaving trees in their fields. Niger’s farmers have led the way for many others in the world to find hope.”  
Just like Tony, Ruth also felt compelled to serve in missions after being inspired by former SIM mission workers. When she arrived on the field, she first served in Galmi Hospital. After encountering many patients who were suffering from preventable issues, she had the desire to visit villages to equip them with health training. “I liked the way Sowing Seeds was interested in incorporating health work into their already established agricultural development program,” Ruth shared. “I spent the first year observing, researching and learning. Then some other medical missionaries joined, and we developed the health training program.” 

The SSCS team seeks to journey with farmers in their region so they can experience true hope and transformation.  

Combatting Food Insecurity 

Earlier this year, Sam (a local pastor) visited the Sowing Seeds team to share how people in his village, mainly women, were struggling to have food for themselves and their children.  

Sam, who has lived in the village for 4.5 years identified one reason for the food insecurity. As the village is near Maradi, rich tradesmen from the city have noticed the increased land value and started buying land from the villagers. As a result, many people in the village don’t have land anymore, or at least enough to feed their families.  

Sam shared to the SSCS team, “Really, it’s the women that suffer most. Because the men don’t have land anymore, they leave to go and look for work elsewhere. The women and children are left behind and have to see how they get by. During the cropping season women often go and look for work on other people’s fields. Outside the cropping season they maybe collect a bit of firewood or something to sell. They gather edible leaves from shrubs and small trees to cook at home. It’s a very difficult life.”  

Praise God SSCS, working together with another project, were able to give the vulnerable families 3 months' worth of millet and corn. The women planted the millet and corn on a field that is used for the women’s group. The SSCS team will continue to walk alongside the people in this village and find constructive ways to bring transformation to their situation.  
GIVE: Do you want to equip farmers in West Africa to improve the food security of their families? You can give to SSCS by visiting sim.org.au/sowingseeds.  

Do you want to read more about Tony’s story and the impact of FMNR around the world? Tony Rinaudo’s new book The Forest Underground: Hope for a Planet in Crisis recently won the Australian Christian Book of the Year award. You can buy the book at www.iscast.org/tfu/.

Photo credit: ©Silas Koch-World Vision
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