The mission to rebuild Africa better after the pandemic burst to life when African Ministers of Environment decided in December 2020 to implement a green stimulus project that coupled environmental incentives to economic and social recovery in a post-COVID-19 society. The African Green Stimulus Programme, which was approved by 54 ministers at the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) special session, underlined the continent’s commitment to protect and exploit natural resources responsibly.

It called on countries to better safeguard and restore biodiversity and ecosystems, which will help avoid future pandemics, while also tackling the triple planetary emergencies of biodiversity loss, climate change, and pollution. The programme feeds directly into the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which will run from 2021 to 2030 and is aimed to resuscitate and repair the natural world at a time when forests, grasslands, streams, and wildlife are fast degrading.

Africa, indeed, has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore its ecosystems and utilise its natural resources in a way that may serve as a model for the rest of the world. Africa is home to 30% of the world’s mineral riches, 65% of its arable land, and 10% of its internal renewable energy sources, and its fisheries are valued at $24 billion. However, Africa has a huge issue. Climate change, security difficulties, food security, and biodiversity loss must all be addressed rapidly through programmes to restore and maintain ecosystems. The region must also deal with the painful irony of being the most vulnerable to climate change’s negative effects but contributing the least to global warming. Several large and small programmes are already underway to solve some of Africa’s most pressing environmental issues. The Pan-African Action Agenda on Ecosystem Restoration confirms Africa’s commitment to the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration.

The Great Green Wall, which runs from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east across the Sahel area, is already the world’s largest ecosystem restoration project. It was established in 2007 to promote ecosystem management within a specific area set by each member country in order to improve economies across the Sahel. The project recently received a $14 billion pledge from donors such as France, the World Bank, the European Union, the African Development Bank, and others, with the goal of restoring 100 million hectares of degraded land, sequestering 250 million tonnes of carbon, and creating 10 million jobs across 11 countries.

The Working for Water restoration initiative in South Africa is assisting in the eradication of invasive trees from Australia, Europe, and the United States that are depleting the water table, causing erosion, and exacerbating wildfires. Local communities will also benefit from the clearing of non-native trees and the rehabilitation of cleared areas, as well as the sale of the felled wood. In addition, South Africa has more concentrated projects that address social, political, and environmental challenges simultaneously. The Princess Vlei Restoration Project attempts to restore threatened vegetation over a 12-hectare plot in a low-income area. The land, which was hampered by apartheid-era spatial planning, was planned to contain a shopping complex at one point.

Africa has the world’s second-largest rainforest cover, after the Amazon. The Congo basin peatlands, for example, store about 30% of the world’s tropical peatland carbon, which is equivalent to around 20 years’ worth of US fossil fuel emissions. However, each year, about 3 million hectares of African rainforests are destroyed, resulting in soil degradation and unpredictable weather patterns, which diminish the region’s gross domestic product by 3% yearly.
The African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) is a reaction to this catastrophe, with the goal of restoring 100 million hectares of damaged forests by 2030. To present, 30 African countries have signed on to AFR100, pledging to reforest and restore 126 million hectares of degraded land.

Mangroves are important for world health because they absorb ten times more carbon dioxide per acre per year than other trees, and their swampy, brackish ecosystems support birds and fish while protecting coastal populations from storms and flooding. According to a UNEP study, over 67 per cent of mangroves have been lost or degraded, including many along Africa’s coast.

In Tanzania, community programmes are working with farmers to help restore mangroves on land that has been lost to rice growing, while in Mozambique, community assistance is being mobilized to build trenches that will allow tidal water to flow to restore mangroves that have been destroyed by storms. Meanwhile, Nigeria initiated the “Mangrove for Life” project in 2020, with the goal of increasing mangrove cover by at least 25% and pledging to create Marine Protected Areas to aid conservation efforts. In the last 50 years, oil production and exploration have ravaged Nigeria’s mangrove forests. These are all very hopeful projects that must be built upon in order to protect Africa’s environment and, by extension, its people’s livelihood. The condition of Africa’s environment is critical for the region’s and the world’s futures. The United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration provides an opportunity for Africa to bolster its efforts to conserve nature and the environment.

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