CASE STUDY 6
Innovations in conservation agriculture around high-value natural landscapes: Tanzania and Zambia.
Rapidly growing human populations combined with inefficient production techniques are causing vast areas of natural wildlife habitat to be converted to environmentally unsustainable, low-yield food production. Accordingly, improvements in agricultural production have become one of the most important conservation priorities for Africa, and an area where strategically targeted investment finance can play a significant role. This is exemplified by two investments that African Wildlife Capital has made into the sector in Tanzania and Zambia.
The Rungwe Avocado Company (RAC), Tanzania
Context: The Rungwe Avocado Company (RAC) operates around a high-value conservation complex and important watershed comprising the Rungwe Forest, Kitulo National Park and the Mt. Livingstone Forest Reserve in southern Tanzania. Significant poverty-related threats exist driven by widespread logging, charcoal manufacture, illegal hunting and agricultural expansion. RAC has responded to these dynamics by building an innovative and scalable avocado production project that now provides more than 3,200 community based ‘outgrowers’ (more than 50% of whom are women) with an economic alternative to the unsustainable exploitation of local natural resources. Using grafting processes, it is converting local, soft-skinned green avocado rootstock that can only be used for local consumption, into mass production of export-quality, hard-skinned Hass avocados for which there is expanding international market demand. This is increasing income to local communities from existing land units without any associated opportunity cost, thereby alleviating the need to encroach into natural forest habitat.
The Investment: AWC, alongside the African Enterprise Challenge Fund and Agdevco, made a US$ 950,000 investment into RAC to fund the development of its fast growing Outgrower extension programme; the connection of its new pack-shed to the electricity grid, and the development and equipping of a workshop. Production has since increased from just 6 tons per annum in 2011 to more than 1,300 tons forecast for 2016, generating revenues of more than US$ 1.25 million. Additionally, all 3,200 have signed, and received training in, AWC conservation covenants as mandated by the investment financing contract.
Context: The Luangwa River valley is one of Africa’s most important wildlife conservation landscapes. When COMACO (‘Commercial Markets for Conservation’) began, only 35% of households were able to produce enough food to sustain their requirements. Regressive farming techniques meant low yields and an exponential cycle of soil depletion and there was also an increasing need for liquidity in a fast growing cash economy which induced farmers to switch to non-food cash crops such as cotton and tobacco. This food insecurity has created two negative conservation impacts: firstly, the need for more land for agriculture; secondly, a catastrophic wildlife poaching dynamic. Within this context, COMACO is doing two things: on the supply side it is teaching conservation farming, working with local communities to increase the use of organic fertilisers, crop diversity and rotation; on the demand side via the ‘Its Wild’ brand, it is enabling efficient access to markets by processing raw commodities into a range of value-added branded products that target fast growing local and regional urban-based markets. This purchasing power gives COMACO the leverage to drive better conservation practices.
The Investment: AWC invested US$ 400,000 to consolidate COMACO’s food processing plants and transport fleet. Since then, COMACO’s sales have increased by 38% to c. US$ 1.9 million and it now operates across a 70,000-km² landscape comprising 63 chiefdoms and more than 100,000 registered farmer members, mostly women. COMACO is a wonderful example of a circular African conservation enterprise – rural African communities creating local African products for (mainly urban) domestic consumers – all driving African conservation.