Supporting businesses that strengthen ecosystems and expand economic opportunity for rural Africans

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Impact Investing

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  • Investment AWC Carolin Schmidt
  • Investment AWC Philippe Clairo
  • Investment AWC Christina Van Winkle
Overview

Promoting sustainable conservation solutions at scale.

Modern Africa’s rapid social and economic change is causing widespread environmental degradation. Population growth, urbanization, and an expanding middle class lead to increasing consumer demand for nature-based products such as food, water, and energy. While this dynamic fuels business opportunity, it puts ever-increasing pressure on natural ecosystems. Meanwhile, the lack of economic activity in rural areas is pushing poor Africans into unsustainable income-earning activities such as poaching and charcoal production.

African Wildlife Foundation has always placed people at the heart of its conservation approach. In modern Africa, economic opportunity or the lack thereof, is the primary driver of ecosystem damaging behavior. AWF has, therefore, long recognized the role that the private sector has to play in supporting scalable, sustainable conservation solutions.

After 20 years of pioneering at the interface of business and conservation, AWF knows first-hand that business is a powerful tool for catalyzing much needed funding into conservation efforts and providing incentives that promote alternatives to the damaging behaviors that cause ecosystem degradation.

AWF's impact investing approach provides investment and conservation expertise to businesses that have unrealized potential to strengthen ecosystems and expand economic opportunity for rural Africans. In doing so, impact investing takes AWF’s work to a new scale and uses the capacity of Africa’s burgeoning private sector to do more, in more places, for the benefit of conservation and people.

Challenges

An abundance of produce not suitable for markets.

In Southern Tanzania, avocado trees have thrived for decades, but growers had no market because the skins of the fruit were too soft to transport over long distances. Meanwhile, agricultural sprawl was threatening the area’s critical montane grassland ecosystem. Poverty-related activities such as charcoal production are a source of widespread resource degradation within this important conservation landscape.

An amazing tourism product with no infrastructure or market.

Ethiopia’s national park system is home to stunning landscapes with biodiversity of global significance. While Ethiopia’s protected area system covers 14% of its landmass—larger than the global average—widespread encroachment of protected areas is a pervasive threat in a country with a population approaching 90 million people. Protected area management is chronically under-resourced and despite the landscape’s inherent value, nature tourism infrastructure has been extremely poor to non-existent.

No tourism products catering to the growing African middle class.

While international nature tourism has grown rapidly over the last decade, there is an unfulfilled opportunity to develop new conservation tourism products for emerging domestic African markets. Despite rapidly expanding urban-based middle classes in Africa, this politically powerful demographic does not enjoy adequate exposure to the continent’s natural heritage.

Solutions

Conservation-related solutions to business challenges:

  • Develop agricultural solutions that limit agricultural sprawl while increasing profits for farmers.

    Based on start-up financing from African Wildlife Foundation, Rungwe Avocado Co. produces export-quality avocados that are exported to European markets. Using grafting processes, local avocado trees are used to produce a high-value export commodity; thereby unlocking an underutilized asset to produce benefits for investors, communities and the environment. Their business model provides 3,200 individuals with an alternative to unsustainable resource exploitation.

  • Connect marginalized areas with the economic benefits of sustainable tourism.

    AWF supported the construction of Limalimo lodge, a successful business venture that provides needed revenue to protected area authorities to manage their natural assets and to provide communities with economic incentives to conserve wildlife and their natural surroundings. Through hiring members of the local community as staff, purchasing food from local suppliers, training the building team in low-impact construction methods, and demonstrating the importance of maintaining the natural beauty of the park, we expect to see Limalimo Lodge having a truly positive impact on its immediate and wider environment.

  • Create experiences with nature to inspire environmental stewardship.

    AWF supported the startup of African Forest Lodges in the Aberdare forest ecosystem – a significant wildlife landscape and also the capital city’s principal water tower. Its tourism development concessions are the first to be issued by the Kenya Forest Service – an important precedent in terms of diversifying the economic base of Kenya’s critically endangered forest assets. The proximity of its first lodges to Nairobi and the accessibility of its price point will target the fast-growing domestic urban middle class, and hence leverage a unique opportunity to raise domestic awareness of a critical piece of Kenya’s natural heritage and the importance of its conservation.

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