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Investing in nature is a development opportunity

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The degradation of natural ecosystems and the loss of biodiversity in poor African countries could destroy the foundations for future growth. Image credit: Anne Nygard from Unsplash.

Investing in nature is a development opportunity

The degradation of natural ecosystems and the loss of biodiversity in poor African countries could destroy the foundations for future growth, writes Leon Louw, founder and editor of WhyAfrica.   

According to a new World Bank Group paper titled Unlocking Nature-Smart Development, there is sufficient evidence to prove that nature loss is capable of erasing recent gains in development in some of the poorest countries of the world. However, investing in nature can also be a development opportunity if we equip African leaders, businesses and policymakers with as much data about biodiversity as possible.

As people continue to make progress, urbanisation, mining, agricultural production, and wildlife exploitation increases, adding pressure to an already stressed natural environment which results in a loss of biodiversity, threatening life as we know it.

To mitigate this ever-impending threat, measuring and recording changes in the abundance of wild populations and habitats, particularly in relation to how we use land can provide insight into the impact human activity is having on nature.

Governments sit with the seeming conundrum of balancing the growing demands of socio-economic development with environmental needs to ensure people and societies thrive alongside the biodiversity on which they depend.

Dr Hayley Clements is a researcher at the Center for Sustainability Transitions, Stellenbosch University and at the core of what she does is understanding how biodiversity connects to human well-being.

Through the newly launched Biodiversity Intactness Index for Africa, the BII4Africa project is making a holistic assessment at country, province and even municipal level for government, conservation and natural resource management decision-makers to have the biodiversity information they need to guide sustainable development.

The Biodiversity Intactness Index assesses the average change in abundance of all species due to the particular land uses and human activities in the observed region. This accounts for changes over time and between locations which can be estimated by expert opinions to provide credible and practical information to use over alternative indicators that require extensive data and resources.

Decentralising data-driven decision making 

The increased pressure we continue to put on the environment is pushing nature towards a series of tipping points, beyond which the amount of biodiversity lost will cause an ecological collapse. With the biodiversity Intactness Index being readily available, we will be able to answer questions like, how many more ecosystems must be conserved to avoid reaching a tipping point?

Funded by the Jennifer Ward Oppenheimer Research Grant, which is awarded annually by Oppenheimer Generations to support research programmes focused on contributing to the advancement of environmental and allied sciences in Africa, this project today allows over 100 biodiversity experts across the continent to contribute their knowledge to develop biodiversity intactness index scores for Africa that are simple to understand.

All this work will help policymakers and broader stakeholders make the best-informed decisions for appropriate land use allowing us to balance the growing demands of socio-economic development with environmental needs.

The economic spin-offs of investing in conservation

Applying this data and information will go a long way in informing investment decisions about conservation and sustainable development. There is no doubt that investing in conservation has numerous economic spin-offs.

A recent World Bank study on protected areas in four countries demonstrated that investment in conservation generates positive economic returns, creates income multipliers, and provides practical green recovery options in times of Covid-19.

“Shifting sectors and value chains toward nature-smart practices can also create inclusive, long-term value and greener and higher quality jobs,” the report states.

According to Karin Kemper, Global Director, Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy Global Practice at the World Bank, an increasing number of countries are recognising that risks posed by nature loss can be detrimental for all parts of the economy and are starting to seek solutions. “The impact of nature loss is felt most in low-income countries. We are trying to find solutions that go beyond protecting and conserving, but touch all parts of the economy, including the financial sector,” says Kemper

According to an article by the World Bank, analysis shows that a few economic sectors are at the core of unlocking a nature-smart agenda. In other words, solutions to the crisis lie in the economic sectors that put the greatest pressure on biodiversity and ecosystem services: land and ocean use, infrastructure, and energy and extractives (WEF 2020b).

Investing in Nature-Based Solutions

Seeing nature as a solution can help countries tackle multiple challenges simultaneously, like food and water security, human health, and climate change. For instance, green infrastructure, such as mangroves, wetlands, and watersheds can enhance the performance of traditional infrastructure built for flood protection. Between 2012 and 2017, 81 World Bank projects supported green infrastructure and urban biodiversity solutions (Browder et al. 2019). It is estimated that nature-based solutions could deliver 37% of the cost-effective climate mitigation needed through 2030 (Griscom et al. 2017).

 Mobilising finance

The World Bank estimates that there is a financing gap of USD711- billion per year for biodiversity.

In a recent report, the World Bank calls for a comprehensive approach to mobilising resources that involves greening finance – directing financial flows away from projects with a negative impact on nature towards those with positive impact, as well as financing green – unlocking investment in conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of nature.

Another way to mobilise finance is through the design and application of financial instruments for conservation such as labelled bonds, transition bonds, sustainability-linked bonds, and insurance products, in the context of biodiversity. Over the past decade, the World Bank Group has created the foundation for what is today more than a USD750-billion green bond market, which is connecting environmental projects with capital markets and mainstream investors. Since 2008, the World Bank has raised USD14.3-billion through 168 green bonds issued in 22 currencies. The success of green bonds has inspired the creation of other thematic bonds, such as blue bonds.

Wildlife economies critical in Africa

With wildlife tourism in Africa heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, there is an increasing recognition of the need for growth and diversification within the sector.

According to Oppenheimer Generations Head of Research and Conservation, Dr. Duncan MacFadyen sustainable and inclusive wildlife economies are critical to the future of wildlife conservation in Africa. “However, there is a lack of knowledge of wildlife economies and what is required to enhance their contribution to sustainable development and wildlife conservation across the continent,” says MacFadyen.

The Wildlife Economy Institute (AWEI) of Stellenbosch University in South Africa recently received R10-million from the Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation team to   promote sustainable and inclusive wildlife economies across Africa.

The Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation team is a research entity which supports, funds and partners with national and international researchers to conduct cutting-edge research focused on the natural sciences.

The AWEI’s academic mandate is multidisciplinary working across the faculties of Stellenbosch University and collaborating with universities, research institutes, and conservation organisations across Africa. AWEI aims to generate new research on wildlife economy and to use it to enhance policies, governance, and management practices within the sector.

The sustainability of the wildlife economy depends on well-functioning value chains in products such as tourism and recreation, hunting and fishing, and wildlife products including game meat.

A Taste of Game

The game meat industry is diverse and has seen continued growth. The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural developed reported that the average gross value of game meat amounted to R38- million between 2000 and 2008.

More recently, Wildlife Ranching South Africa estimated that by 2018 the value of game processing at R4.5-billion annually. This growth is predominantly due to consumer demand for healthier, GMO-free, low-fat protein. The increased demand and supply of game meat contributes to rehabilitated natural landscapes, rural economic development, job creation, and food security.

Prof Wim de Villiers, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of Stellenbosch University says that by bringing together academics from various disciplines – including law, economics, business and conservation science – to engage with stakeholders and decision makers, the aim is to facilitate an enabling environment for wildlife economies across the continent. “Taste of Game demonstrates the potential for diversifying wildlife value chains by connecting responsible consumption to transformed landscape management, and providing economic, health and social benefits through conservation,” he says.

Prof Kennedy Dzama, AWEI Chair and Deputy Dean of the Faculty of AgriSciences adds that the governance of the wildlife industry is complex and suffers both from a lack of and a surfeit of mandates, standards and regulations. “However, the private sector together with government can focus on opportunities for creating an enabling environment. A key focus of the work of the AWEI is identifying how community livelihoods can be enhanced through scaling up the wildlife economy,” says Dzama.

Through the Taste of Game initiative, AWEI together with Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation aims to support the development of an inclusive and sustainable wild meat sector across Africa that benefits both people and nature.

Leon Louw is the founder and editor of WhyAfrica. He specialises in natural resources and African affairs.        

WhyAfrica provides you with business intelligence that matters. Africa is our business, and we want it to be yours too. To subscribe to WhyAfrica’s free newsletter or digital magazine, and for more news on Africa, visit the website at www.whyafrica.co.za or send a direct message. WhyAfrica will launch its first ever digital magazine in November. If you are interested in contributing or advertising, please contact me at leon@whyafrica.co.za. To coincide with the first launch, we have a range of different packages and combo deals to give your company the greatest exposure to a rapidly growing, African readership.       


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AgricultureEnvironmental Management & Climate ChangeEnergyESGInfrastructureMiningPolitical EconomyTourism and ConservationWater Management