Updated: Jul 10
By Emilie Changeux
On February 22nd, the World Research Institute, Realize Impact, and Barka Fund organized an amazing webinar on the future of sustainable restoration finance. Presenting a number of experts and entrepreneurs who have developed methods to help fund mid-sized sustainable restoration organizations in Africa, this meeting was incredibly educational to the High Atlas Foundation.
At the start of the webinar, the current nature of environmental investment in Africa was described, along with what can be done to improve and grow. The key factor turned out to be using grants for the early steps of an organization’s work, and supporting future activities by creating flexible loans so that future value can be created. Creating a reliable structure for long-term impact investment, especially for organizations focused on reforestation, allows sustainable restoration to grow in Africa.
The impact of trees was especially emphasized because of their resilience and regrowth in the face of climate crises, ability to sequester carbon in large amounts over a longer period of time, and the short and long term value that trees can provide communities for generations.
Venkat Iyer also gave a short presentation of the AFR100 initiative to support African restoration organizations. Venkat highlighted the importance of conserving Sub-Saharan Africa’s arable land, as 65% of that land is becoming too damaged to support food production. A major roadblock that many restoration organizations are facing is lack of funding and backing, especially in developing countries where less than 10% of agroforestry SMEs receive the capacity and support they need.
In response, AFR100 was launched in 2015 at the African Union Heads of State Summit, with the goal to restore 100 million hectares of degraded African landscapes. This includes a 3 phase long-term investment program to support SMEs in agroforestry, carbon capture, and biodiversity initiatives. AFR100 hopes to develop “restoration champion” nonprofits that work directly with small farmers and local communities. And, as Venkat pointed out, investing in SMEs is incredibly impactful because of their capabilities to last longer, create compounding long-term benefits, and the fact that they can grow to eventually be self-sustaining.
This message of supporting small businesses and nonprofits was continuously touched on throughout the webinar. For example, the Land Acceleration program, presented by Samuel Kabiru, promotes a restoration business model founded on growing communication and business skills for the selected entrepreneurs. The lack of capacity or technical skills among smaller enterprises, an underdeveloped investor to SME network, and issues communicating proposals and impact have been impeding many SMEs capabilities . By selecting entrepreneurs to undergo training and build these skills, the Land Accelerator hopes to drive further investment to African restoration organizations and improve business models.
After attending this webinar, it’s clear that there is growing hope for SME organizations here in Morocco to gain more access to funding and support. The High Atlas Foundation has already applied some of these techniques, especially the concept of providing training so that small organizations like cooperatives or nurseries can improve their communication, business, or agricultural skills. We also engage in fruit tree planting with the goal of providing long-term, compounding social, economic, and agricultural benefits for our partner local communities. This webinar demonstrates that there is a successful precedent for developing these kinds of initiatives, and restoration organizations like the High Atlas Foundation and its partners can continue to increase their impact.