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October 05, 2020

Dear Colleagues, 

Welcome to the Fourteenth Edition of our Africa Weekly Digest - a round-up of the news and stories that captivated our hearts and minds this past week. This newsletter is “made in Africa and globally curious”.   

Happy reading and we look forward to your feedback.  

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1. UNGA WRAP UP: Historic UN Summit on Biodiversity Sets Stage for a Global Movement toward a Green Recovery from Covid-19:   A record number of countries - nearly 150 countries and 72 Heads of State and Government - addressed the first ever Summit held on biodiversity to build political momentum towards the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, to be adopted at COP15 in Kunming, China next year.  The Summit concluded with world leaders and experts agreeing on the urgency to preserve biodiversity globally. The Summit comes on the heels of the Leader’s Pledge last Monday, where 75 countries (11 from Africa) came together to send a clear and united message that nature matters and that it is their responsibility to step up and take real action to save our planet. (WWF).

2. African Entrepreneurs Are Restoring Land and Making Profit. There are relatively few investors that fund companies seeking finance between $20,000 and $200,000 in Africa since this range is too large Imagefor microfinance and too small for institutional investors. This creates a "missing middle," where businesses have limited options. But that's precisely the amount of capital that most restoration businesses in Africa need at their early stage of growth. The Land Accelerator, is an intensive, four-month training, and networking program to help restoration entrepreneurs from African countries scale up to success. Led by WRI in partnership with AFR100 and Fledge, the program's first two cohorts received nearly 600 applications in one year. (Afri100 and Forest News ). Restoration will certainly become easier with the recent release of the Atlas of Forest Landscape Restoration Opportunities which represents a first-ever global approximation of where degraded forest lands have the potential to be restored. (4Returns). 

3. The Environmental Benefits of Plants and Fungi You Never Knew Existed. Human society depends on plants and fungi; from those living in remote village communities to people living in the most densely populated cities, each of us is bound by our reliance on plants and fungi to provide us with sustenance, medicine, protection, and wellbeing. There is increasing awareness that plants and fungi, as natural solutions, can play an important role in tackling ongoing global environmental challengesThe State of the World Plants and Fungi 2020, a collaborative effort of 200 scientists from 42 different countries, delves into a global assessment of plants and fungi as food, fuel, medicine, tools for urban resilience, and more. The report finds that more than 7,000 edible plants hold potential as future crops, meeting the criteria of being nutritious, robust and historically used as food. Nearly 40% of plant species are estimated to be threatened with extinction. The Report stresses the importance of protection and sustainable use of the world's plants and fungi’ and calls for continued research to identify and utilize the untapped useful properties of plants and fungi in ways that are equitable, sustainable, and safe.

Fonio (digitaria exilis), shown on the left, is a grass species that grows wild in West African savannas. Used locally to make porridges, drinks, and couscous, this fast-growing, drought-tolerant, nutritious plant could be a potential global food source. Image courtesy of RBG Kew.

The map below depicts the most and least threatened plant groups. (For more details see https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/ppp3.10146 )

                



4. Only 0.5% of Africa’s Terrestrial Protected Area Network is Structurally Connected via Intact Land: Using a high-resolution assessment of human pressure,  a new study in Nature shows that while ~40% of the terrestrial planet is intact, only 9.7% of Earth’s terrestrial protected network can be considered structurally connected. Many countries in Africa where landscapes are rapidly changing through large-scale infrastructure projects such as roads and agriculture maintain the lowest level of structural connectivity possible (median connectivity = 0%). This has significant ramifications for international conservation agendas, as many African countries and territories are megadiverse when it comes to biodiversity. As the global community commits to bolder action on abating biodiversity loss, placement of future PAs will be critical, as will an increased focus on landscape-scale habitat retention and restoration efforts to ensure those important areas set aside for conservation outcomes will remain (or become) connected. 

              

Fig. above: Human pressure compromises the structural connectivity of protected areas (source: Nature).

5. Africa Could Gain $89 Billion by Curbing Illicit Financial Flows. According to a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) released on Monday last week, Africa is losing almost $88.6 billion a year in illicit financial flows(IFFs) which surpasses what the continent receives in developing aid. Some of these flows (40 billion) are derived from extractive commodities such as gold (77%)  diamonds (12%) and platinum (6%). Curbing this capital flight could cut almost in half the continent's  Global Goals financing gap. (UN News). 

6. How Can We Make Nutritious Food Affordable for the 1 Billion Africans: Latest data published in the Journal of International Development show that highly-processed foods now account for more than one third of the purchased food market in East and Southern Africa . The UN estimates that 74% of Africans cannot afford healthy diets. That is nearly 1 billion Africans.
Productivity needs to be increased, biodiversity promoted and climate resilience attained. Is this possible? Yes. Already, farmers in countries like Zambia are recording up to a 60 percent increase in yields through the application of ecosystem-based adaptation techniques. Elsewhere, in Burkina Faso,farmers have reclaimed 200,000 to 300,000 hectares of degraded lands by digging shallow pots in barren land and filling them with organic matter. The reclaimed land now produces an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 additional tonnes of cereal for the Burkinabe. The challenge is to replicate these successes throughout the continent.. (International Press Service ). Another report from EAT and UNICEF’s Children Eating Well Strategic Workshop explores an agenda for transforming food systems to protect and promote children’s right to a healthy diet within planetary boundaries.

7. IMO Member States Approve Kenya‘s Proposal to Develop Guidelines for the Prevention and Suppression of Wildlife Smuggling using International Shipping:  With an estimated 72–90% in volume of wildlife products illicitly trafficked by sea, and further recognizing the role of the shipping industry in global trade and the global economy, the need to develop these guidelines cannot be understated. (Traffic). And WWF together ACAMS have launched a free training certificate for compliance professionals and others seeking to protect their organizations from the threats of illicit finance linked to Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT). (Business Wire ).
        
8. Mutant Enzyme Can Break Down and Convert 90 Percent of Polyethylene Terephthalate (Pet) Plastics Back Into Their Original State.  Typically, only 30 percent of PET plastics—which are common to water bottles—are broken down into their origin materials. This recent study, published in Nature by researchers from Toulouse University and a private company, builds on prior Japanese research to create their plastic-munching enzyme. This highly efficient, optimized enzyme outperforms all PET hydrolases that have attracted recent interest. This is important news for Nature as Many African leaders recently pledged to a circular economy and have been leading the implementation of the African Circular Economy Alliance (ACEN). 

9. How Can Africa Develop Its Potential Without Having a Negative Impact on Nature?  From Lagos to Kinshasa, Dar-es-Salaam to Addis Ababa, swelling populations are a driving factor behind the need for massive upfront investment to address wheezing power grids and outdated waste management systems, and decaying infrastructure. Futures tools ranging from scenario planning to backcasting can be useful tools for infrastructural planning. A new report  Strengthening Futures Capacity in Africa, incubated by the Luc Hoffmann Institute for WWF's African Ecological Futures highlights examples from Cantonments City in Accra and Vision City in Kigali as good examples such as incorporating the latest innovative green architecture and engineering. (WWF, LHI). 

10. Rivers constitute a major tourism resource, providing spectacular settings, recreation facilities, a means of transport, a sense of heritage and adventure, and links with the environment and natural world. While Wildlife tourism is the dominant leisure tourism product in many African countries, It is fundamentally dependent on water and ecological integrity.
In commemoration of World Rivers Day and World Tourism Day, both of which were celebrated last weekend, we share this virtual journey through some of Africa's top rivers for tourism. Follow this link here.
        


       ...And here is our Word  of The Week;

       
 
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