How Philanthropy Can Help Conserve Biodiversity in Africa

It’s well known that Africa is rich in biodiversity. An estimated one-fifth of all known species of mammals, birds, and plants are found in the continent. However, species abundance and diversity are in decline in Africa, with climate change being one of the greatest threats to biodiversity. And Africa is facing increased threats of biodiversity loss. By 2050, it’s estimated that over half of African bird and mammal species are expected to be lost.

The One Planet Summit that took place earlier this year saw world leaders convene virtually to discuss ways in which to protect biodiversity with funding being a key issue. With biodiversity facing an annual funding gap of US$711 billion until 2030, according to the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Funding is key to conserving biodiversity and offsetting the loss, but most of the time, biodiversity funding is sidelined. But as philanthropy booms in Africa, there’s an increasingly strong case for deploying philanthropic capital to help offset biodiversity loss.

The case for philanthropy

Philanthropic foundations can use their financial power to help offset biodiversity loss. Philanthropy has excelled in efforts to support everything from the eradication of polio to increasing access to education to millions across the world.  Now is the time to extend these efforts to sustainable development by supporting biodiversity conservation and habitats.

As philanthropists have the agility to take risks in underfunded sectors, they can play a catalytic role in supporting initiatives that may not otherwise attract traditional development funding.

First, philanthropists can help fill the gap by strategically deploying capital to kick start conservation efforts.

Take conflict zones, where the impact of conflicts on the natural environment is detrimental and often underestimated. For example, during the civil war in Mozambique, the Gorongosa National Park Mozambique which was once one of the most biodiverse areas on our planet, lost 90 per cent of its wildlife. However, a decade later, more than 100,000 large animals inhabit Gorongosa due to strategic philanthropic investments from the Carr Foundation. Philanthropist Gregory Carr pledged $40 million over 30 years to help restore the park, and the park could now reach pre-war animal population levels.

Second, philanthropists can help shape the agenda and raise much-needed awareness.

While philanthropy alone cannot make up the shortfall in biodiversity conservation funding, philanthropic capital can be channeled to raise awareness to the growing nature-based threats and canvass public opinion. For example, philanthropic capital can be deployed to support civil society and social movements, green investment in research and development and strategic litigation and public education.

These soft approaches could provide the incentive needed to help offset biodiversity loss by shining a light on activities such as illegal wildlife trade and harmful resource extraction methods. And this in turn can ignite a groundswell of public support, prompting governments to respond and provide the political will needed to move the needle.

Third, philanthropists can ‘biodiversity proof’ their donations. This can be done by assessing the impact their funded projects/programs have on biodiversity. Philanthropic institutions can then scale back funding of projects that are deemed harmful to biodiversity. A changing of practices and greater due diligence is a small price to pay in the long-term.

Reaching a tipping point

Biodiversity is vital for sustainable development and without a healthy environment, poverty alleviation efforts could be undermined or at worst reversed. While evidence shows that we are reaching a tipping point, there’s still time to act. There’s a compelling case for philanthropy to lead efforts and champion biodiversity conservation in Africa and nature should be at the heart of the prioritization and allocation of philanthropic capital.

Although the next decade presents a myriad of challenges, the potential for transformation is even greater. And now is the time for philanthropy to step up.

This article Maram Ahmed (Senior Fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London) was first published on the CNBC Africa site.

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