“We need to promote an aggressive restoration program that builds resilience … ”

— Lina Pohl, Minister of Environment, El Salvador

Who would have thought that more than 50% of the worlds cashews come from Africa, and that the small country of Ghana is one of the major producers? And who, other than some Ghanaian farmers, is unhappy that only 8% of those cashews are processed in that country — yet another instance of Africa exporting its raw materials and losing out on the profits derived from their conversion to consumer goods?

This information came from the “pitch” given by Theodore Ocansey, Managing Director of Ghana’s Kete-Krachi Farms, at the December 2018 Accelerator for Land Restoration conference in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference, which brought together African farmers and experts in sustainable land development and finance for four days of training and technical workshops, sponsored pitches by farmers and land-restoration entrepreneurs for capitalization from public and private sources.

Twelve companies — out of 245 applicants — were selected to give their pitches at the conference. Their work ranged from producing furniture-grade bamboo and organic oils to planting sesame and fruit trees in recovered desert-ified land and helping small farmers make more money by connecting their produce to sustainable value chains.

Ocansey’s pitch was straightforward. With relatively little input of capital small, certified-organic cashew farms working together under the Kete-Krachi umbrella could increase their production from the current 100 trees per hectare to 600 to 1,000 trees per hectare. This would be done with sustainable farming techniques such as drip irrigation and by using locally produced organic fertilizers. Also, most of the cashews would be processed in Ghana. 

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But while the Accelerator conference was impressive in and of itself, its global importance is that it was just one of dozens of offshoots of a multi-national land and ecosystem restoration movement — a movement in which numerous ongoing projects will be boosted and better coordinated by the new United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration (DER) project.

Officially declared in March 2019 as a project of the UN’s Environmental Program, the DER will support and help coordinate projects that aim to restore 350 million hectares (865 million acres) of disturbed ecosystems and degraded agricultural land between 2021 and 2030. The restoration could generate $9 trillion in ecosystem services and remove 13 to 16 gigatons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

But as well as supporting ecosystems services, the value of which seem somewhat abstract in our market-driven global economy (unless we realize we can’t make money if we destroy the planet), the restoration projects can also generate a great deal of income. As the press release for the Nairobi Accelerator conference noted, “Entrepreneurs are finding new ways to make money from sustainably managing forests and farms, especially in Africa and Latin America. [They] are profiting by breathing new life into unproductive land.”

The release goes on to state that value generated form current investments of one to five billion dollars in the emerging global “restoration economy” could be worth $2.3 trillion and provide 70 million jobs by 2030. That’s capitalism at its best — that is, in the profitable service of our mutual well-being.

In April, I started writing a series of columns on the emerging paradigm of Natural Climate Solutions — the realization on the part of climate experts that protecting and restoring natural ecosystems is our cheapest and most effective path to capturing and sequestering the excess CO2 we have already emitted. (As I discussed in subsequent columns, some ecosystems such as wetlands are exceptionally effective at trapping and storing carbon.) What we need, I wrote, is a comprehensive, globally coordinated Natural Climate Solutions program. Now we have the DER, a program to support at our ecological house. 

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Philip S. Wenz is the author of the E-book Your Ecological House, available at all major electronic book distributors.