The Forest Landscape Investment Forum that occurred in 2017 in Kigali, convened by the Food & Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and Rwanda’s Ministry of Natural Resources served to highlight the opportunity that Africa’s degraded and drylands have for the development of foreign investment that can stimulate economies and restore these large areas.
The World Resources Institute has published reports showing that Africa has more than 700 million hectares of degraded land – the largest opportunity for forest landscape restoration anywhere in the world. Under the recent continent wide Africa Restoration Initative (AFR100), more than a dozen African countries have committed to restoring 120 million hectares by 2030. Rwanda in particular has been at the forefront of this movement, with almost the entire landmass of the country included in its 2 million hectare commitment.
The Kigali Forum highlighted that for these targets to be achievable companies engaging in restoration must demonstrate a compelling vision, robust business model, and strong potential to deliver financial returns – all of which are necessary to drive private sector involvement into the projects. Investors must be sold on the business idea, believing that there is sufficient market demand and that the business can generate consistent cash flows. In FLR, this is often easier said than done and it is critical to draw on lessons learnt from successful examples.
A panel held on May 16th showcased Business Champions – four companies split between forestry and agriculture sectors that are really championing innovative and proven models. This panel highlighted four leaders in the restoration industry in cross cutting forestry and agricultural sectors that have faced these challenges head-on.
New Forests Company – a traditional timber plantation company operating in a number of countries in East and Southern Africa. New Forest Company is targeting Private Equity investors interested in longer term returns that come along with high social and environmental impact. The company’s main product of eucalyptus poles also generates impact by assisting in providing the raw resources for rural electrification across Africa.
EcoPlanet Bamboo – with AFR100 contributing projects in South Africa and Ghana seems to tick all the boxes when it comes to innovation. The company has coined the term “tree free, deforestation free” to revolutionize bamboo fiber as a potential raw resource for a range of markets and products that currently use timber. Their restoration framework is combined with technology development for a full circular economy. If EcoPlanet Bamboo can break through the barrier it seems like the potential for scaleability and landscape restoration can be significant. EcoPlanet Bamboo has some videos that give a good overview of the framework of each project.
GreenFi Limited – although with a somewhat complicated model, GreenFi appears to be filling a much needed niche of providing micro finance to farmers and communities based off their commitment to achieving forest landscape restoration. GreenFi is a sister company of F3 Life. The company is working with the IUCN to scale up the pilot across all East African countries and if successful will allow thousands of farmers across rural Africa to become part of the solution.
Shekina – Rwanda based Shekina ticks the boxes for innovation, having designed technology to help rural farmers convert cassava leaves (from an entirely separate plant to the food cassava) into a valuable resource, generating significant revenue and reducing waste. Shekina is an interesting case study as cassava is not generally associated with sustainability but the indirect benefits are significant with new markets being explored. With more revenue generated rural farmers need to turn to their remaining natural resources is reduced.
With a focus on the smallholder African farmer imperative for any commitment to achieve forest landscape restoration at the scale designed by AFR100, both EcoPlanet Bamboo and Shekina, both of whose commercial models are now in the process of being scaled through both smallholder and outgrower farmer schemes, seem set to take Africa by storm. Meanwhile GreenFi is there to kick start the necessary investment, while New Forests continues to pave the way for rural electrification as Africa continues on its development path.