Land Accelerator Africa: Dozens of Restoration Entrepreneurs, One Mission

By Tucker Simspson and Samuel Kabiru | World Resources Institute

COVID-19 has put a strain on the systems that sustain livelihoods across Africa: The World Bank estimates that the pandemic will push an additional 30 million people in sub-Saharan African into extreme poverty. Millions of people lost their jobs, including more than 30% of employees in Kenya and Ghana. The resulting supply chain disruptions and falling incomes have also led to surges in food insecurity. As people are forced to look for food elsewhere, forests, grasslands and other ecosystems are put under increasing pressure.

Hundreds of entrepreneurs in Africa are tackling these challenges through locally-led, market-driven green businesses that protect and restore farmland and forests. Restoration businesses balance profitability with social and environmental impact by sequestering carbon, combating desertification and helping communities adapt to the effects of climate change, while securing local food systems and creating jobs in struggling rural landscapes. Investing in them is key to creating a more sustainable future.

That’s where the Land Accelerator Africa, led by World Resources Institute (WRI), AUDA-NEPAD and Fledge, comes in. It is a training and mentorship program for restoration entrepreneurs that aims to build pitching, communication, financial and supply chain management skills, provide networking opportunities and boost companies’ investment readiness.

The accelerator has now worked with 104 entrepreneurs from 34 countries in total, including 78 local businesses from 27 countries for its third cohort in 2021. Each graduate is receiving a $5,000 innovation grant to help them scale up their businesses, and a selected group of 15 leading entrepreneurs are benefiting from customized support to improve their business models and understand the realities of the funding landscape from a team of expert mentors. The program is culminating in virtual impact days where they will pitch investors.

A Cohort With Significant Impact

A map of Africa that shows how many members of the 2021 Land Accelerator Africa Cohort are in each country.

Even prior to the Land Accelerator, this year’s cohort made massive impacts on their communities and the environment. Collectively, they report that their businesses have restored over 90,000 hectares of land and grew over 11 million trees.

They also bring jobs to their communities, employing over 9,000 people in total. This impact spans across the African nations that are home to businesses owned by the cohort, whose business models range from growing trees on farmland in agroforestry systems to technology solutions.

A Wide Range Of Restoration Businesses

What does a typical graduate of the Land Accelerator look like? There is no one answer. Although all share a commitment to land restoration, each entrepreneur accomplishes this mission with their own unique strategy that reflects the unique challenges faced by their customers. Here are three examples that show the cohort’s diversity:

1. Nature’s Nectar

A person pulling a chunk of honeycomb out of a large white bucket.

One of Nature’s Nectar’s Zone Lead Farmers collects honey combs from a local farmer. Photo by Amie Fletcher

Nature’s Nectar trains and equips smallholder farmers in Zambia to practice beekeeping and produce honey and wax. Co-founder Katherine Milling explains that the company was “born out of the need to see a truly impactful and sustainable honey company in Zambia” that gives farmers a fair price for their products, is women-inclusive and protects ecosystems. Since its founding in 2018, the company has already helped 2,000 smallholder farmers and reports it restored 10,000 hectares of land from August 2020 to August 2021.

This impact is scalable and replicable: With only 10 beehives, Nature’s Nectar reports being able to increase a farmer’s annual income by at least 25%. As an added commitment to nature, Nature’s Nectar protects one hectare of local forest for every beehive distributed. They collaborate with local communities to determine which pieces of unoccupied land should house the beehives, and then work with Zambia’s Forestry Department to register that land as Community-Managed Forest Areas where local people can harvest sustainable forest products.

2. Acacia EPZ

A person collecting gum arabic from the the bark of a tree.

Farmers being trained for gum arabic collection in Kenya’s Northern Arid Lands. Photo by Acacia EPZ

Acacia EPZ, founded by Sam Nyamboga in 2015, takes another approach to bring jobs to Kenya’s arid lands. The company employs over 4,000 people to collect gum arabic, the sap of Acacia trees that the food industry uses to stabilize chewing gum, icing and a host of other products. Nyamboga believes that “sustainable conservation is economically incentivized conservation.”

By attaching economic value to both naturally occurring and freshly planted Acacia trees that secrete the gum, Acacia EPZ guards against soil erosion and desertification. This helps preserve the ecosystem services, like clean water and healthy soil, that local communities rely on.

3. Agriworks Uganda

Two people talking and standing next to an irrigated crop field.

A member of the Agriworks Uganda team trains a customer on scheduling irrigation for their crops. Photo by Agriworks Uganda

Abraham Solomon founded Agriworks Uganda in 2016 “to provide affordable irrigation to smallholder farmers.” Existing irrigation solutions for smallholders were either too expensive or labor-intensive for most farmers to use. Agriworks offers on-demand service at an affordable price by transforming motorcycle engines into mobile water pumps. Solomon estimates that 60% of his customers couldn’t irrigate their crops at all without the company’s help. Agriworks Uganda is now helping over 500 smallholders grow market-quality vegetables during the dry season, a task that is both profitable for farmers and provides nutritious food for communities.

The work being done by these entrepreneurs is urgent. Citing a Native American proverb, Mark Matuvo, CEO of Nampya Farmers’ Market — a company whose digital platform links smallholder farmers to urban markets) — pointed out that “When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten and the last stream poisoned, then you will realize you cannot eat money.” Together with these entrepreneurs, the Land Accelerator aims to make the dream of a thriving restoration economy led by profitable sustainable businesses a reality.

Meet the Top Entrepreneurs

Here are 15 African entrepreneurs — representing 10 countries — who are now receiving personalized support and connecting with investors:

Acacia EPZ Limited

Sam Nyamboga, sam@acacia-epz.com | Kenya

Type of Restoration: Non-timber forest products

Acacia EPZ has trained over 4,000 farmers in Kenyan communities to sustainably collect and process gum arabic — a key additive in chewing gum, icing and other food products — from naturally growing and planted Acacia Senegal trees.

Agriworks Uganda

Abraham Salomon, agsalomon@ucdavis.edu | Uganda

Type of Restoration: Sustainable agriculture

Agriworks Uganda delivers irrigation equipment and construction services to farmers through a network of motorcycle couriers that deliver low-cost farm irrigation systems on-demand.

Agro-Eco Services

Noel Obognon, obognonnoel@gmail.com | Benin

Type of Restoration: Sustainable agriculture

Agro-Eco Services uses the larvae of black soldier fly to upcycle food waste into compost and chicken feed. They have provided over 1,500 farmers a total of 150 tons of organic fertilizer in 2020 and are looking to quadruple this in 2021.

Almighty Services Plus

Romeo Azonhoumon, romayer2000@yahoo.fr | Benin

Type of restoration: Avoided deforestation

Almighty Services Plus is a clean cooking company in Benin that recycles organic waste into eco-friendly, efficient charcoal briquettes. The company has sold over 2,000 cookstoves that reduce costly dependence on deforestation-causing charcoal.

Botanic Treasures

Elizabeth Mbogo and Collins Mwenda, info@botanic-treasures.com | Kenya

Type of restoration: Reforestation

Botanic Treasures creates organic foods and nutritional supplements from over 5 million moringa trees to fight the persistent malnutrition that affects 26% of young children and their families across Kenya.

CADEL Business

Issa Pabgo, ipabgo@yahoo.com | Burkina Faso

Type of restoration: Sustainable agriculture

CADEL Business turns Burkina Faso’s cotton waste into organic compost by enriching it with natural phosphate. They have restored 500 hectares of degraded land and improved the crop yields of 1,500 farmers.

Exotic EPZ LTD

Jane Maigua, maiguajane@gmail.com | Kenya

Type of restoration: Agroforestry

Exotic EPZ supplies carefully selected macadamia seedlings, agronomic advice and global market connections to over 2,000 of Kenya’s smallholder farmers to ensure that their nut products and specialty seed oils (sesame, moringa and baobab, among others) are sustainably grown and provide a competitive income.

Fine Fusion Concepts

Izela Barlow, izelab@gmail.com | Uganda

Type of restoration: Sustainable agriculture

Fine Fusion Concepts addresses chronic hunger and the loss of soil health in Uganda by planting and selling high-quality mung bean products, a long-lasting and affordable alternative to other beans that cost less and have a longer shelf life.

Germark

Wamola Ze Wamo, ikelu2014@gmail.com | Tanzania

Type of restoration: Agroforestry

Germark Holdings Limited is bringing the avocado market to Tanzania by providing women and youth farmers with high-quality seedlings, organic fertilizers and farming equipment. They sell the high-quality fruit on the international market, cutting out expensive middlemen.

Madagascar BioFood

Rijaniaina Randrianarisoa, nybamboako@gmx.com | Madagascar

Types of restoration: Non-timber forest products

Madagascar BioFood employs 30 community members to collect and commercialize a rare wild pepper which grows on a tree endemic to Madagascar. The more peppers grow, the more trees BioFood protects.

N'gwala Inventions

Edmond N’gwalago, engwalago@gmail.com | Tanzania

Type of restoration: Sustainable agriculture

N'gwala Inventions helps farmers produce their own bio-pesticides and fertilizers by placing its automated processors on farms and in communities. By eliminating transport costs and ensuring a constant supply of local farm inputs, the company boosts farmer incomes.

Nature's Nectar

Katherine Milling, katherine@naturesnectarzambia.com | Zambia

Type of restoration: Sustainable agriculture

Nature's Nectar Limited protects forests by training female small-scale farmers across Zambia in beekeeping practices; distributing locally built, long-lasting pine beehives; and purchasing high-quality honey and bee products at a premium price before exporting to the global market. For every beehive sold, they help communities sustainably manage the surrounding hectare of forest.

Ponaa Briquettes

Cletus Baalongbuoro, cletusb74@yahoo.com | Ghana

Type of restoration: Avoided deforestation

Ponaa Briquettes recycles discarded rice husks into charcoal briquettes, offering a clean, long-lasting and inexpensive alternative to traditional wood charcoal cooking, a major source of indoor air pollution and deforestation.

RECYCL'AFRICA

Benoit Musabyimana, benoit.m@recyclafrica.com | Rwanda

Type of restoration: Sustainable agriculture

Recycl'Africa Limited converts polluting organic waste from the city landfill in Musanze, Rwanda into organic fertilizer for farmers, reducing the need to buy chemical fertilizers and increasing soil health and crop yields.

Reno Emcore Apex Resources

Emmanuel Okeke, emmanuelremsi777@gmail.com | Nigeria

Type of restoration: Sustainable agriculture

Reno Emcore Apex Resources Limited makes a variety of groundnut, soybean and baobab seed-based products, including oil grits, protein cakes and soap stock. They hope to improve food security and income levels throughout Nigeria by teaching farmers sustainable planting skills and reducing the cost of essential products such as animal feed and cooking oil.

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In partnership with AUDA-NEPAD and Fledge, the 2021 Land Accelerator Africa is funded by Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the DOEN Foundation, the Mitsubishi Corporation Fund for Europe and Africa, and the Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU).