What will it take to restore 100 million hectares of land in Africa?

Never before in the history of mankind have we been challenged to shape our own survivalWanjira Mathai

Ethiopia, Tigray region, Kola District. As part of the World Bank funded Sustainable Land Management Program, the whole community, men as well as women, work relentlessly to prevent erosion and land degradation by planting local species of trees. Photo by Andrea Borgarello/TerraAfrica

Ethiopia, Tigray region, Kola District. As part of the World Bank funded Sustainable Land Management Program, the whole community, men as well as women, work relentlessly to prevent erosion and land degradation by planting local species of trees. Photo by TerrAfrica Partnership.

The challenge is massive, but so is the promise. Healing 100 million hectares of degraded and deforested land in Africa will bring countless benefits: fresh air and water, food and energy —the very stuff of survival. It will also build people’s climate resilience, and contribute in a big way to global climate change mitigation goals.

Land restoration aims to bring back ecological functionality to degraded ecosystems. It can be achieved by introducing or allowing trees to grow on landscapes and using sustainable land management techniques such as terracing steep hillsides, minimizing tillage and building structures to stop soil erosion. Curbing free-grazing of livestock and managing water also support land restoration.

At the farm and community levels, these methods have been shown to work, with some dramatic results. But how do you restore 100 million hectares of land in Africa in under two decades? This was the central question at the first Regional Conference of the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) held in Addis Ababa, 11-12 October.

AFR100, an African-Union-endorsed, country-led initiative, seeks to trigger and support the restoration of 100 million hectares of degraded land in on the continent by 2030.

Visionary leadership will essential to reach the goal. In addition, resources will need to be secured, and coordinated action on the ground initiated and sustained. Continuous monitoring and adaptation will help tweak countries’ restoration activities along the way. And it will take time.

In her keynote speech, Wanjira Mathai, co-chair of the Global Restoration Council and chair of the Green Belt Movement, termed the AFR100 partnership “An idea whose time has come.”

Mathai, daughter of the Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai (1940–2011), urged countries to commit to restoration without delay, and make their targets known to AFR100.

Commit to restoration


Speakers at the AFR100 regional conference, 11-12 October 2016. L-R: Peter Saile, GIZ; Sean DeWitt, WRI; Wanjira Mathai; Mamadou Diakhite, NEPAD; State Minister HE Kebede Yimam, Ethiopia; Annelene Bremer, BMZ; Gayatri Kanungo, World Bank; and Philippe Dardel, World Bank. Photo by D. Ouya/ICRAF

Since it was endorsed by the African Union in October 2015 and launched at Paris COP21 in December 2015, 21 African Countries have committed to restoring 63.3 million hectares of degraded landscapes under the AFR100 umbrella, representing over 60% of the target 100 million hectares. Many other countries are deciding whether to join, or working out the hectareage they can commit to AFR100. To the former, Mathai had a word of advice:

“STOP! Just do it.”

Wanjira Mathai delivers keynote speech to AFR100 conference, 11 October 2016, Addis Ababa. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

Wanjira Mathai delivers keynote speech to AFR100 conference, 11 October 2016, Addis Ababa. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

Plan and prioritize

Each country will take its own path to restoration, based on its environment, socio-economic realities, and development aspirations. Through their participation in AFR100, countries will have the opportunity to share with and learn from their neighbours, the continent and beyond. They will also tap into technical support from groups like World Resources Institute (WRI), World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), TerrAfrica, IUCN, and other AFR100 partner organizations.

Secure financing

Restoration takes leadership and strategy, but it also requires financial resources for planning, implementation and monitoring. Since AFR100 was launched at the end of 2015, the World Bank has committed over USD $1 billion of investment for 14 African countries by 2030. At the AFR100 conference, World Bank’s Philippe Dardel said the Bank is committed to working with countries to realise their AFR100 commitments. He added that the latest Africa climate business plan (ACBP) forecasts that USD 750 million will be committed by 2020 to address land degradation.

Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is another leading AFR100 supporter, providing financial and technical support to countries.

Other financing options available for restoration include private-sector investments, national government allocations, crowd-sourced financing and venture capital. These were discussed in detail at a session of the Addis conference [see related blog by Fraser Brown].

Act local, think global

Mamadou Diakhité of NEPAD. Photo by Teko Nhlapho/NEPAD

Mamadou Diakhité of NEPAD. Photo by Teko Nhlapho/NEPAD

Mamadou Diakhité of NEPAD pointed out that while AFR100 is an African country-led initiative, it is anchored in the Bonn Challenge, New York Declaration on Forests, and the African Resilient Landscapes Initiative, ARLI.

And in his speech, delivered by NEPAD’s Diana Mawoko, Ibrahim Miyake of the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency said AFR100 is aligned with the African Union (AU)’s Agenda 2063, the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the AU’s Malabo Deceleration, and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Horst Freiberg, one of the architects of the Bonn Challenge, was at the Addis meeting. He called AFR100 “a concrete example of how to implement the Bonn Challenge.

“Regionalization is a key element of the Bonn Challenge, and of bringing global goals to the ground,” said Freiberg.

Work different, move quickly

Time is of the essence if we are to achieve the large-scale restoration envisioned in AFR100 by 2030. As such, countries will need to act swiftly to move from planning to action, and break down the inter-sectoral barriers that often stand in the way of decision-making and progress.

Diana Mawoko, NEPAD. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

Diana Mawoko, NEPAD. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

“No single sector can restore landscapes on its own. It needs investment and capacity building across sectors,” said Annelene Bremer of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

“Business as Usual will not get us to 100 million hectares by 2030. We must move fast, and we must move now,” warned Mathai.

Think long term, think Landscape

Of all continents, Africa has the largest restoration opportunity—an estimated 700 million hectares of deforested and degraded land. Sean DeWitt of WRI emphasized the need for a long-term yet flexible strategy to meet the restoration challenge.

“Landscape restoration has to become like a national electricity plan for countries—with a 20- to 30-year timeframe.”

DeWitt also urged a landscape approach, systematic monitoring, and a focus on people.

“Every hectare restored counts, and land restoration must fulfill the needs of the local population. Without integrating local populations, you will not succeed.”

Annelene Bremer of BMZ. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

Annelene Bremer of BMZ. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

Align rural policies

At the AFR100 Conference’s opening, Ethiopia State Minister H.E. Kebede Yimam said in Ethiopia, some 50 million hectares, equivalent to one-third of the country’s landmass, have been earmarked for restoration; 15 million of these are committed under AFR100.

“Restoration will help to realize Ethiopia’s Climate-Resilient Green Economy Strategy to achieve middle-income status and zero net emissions by 2025.

“We are speaking not just of forests. We are also speaking of using trees in agricultural landscapes.”

Minister Kebede said the effort in Ethiopia involves “a restoration movement from the grassroots level, action on multiple fronts and support to farmers.”

“Locally enforceable rules and by-laws about land use, protection and regeneration of forests, and benefit sharing from improved resource management are all essential.”

Yigremachew Seyoum of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change elaborated these remarks in the Ethiopia country presentation. And senior representatives from Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Niger, Malawi and Cameroon shared their progress and implementation plans to meet their AFR100 commitments for restoration.

Involve people and respond to community needs

Especially in its initial stages, land restoration takes hard work: famer managed natural regeneration (FMNR), which involves managing tree stumps until they are mature trees; planting and nurturing tree seedlings; digging terraces; moving earth and rocks to build gabions and embankments; constructing water harvesting ponds; and using a cut-and-carry system to feed livestock (as opposed to free grazing)— all these take manual labour. And normally this labour has to come from community members living of the land.

Minister Kebede pointed out the need to raise awareness about the benefits of restoration among local people, as the best way to gain the buy-in that sparks voluntary, collective action from community members.

“We need people to increase the number of trees and to implement restoration practices on their land on their own initiative, because it benefits them directly and indirectly.”

Aba Hawi's leadership triggered a large-scale restoration in Abreha we Atsbeha, Tigray . Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

Aba Hawi’s leadership triggered a large-scale restoration in Abreha we Atsbeha, Tigray . Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

The AFR100 meeting provided participants a chance to forge partnerships and learn from others’ experiences in landscape restoration. Case studies from community-led regreening in Tigray, Ethiopia; Niger in the Sahel; and Shinyanga in Tanzania, served as sparks of inspiration.

A field trip to Abreha we Atsbeha on 13 and 14 October capped the meeting, demonstrating the challenge and promise of restoration. This community in Tigray Province snatched back their once-condemned landscape from runaway degradation and restored it to health and productivity. Over two decades, the villages moved over 90 million tonnes of soil and rock with their hands, and adopted ‘community exclosures’ [areas where farming and grazing are forbidden for a period] to bring life back to their soils and landscape.

It took the visionary leadership of Aba Hawi [Village chairperson Gebremichael Gidey‘s nickname, which means ‘Man of Fire’], voluntary hard work from thousands of villagers, policy support from the government, and technical support from Mekelle University, World Vision, ICRAF and many others.

The results are clear for all to see— healthy and productive landscapes with trees, plenty of clean fresh water, food security for people, ample fodder for livestock, and sustainable incomes from the farms. The restoration of Abreha we Atsbeha has won back people’s livelihoods, equity and human dignity.

Most would agree that these long-term gains far outweigh the enormous effort it took.

For more information, contact Mamadou Diakhité, Team Leader, Sustainable Land and Water Management Programme, NEPAD.

Email: MamadouD@nepad.org

About AFR100

In October 2015 the African Union endorsed AFR100 as a country-led partnership to accelerate land restoration in Africa, with a target of 100 million hectares by 2030. Since it was launched in December 2015, 21 African Countries have committed to restoring 63.3 million hectares of degraded landscapes, and many more are expected to join the initiative.

Download AFR100 Overview document

See related blog: Straight talk: Grants are needed to develop scalable community-based Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) business models to achieve AFR100

Learn More

Video: A Tale of Two Villages

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Download AFR100 Overview document

Regreening Ethiopia’s Highlands: A New Hope for Africa

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Daisy Ouya

Daisy Ouya is a science writer and communications specialist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Over the past 15 years she has been packaging and disseminating scientific knowledge in the fields of entomology, agriculture, health, HIV/AIDS research, and marine science. Daisy is a Board-certified Editor in the Life Sciences (bels.org) and has a Masters’ degree in chemistry from the University of Connecticut, USA. Her BSc is from the University of Nairobi in her native Kenya. She has worked as a journal editor, science writer, publisher, and communications strategist with various organizations. She joined ICRAF in July 2012. Twitter: @daisyouya

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