A new frontier: building innovative partnerships to catalyze new rangelands restoration opportunities

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Rangelands are having a moment. Their productive values, their environmental importance and the people who live on these lands – which we now know cover 54 percent of the world’s land surface – are attracting the attention and focus of more researchers, academics, international organizations and even the private sector. However, many of the efforts to restore the productivity and environmental services of these important landscapes continue to be dispersed and underfunded.

“There is a deficit of $60 trillion across the world in investments,” said Chris Magero, senior programme officer at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “Although there has been some mobilization, it is not enough to fill the gap.”

To tackle this challenge, Magero and rangelands specialist Fiona Flintan of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) brought together for the first time at a session at the 2022 Global Landscapes Forum Africa a mix of financiers, social enterprises, researchers and livestock value chain actors to talk about the innovative rangelands restoration solutions they are developing and to explore linkages that could strengthen rangeland restoration efforts and improve investments in this area.

Called Financing sustainable livestock value chains for rangeland restoration, it was an eye-opening session that made clear the importance of partnerships – where local organizations, NGOs, governments and private sector companies stand a better chance of achieving meaningful results through shared access to resources, solutions and expertise that would otherwise not be available or difficult to reach alone. Collaborations between different stakeholders–from funders, researchers to people working on the ground–are also essential to build trust with communities and create a unified vision for the sustainable management of their lands.

“It was exciting to listen to our speakers, many of whom were meeting each other for the first time,” said Flintan. “We found that we all share a commitment and passion for rangelands restoration solutions that put communities first.”

Rangelands degradation is caused by a complex web of reasons – from poor governance, exclusion of pastoralists from decision making processes, overgrazing, greater climate variability, conflict and others. Mongolia’s rangeland experience exemplifies the challenges rangelands face worldwide. Over 70 percent of Mongolia’s ‘green gold’ rangelands are degraded and past their carrying capacity by three-fold, with over 70 million animals using the land. Guest speaker Enkh Amgalan Tseelei, chairwoman of the Mongolian National Federation of Pasture User Groups of Herders, spoke of her challenges to raise these issues at both the national and international levels. Although her organization works with herders to make land pacts for sustainable grazing in communities, for more widespread change, she said that a multifaceted front is needed.

When properly managed, rangelands generate a host of benefits for the people whose livelihoods depend on them as well as the environment and climate – from the conservation of biodiversity, enhanced water catchment abilities to the preservation of soil fertility and increased carbon sequestration. In addition to helping raise the socio-economic security of herders and ranchers, productive rangelands can help countries meet the growing demands for livestock-derived foods. In Africa alone, it is estimated that livestock herders provide about 75 percent of the continent’s milk and 50 percent of its meat.

Read the insights shared from the sessions’s diverse panel of experts:

Susanne Vetter, an ecologist in the Botany Department at Rhodes University, responding to a question on her views on programs to plant trees in rangelands said, “Management solutions need to take into consideration ecosystems, their production systems and how we can harness their environmental and climate benefits.” She also said these initiatives “ignore the role that grasslands play in ecosystems services including its resilience to fires, arid climates and grazing as well as its ability to capture and store carbon.”

Geledorj Amarbold is CEO of cashmere and yak wool processing company Junst Murun in Mongolia, spoke about the market push for more sustainable production practices and how that is shaping how he runs his company. He is seeing increased demands from his customers for greater supply chain transparency and more sustainable goods. He hopes other companies will follow this trend. “Companies that invest early in practices that support the sustainability of resources may not produce dividends right away, but in the long term they will,” he said.

Max Makuvise, chairman and founder of Makera Cattle Company in Zimbabwe, vice-chair of the Southern African Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, and resident director for Shangani Holistic (Pvt) Ltd, concurred with Amarbold: “We need to work with farmers to help them understand the value of preserving their land. If they utilize resources sustainably, not only can they produce more and greater quality products, but they will also sustain the productive values of the land.” He added, “Africa is home to 20% of the world’s cattle population, but the continent doesn’t export or produce as much as other parts of the world,” reflecting the need for small-scale farmers to find sustainable means to produce higher quantities and better-quality products.

Anirudh Keny, director of business developments at Boomitra, the world’s first international soil carbon market, spoke about the opportunities they are creating by introducing carbon credits to livestock communities. “There is a great opportunity to incentivize herders, pastoralists and ranchers to adopt improved land management practices by connecting them with carbon and biodiversity credit markets. Those premiums can be passed back to communities.” 

Edwin Mudongo, researcher at CLAWS (Conservancy communities living among wildlife sustainability) in Botswana, is involved in training communities on better livestock management and practices that protect their livestock and wildlife. He talked about the need to support and incentivize cattle owners, to be environmental stewards of the land, which can be achieved through the inclusion of carbon sequestration models coupled with effective training on livestock management practices.

Sonja Leitner, ecologist and biogeochemist at ILRI’s Mazingira Center, focused on the GHG mitigation properties of rangelands and highlighted this as a potential entry point for policymakers and investors. “Healthy rangelands provide the right amount of forage for animals – and have a robust role in carbon sequestration. At ILRI, in Africa we are measuring the GHG emissions of the different elements of livestock and soils, including the management of rangelands, to get a better understanding of the full range of GHG balance.” She also spoke of the benefits of raising the health of animals through better health and feed services. “Healthier animals are more productive and produce less harmful GHG emissions,” she said.

Ciniro Costa Jr., a soil carbon specialist at the Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT also spoke about the opportunities for the livestock sector to mitigate GHG emissions in agriculture. In Colombia, they found that the right animal genetics combined with appropriate land management practices can raise productivity and increase soil carbon sequestration abilities. Their results are attracting the attention of funders, such as &Green. He said, “We are raising our communication efforts to communicate what we already know, to scale out these solutions that can support land restoration and efforts to mitigate livestock related emissions.” 

Marthe Tollendar, is the environmental, social and governance director of SailVentures, a specialist investment advisor to sustainable investment fund &Green. She spoke about &Green, a new funding entity set up to specifically fund the very sectors (soy, livestock, palm oil, etc) that are responsible for deforestation. Their investments are directed towards private actors to support the scale out of innovations that prevent further deforestation and restore the productive values of the land. In Brazil they are working with a cattle ranch to balance conservation goals with productivity through the adoption of mixed livestock crop rotation practices that sustainably intensify the productivity and regenerative abilities of the land.

Watch the full session here: Financing sustainable livestock value chains for rangeland restoration

Banner image: a visual harvest of the GLF session. Download a higher resolution version of the infographic at https://hdl.handle.net/10568/126815

Learn more about these vastly interesting yet often misunderstood landscapes:

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