With its second annual conference upcoming, the ambitious African Forest Landscape Initiative has already begun to change the face of land use in Africa
By Gabrielle Lipton
This article is a part of the Global Landscapes Forum coverage of the AFR100 Second Annual Partnership Meeting in Niamey, Niger, 26-28 September.
Imagine having a string tied tightly around your wrist. After a little while, your fingertips might go numb, and then your hand. After a little longer, your skin might begin to turn purple, and if you wait too long, you could lose your hand entirely.
One way to remedy this situation could be to massage your hand, to try and get blood flowing back into the veins to bring oxygen back into the extremity. But the cure, of course, is to remove the string, or at least loosen it as best as you can.
The African Forest Landscape Initiative, known as AFR100, is an ambitious practice in the latter. Launched at the Global Landscapes Forum 2015 in Paris alongside the COP21, iIts target is to bring 100 million hectares of degraded and deforested land in Africa into restoration by 2030, but its goal is to increase food security, alleviate poverty, and make the continent—and the world—more resilient to climate change. The best cure for these ailments? Get the landscape back into its full health.
“AFR100 builds on many years of experience and lessons in sustainable land and natural resources management, says Magda Lovei, Practice Manager for Environment and natural Resources at the World Bank, which along with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, is a leading funder of the initiative. “It is simple, clear, ambitious, but achievable.”
Currently, nearly a quarter of the continent of Africa—some 700 million hectares, approximately the size of Australia—is considered as degraded land, and an additional 3 million hectares is added to this number each year. Where there once were pastures for cattle to graze, now there’s arid desert. Rich forests full of food sources and natural medicines are now tree stumps lying dormant in poor soil.
The effects on rural communities and agriculturalists with small plots of land have been enormous, constantly making a gamble of their basic needs: tree cover and arable soil to grow crops and livestock feed, timber for fuel, water for drinking and irrigation, and predictable weather and seasons to ensure that their food and income methods can be continued year upon year.
But that’s all to put the bad news first. The point of AFR100 is to reverse this land change through both replanting forests and boosting tree cover outside of forests, to bring harmony back to African landscapes and the people who depend on them to survive. So far, 24 countries have together pledged to restore 80 percent and counting of the desire 100 hectares.
“Countries like Rwanda have made good progress, in part because they are ensuring that restoration is not only seen as an ‘environmental’ concern, but also as crucial for improving and sustaining overall agricultural production,” says Douglas McGuire, Coordinator for Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
African countries have long been separately involved in Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR), but these individual efforts didn’t become more cohesive and formalized until September 2015 at the World Forestry Congress in Durban, South Africa, when leaders decided to work together to improve 100 million hectares across the continent.
The following month, the African Union endorsed this goal, and AFR100 was conceived as a way to solidify it into a significant puzzle piece not only in tackling fundamental societal issues in Africa but also in completing the Bonn Challenge (restore 150 million hectares of land by 2020); the New York Declaration on Forests (extend the Bonn Challenge and restore an additional 200 million hectares by 2030); and other initiatives such as the African Resilient Landscape Initiative (ARLI) and the African Landscapes Action Plan (ALAP).
“Targets can energize people to act. But targets need to be translated to realistic and affordable plans,” says Lovei. “There is a need for AFR100 partners to build synergies with other initiatives.”
Finally, in late November 2015 at COP21 in Paris, representatives of 10 African countries alongside financial and technical partners officially launched AFR100. A Secretariat, Board, and Technical Assistance Platform were established to oversee the initiative, and steps began to be taken toward making this ambitious number less of a dream and more of a reality.
“AFR100 offers lots of hope and a good forum for moving Bonn Challenge pledges forward,” says McGuire. “FAO is optimistic, but there is a need for closer connections with other similar initiatives in Africa that support restoration.” Bother McGuire and Lovei csite such initiatives as the Great Green Wall, the Land Degradation Neutrality target setting, and the TerrAfrica partnership on sustainable land management.
The principles of AFR100 are similar to those of many large-scale environmental efforts. Local needs and stipulations will be balanced with national priorities; new trees and shrubs will be tailored to fit with natural ecosystems; increasing tree cover will be focused more on raising productivity and sustainability of a landscape rather than recreating its original ecosystem; and success stories from individual communities and sites will be refined and scaled up to be implemented in other areas too.
“AFR100 is country-owned and led,” says Wanjira Mathai, co-chair of the World Resources Institute (WRI) Global Restoration Council and chairperson of the Green Belt Movement. “This is the most essential thing if we are to achieve large-scale sustainable restoration. Monitoring data is also essential, as is strong community engagement. The people doing the actual work to restore their lands must share in the benefits from restoration.”
She and McGuire also include institutional harmonization, access to public and private financing, sound policy and legal frameworks, and proper monitoring capacity in the menu of necessary conditions.
Although AFR100 is in just its second year, Niger can already be viewed as one such success story. Since the mid-1980s, the country’s population has been on a rapid rise—it has doubled in the past 18 years alone—in turn putting tremendous pressure on the land. In response, farmers began planting easy-to-grow trees and shrubs in order to protect their soil, water, and fuel sources, a method that has come to be known as farmer managed natural regeneration (FMNR). To date, more than 5 million hectares have benefitted from this without government aid, increasing cereal production to feed an additional 2.5 million people annually and reducing the average time it takes to collect firewood from 2.5 hours a day to 30 minutes.
Niger, which was also one of the first 10 countries to join AFR100, will be hosting the 2017 AFR100 partnership meeting in its capital, Niamey. In addition to bringing all participating partners and countries together on an annual basis to put in face time and ensure that progress is being made, the conference serves as a platform for countries to share accomplishments such as Niger’s as well as challenges and hurdles, so that lessons learned in one rural community can reach others that might benefit from the knowledge.
Many of the pledged countries have begun taking action. Malawi and Madagascar have released full-fledged strategies for restoration; Kenya and Ethiopia have conducted mapping for where restoration is possible; Niger, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Malawi have starting securing multilateral funding for restoration efforts; and Rwanda has been experimenting with a range of innovative monitoring tactics that can later be scaled- up and adopted by other countries.
This is the gentle massaging that boosts circulation until the string disappears.
Or, in the words of Mathai: “[This] is an opportunity to demonstrate the power of collaboration. To restore ecological functionality of our fragile ecosystems, agricultural productivity, water resources, energy security, and to secure livelihoods of the current and future generations would be a huge victory.”