Mamadou Diakhite leads work on sustainable land and water management for the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD Agency)

As world leaders gather in Paris for climate negotiations (COP21) this week, they’re discussing the impacts of climate change and how they plan to combat it. African countries, for example, have the least historic responsibility for climate change, but their communities are often the most affected. Climate change will worsen conditions across Africa’s drylands, which are already affected by desertification, by increasing temperatures, stressing crops, and increasing unpredictability. Up to 250 million people on the continent will live in areas of high water stress by 2030. And population growth and resource scarcity will inevitably exacerbate these conditions: 65 percent of land in Africa is already affected by degradation, and the continent loses 3 percent of agricultural GDP annually due to soil and nutrient loss on farmland.

Despite these extreme circumstances, Africa is not shrinking away from climate action. In fact, many of its countries are leading.

In Paris today, a coalition of more than a dozen African countries, nine financing organizations and 10 technical partners announced a new initiative called the African Restoration Initiative (AFR100), with the goal of restoring 100 million hectares of degraded and deforested land in Africa by 2030. AFR100 countries have already committed to restore more than 31.7 million hectares and partners, including the World Bank, are earmarking more than $1 billion in development finance and $540 million in private sector impact investment to support these activities.

Restoration Can Yield Multiple Benefits for Africa

According to analysis from WRI and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Africa has the largest opportunity for forest landscape restoration in the world -- more than 700 million hectares (1.7 billion acres), an area nearly the size of Australia.

Forest landscape restoration (FLR) involves increasing the density of trees across landscapes to boost productivity and ecological functionality, and its outcomes go way beyond forests. For Africa, the most direct benefits would be to improve soil fertility and food security, boost access to clean water, increase natural forest cover for ecosystem services, combat desertification, create green jobs, and bolster economic growth and livelihoods, while at the same time making a substantial contribution to climate change mitigation.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

For example, restoring degraded land to mosaic landscapes by integrating trees on farms (agroforestry) and ranchlands (silvopasture) can increase soil nutrients and groundwater retention, thus improving both food and water security.

Restoration is also a pathway for more equitable distribution of economic benefits for women, the rural poor and other disadvantaged groups. Many restoration practices like Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR), which encourages the protection of trees that grow naturally on farms, can be readily adopted by resource-poor farmers and herders. This restoration can then quickly generate benefits in terms of increased supplies of food, firewood and improved access to water, which are particularly beneficial for women because they are largely tasked with food and water harvesting.

Most importantly, many African communities are already reaping the benefits of restoration. For example, farmers in the Ethiopian region of Tigray have already restored more than one million hectares of degraded land through agroforestry and silvopasture. By doing so, they’ve expanded farming long into the dry season, increasing food security and economic opportunities. Farmers in Niger and Mali have dramatically increased on-farm tree densities by protecting trees and shrubs growing naturally alongside their crops. These on-farm trees increase soil nutrients, lock-in water and provide shade, which has helped boost crop yields. The AFR100 Initiative will help expand these efforts across the continent.

The Benefits Go Beyond Africa

Restoration and AFR100 provide an opportunity for Africa to lead on climate action and alleviate great development challenges, but the benefits will go well beyond the continent. FLR in Africa can contribute significantly to the global effort to address climate change and accelerate progress in achieving sustainable development goals.

AFR100 also contributes to the Bonn Challenge, a global goal to restore 150 million hectares of land by 2020, and the New York Declaration on Forests, a plan to initiate restoration on 350 million hectares by 2030. Research shows that restoring these 350 million hectares could generate $170 billion/year globally in net benefits from watershed protection, improved crop yields and forest products.

AFR100 lead partners in government, business and civil society welcome national governments, regional institutions, public and private sector partners and international development programs to join the initiative to help restore productivity to deforested and degraded landscapes across Africa.

Read our press release for more information.