Investing in ecosystem restoration may improve resilience and economic growth. Davide Clode, Unsplash

In Africa, finance lacks for landscape restoration, despite probable returns

Here’s what experts said in two dialogues on Africa’s sustainable finance landscape

With African governments committed to bringing 100 million hectares of land into restoration by 2030, global experts at two virtual discussions focused on how to finance the achievement of this goal. 

The talks, held by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF), took place as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration officially launched during the first week of June.

“Investments are not where they should be,” said Wanjira Mathai, WRI’s vice president and regional director for Africa, who moderated the WRI webinar Unlocking Billions for Restoring Africa’s Landscapes. “Financial resources are not being channeled. Money needs to be allocated in the right way and translated into the kind of policies on land tenure, on social protection, on financial sector reform.” 

While two major restoration initiatives in Africa – the continent-wide AFR100 and the Great Green Wall in the Sahel – have received billions in backing, the speakers stressed that they still require more investment in order to be achieved. 

This reflects the state of restoration finance globally as well. OECD has said roughly USD 7 trillion is still needed to meet climate change development goals. And in a new report, UN Environment (UNEP) concluded that investments in nature must triple by 2030 to help save ecosystems. Meanwhile, private sector investment in nature-based solutions remains a tough sell, attracting just 14 percent of funding for nature, or USD 18 billion USD per year. 

Wanjira Mathai at the Global Landscapes Forum event in Marrakesh, Morocco in 2016. Pilar Valbuena, CIFOR
Wanjira Mathai at the Global Landscapes Forum event in Marrakesh, Morocco in 2016. Pilar Valbuena, CIFOR

These gaps remain despite the financial returns that landscape restoration can bring, such as that every USD 1 dollar invested in forest restoration can yield between USD 7 and 30 dollars in benefits. According to WRI, that means a minimum investment of USD 100 billion in restoring 100 million degraded hectares in Africa could add more than USD 700 billion of value.

“When it comes to landscape restoration, [investment] is actually a win-win-win,” said Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund. “It’s incomes that can be doubled. It’s food security that can be improved. It’s resilience that farmers and economies can have. And it’s addressing climate change. The pieces of the jigsaw need to be put together.”

Some local-level enterprises, however, are attracting funding and achieving restoration through their business models. Botswana’s Kalahari Honey, for example, trains farmers on how to simultaneously protect their farms from elephants and harvest honey by using beehives as “living fences,” and then connects the farmers with markets in Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia to sell their goods. In Uganda, Kijani Forestry tackles deforestation by spreading biodiverse agroforestry and permaculture practices that provide farmers with sustainable sources of charcoal, fruit and fodder for livestock. 

Such localized initiatives also feed upward into global efforts, some of which were also highlighted in the events, including the multi-partner Trillion Trees Campaign, which aims to grow and conserve one trillion trees by 2030, and the Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration Impact Program (FOLUR), managed by the World Bank and supported by the Global Environment Facility, which works with partners to transform the global food system by promoting sustainable, integrated landscapes and efficient commodity value chains for beef, cocoa, coffee, maize, palm oil, rice, soy and wheat.

These financial commitments represent the first steps on the long road to lowering carbon emissions and ensuring resilient, regenerative landscapes.

“Billions of dollars need to be directly invested in entrepreneurs and community organizations with the necessary long-term vision, local knowledge and technical expertise,” said Susan Chomba, director of vital landscapes for WRI Africa. 

A woman with a Moringa tree in Guinea, where a grant has helped women form cooperatives to plant and harvest from the trees. Joe Saade, UN Women
A woman with a Moringa tree in Guinea, where a grant has helped women form cooperatives to plant and harvest from the trees. Joe Saade, UN Women

As for what governments can do to spur investment in land restoration, Isaac Acquah, the chief program officer of Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency, spoke about that country’s long-term plans, such as restoring 2 million hectares of land by 2030 as part of the AFR100 initiative. “The role of the Ghanaian government, in line with this development agenda, is to create an enabling environment that assists medium- to long-term environmental, economic and social development,” Acquah said. A key factor in this process is using data to target priority areas that local communities have identified as needing immediate help.

Investments are particularly needed in the “missing middle” – businesses too large to qualify for micro-finance loans and too small for grants and other institutional aid. To get this critical capital into the hands of community-level enterprises in Africa, speakers at GLF’s plenary session Scaling Finance: Restoring Africa’s Drylands Through Private Investment and Local Projects stressed the importance of impact investing through backing successful businesses and helping them grow.

“We need to support the good work in place that may not have access to finance and technical capacity and bring in additional training and resources,” said Beau Milliken, co-CEO of Kijani Forestry. 

Peace Grace Muhizi, Africa project manager for One Tree Planted, said that her organization, which often partners with existing initiatives to scale up their forest restoration activities through channeled funding, looks for those that have local-level expertise in land use, markets, supply chains and other sectors – all indicators of better tree survival and overall success.

“Reforestation and landscape restoration are not simple tasks,” she said. “They require multiple entities to come together to make it happen.”

Tomo Kumahira, vice president of corporate finance and strategy at the supply chain startup Komaza, which trains farmers in agroforestry methods to plant valuable timber on their farms, reminded new businesses of the importance of perseverance. Using Komaza’s launch as an example, he noted, “It takes about 10 years to prove a concept.”

Said Mathai, “Growing trees, revitalizing grasslands, planting mangroves, and a host of other techniques would provide a future that is more food-, water- and energy-secure.”



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