Reasons Why Acceleration of Ecosystem Restoration in the Sahel should be a Priority this Decade

sahel picture of desert

Immediate implementation of certain measures is of necessity for the Sahel. This will help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in this region.

One feasible solution is  scaling agroforestry and regeneration approaches.

Private sector investment and supporting restoration is essential for the region to realize its environmental and economic opportunities.

Why should acceleration of the restoration of the Sahel ecosystem be a priority?

To answer shortly,  because it is a critical part of the action required to realize the opportunities for sustainable development in the Sahel, benefiting the growing population of the Sahel and creating new markets for urgently needed climate and nature-friendly regenerative businesses.

More detailed  answer would be as following:

The Sahel is a paradox of challenges and opportunities for sustainable development.

On the one hand, approximately  3/10  of the population of the Sahel is in urgent need of humanitarian assistance as the region grapples with a difficult security and conflict situation. The region is also struggling with significant social and environmental vulnerability to climate change and an expected doubling of its population by 2050.

In this context, there are many difficulties in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in this region. In addition, it should be dealt with food and nutritional security, poverty reduction, and sustainable livelihoods in this region.

On the other hand, the Sahel is home to great opportunities. This is more about enormous solar energy potential – both utility-scale and off-grid – and natural resources. The region is also one of the youngest in the world with 64.5% of its population under the age of 25. It means that investment in education and training could yield an important demographic dividend for the Sahel.

However, one of the Sahel’s greatest opportunities lies in restoring degraded land and developing climate-friendly agriculture and pastoral systems. This explains why leading initiatives such as the Africa Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative and the Great Green Wall Initiative have set a goal to restore 100 million hectares of land by 2030.

Today, 13 years after the Great Green Wall initiative was launched in 2007, only 20% of the planned 100 million hectares has been realized. (More rigorously, some say it is only 4%.) Obviously, the next 10 years should be a decade of much faster action, implemented on a larger scale.

Scaling up agroforestry and restoration approaches in the Sahel will be a central part of this action program.

Agroforestry is a general term for many of these practices. It mimics the diversity of natural ecosystems and is an intelligent combination of crops, trees, plants, and livestock to form a holistic, diverse, and self-sufficient production system. This puts agriculture back into the landscape, is regenerative, and reduces farmers’ dependence on expensive chemicals while improving soil health and crop productivity by storing more carbon in the soil.

Innovative environmental entrepreneurs began seizing this opportunity decades ago, re-introducing ancient methods on a larger scale, combining with new science ideas, and working closely with local communities. Their success shows how such natural solutions not only restore and green Sahelian parks, but also contribute to increased food security, nutritional and income security, and farmer diversity, reduced vulnerability to climate shocks, increased fuelwood supplies, and development of the markets for local products.

The significance  of Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR)

Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) is one of the most effective solutions for agroforestry.  The simplicity and low-cost nature of this method are very advantageous. It consists of pruning seemingly dead stumps and carefully processing them to re-grow into trees (instead of planting new trees). Originally developed in Niger, where more than 5 million hectares have been successfully restored with the help of FMNR, the method is now spreading to at least 24 countries in Africa and Southeast Asia.

The financial investment required for such ecosystem restoration projects in the Sahel is estimated to range from $ 36 billion to $ 43 billion for the period 2021 to 2030, excluding the cost of capacity building, training, and policy change. This is 17-20 times more than the funding allocated for the Great Green Wall in its first decade.

Unlocking private sector investment and supporting recovery has historically been challenging. Market creation that allows government policies, a decentralized governance structure that guarantees local community ownership, effective and efficient monitoring, and clear land tenure rights may play a crucial role in encouraging investment in Sahelian products.

Private sector players can now take advantage of three opportunities to increase supply and demand for investment projects:

1. Investment through carbon finance. The Great Green Wall has a carbon sequestration potential of 250 million tonnes by 2030. As companies around the world strengthen their climate commitments, the demand for highly reliable carbon offsets, especially for natural solutions like agroforestry, is growing. New standards for measuring soil carbon allow for carbon certification of improved agricultural land management, which could help increase the current flow of carbon finance to sustainable agriculture in the Sahel.

2. Scaling up innovative investment funds and acceleration programs for SMEs in agroforestry. Small and medium businesses often find themselves in the “missing middle” where access to finance for growth is limited. The challenge is even more challenging for environmental entrepreneurs seeking to provide social and environmental benefits along with financial returns, working in an often poorly understood region such as the Sahel.

Over the past decade, a number of foundations have emerged that seek to fill this gap that environmental entrepreneurs face in the Sahel. Examples include the Moringa Foundation, Land Degradation Neutrality Foundation, Sahel Capital, CDC, and XSML Impact Investing. Scaling up these mechanisms further will allow the pooling of different types of private sector finance and help overcome the transaction costs associated with investing in individual projects.

3. Support and empower the green entrepreneurship movement. In order for such new investment vehicles to channel funds to the Sahel on a large scale, the region needs many more recovery investment projects. While traditional project-based technical assistance plays a key role, it also plays a role to inspire and empower a generation of youth leaders to become environmentalists and join the recovery movement. Practitioner platforms such as the Global Landscapes Forum, emerging acceleration programs such as WRI’s Land Accelerator or GrowthAfrica, and youth networks such as the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Network, Youth4Nature, and others are examples of networking participants that support such a movement of environmental entrepreneurs worldwide,  including in the Sahel.

With the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration 2021–2030, the world has an opportunity to advance the movement for recovery and inspire more regenerative environmental entrepreneurship around the world.

To support the goals of the UN Decade, including realizing the potential of green entrepreneurship in the Sahel, the World Economic Forum launched 1t.org, a multi-stakeholder platform to help conserve, restore and grow 1 trillion trees by 2030.

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