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Local Champions Restore Africa

In the arid plains of northern Ghana, Sadik Ibn Abdulai’s life story took an unexpected turn. As he witnessed his family’s once-fertile land transform into a desert due to unsustainable practices, he could have succumbed to the despair that many faced. However, in 2015, he took a bold step by founding Tilaa Ltd. This innovative company empowers women farmers in the region to cultivate drought-resistant cashew trees and nurture beehives beneath their shade. The results were remarkable, with formerly barren lands transforming into thriving pockets of productivity. Sadik’s journey is emblematic of a broader challenge – across Africa, 65% of farmland is degraded. A solution to this crisis lies in the hands of local restoration champions who are driving change with sustainable practices.

Sadik with his concrete beehives

Africa's Precarious Landscapes

The once-teeming landscapes of Africa now stand vulnerable and threatened. Approximately 20% of the continent’s land suffers from degradation, the result of overgrazing, monocropping, and other unsustainable practices. As a consequence, most farms yield a fraction of their potential capacity, leaving over 270 million Africans grappling with chronic hunger, constituting a staggering fifth of the population. Adding to this struggle is the specter of climate change, amplifying challenges through erratic weather patterns and extended droughts. Astonishingly, 27 out of the 40 countries most vulnerable to climate change impacts are in Africa.

Empowerment Through Local Initiatives

While grand-scale interventions might seem tempting, history cautions us about the limitations of top-down approaches. The real drivers of Africa’s landscape transformation are the countless local individuals and communities who rely on the land for their sustenance and livelihoods.

The saga of the Green Belt Movement, championed by Wangari Maathai, stands as a testament to the power of grassroots restoration efforts. Initiated in the 1970s, Kenyan women took action against dwindling resources by planting an astounding 50 million trees. This endeavor not only curbed erosion but also improved water retention and transformed lives. This legacy continues today, with similar local champions like the Albertine Rift Conservation Society (ARCOS) collaborating with Rwandan farmers to restore landscapes through sustainable practices.

the Green Belt Movement environmental group Wangari founded in Kenya. Photo: UN Photo / Jackie Curtis

Navigating Challenges on the Road to Restoration

Africa’s restoration efforts are as diverse as its landscapes. Techniques range from crop diversification to agroforestry and silvopasture systems. These initiatives offer tangible benefits, including improved land quality, enhanced livelihoods, and heightened resilience to climate challenges. Despite the progress made, the pace and scale of restoration efforts still fall short of what is urgently needed. Empowering local champions to lead the restoration charge requires a united global front. Regrettably, investments in these vital initiatives remain woefully inadequate. Shockingly, between 2011 and 2020, less than 1% of overseas development aid was directed towards supporting local communities in their restoration endeavors. 

Accelerating the restoration movement necessitates collective action, exemplified by the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) Restore Local project, which aims to amplify the AFR100 movement – a commitment to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land in Africa by 2030. The success of this movement hinges on governments, development banks, NGOs, and investors supporting the myriad smallholder farmers engaged in restoration efforts. As we forge ahead, bridging this investment gap is essential for realizing the full potential of locally-driven restoration efforts that hold the key to a more sustainable future for Africa’s landscapes.

Essential Elements for Success

  • Capacity-building: Empowering small farmers with knowledge, training, and tools to adopt restoration techniques and establish sustainable businesses.
  • Financial Support: Providing flexible financing solutions for agroforestry and restoration projects that transcend the limitations of conventional loans.
  • Supportive Policies: Cultivating government funding and policies that incentivize improved land management practices.
  • Monitoring Progress: Leveraging technologies like satellites and drones to meticulously track tree growth and assess socio-economic impact.

The potential of local restoration champions in Africa is boundless. They hold the key to reversing land degradation, combatting climate change, and uplifting communities. By extending the hand of support and channeling resources, the global community can empower these champions to orchestrate transformative change. Governments, NGOs, investors – everyone has a role in steering the trajectory toward a sustainable future for Africa’s landscapes. Through collective endeavor, we can embark on the journey to landscape restoration and recapture Africa’s inherent vibrancy and productivity.