Originally published in December, 2022, this article was updated on 17 May, 2023
The stakes could hardly be higher. At least one million species of plants and animals are threatened with extinction, according to the most comprehensive assessment of its kind. And this year’s Living Planet Report by WWF reveals that the abundance of monitored wildlife populations around the world has declined by 69% between 1970 and 2018. In Latin America, the average population has plummeted by an astounding 94%.
In the face of this unfolding ecological calamity, AFD Group is working around the world to stop and reverse the loss of biodiversity, from reforestation in Latin America to creating marine protected areas in West Africa and countering the effects of climate change across the Pacific region.
“There has been a radical change in the way that AFD Group takes biodiversity into account in its work around the world, across all sectors,” says Christophe Du Castel, AFD Project Team Leader specializing in biodiversity. “In less than ten years, the volume of AFD financing that benefits biodiversity in some way has increased more than fivefold.”
Much of that financing takes the form of cutting-edge projects based on fresh ways of thinking about nature and the preservation of biodiversity.
Here are just a few of them.
Restoring the rainforests
Collaborating with Indigenous Communities in the Amazon Basin
Home to the world's largest tropical rainforest and at least 10% of the planet’s known species, the Amazon Basin has long been one of the world’s carbon sinks. But it now releases into the atmosphere more carbon than it absorbs, due to massive deforestation. Mining, logging, the clearing of land for commercial farming, fires and climate change have all taken their toll, with an estimated 17% of forest cover lost over the last 50 years.
Many of the areas used, occupied or owned by Indigenous peoples however, are in far better shape. AFD’s TerrIndigena project supports Indigenous communities in their effort to protect biodiversity in the northern Amazon. The project’s extension, TerrIndigena 2, signed this week, aims to expand the amount of territory protected by another 30 million hectares, bringing the total covered to 50 million Ha.
The program, consisting of a €12.7 million grant (incl. €1.7m from the French Facility for Global Environment (FFEM)), contributes to efforts to protect land in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, in partnership with 60 indigenous organizations.
“Indigenous people have an essential role to play in the protection of the Amazon rainforest," says Karen Colin De Verdière, AFD’s Team Leader for Agriculture and Biodiversity. “The goal of this project is in part to ensure Indigenous peoples’ rights are respected and their territories recognized, such that they are able to continue to sustainably manage their lands, protect the rainforest and its biodiversity from destruction.”
The project also combines Indigenous traditional knowledge of the forests with modern technology. In Brazil, someone wishing to report illegal logging and mining would have to travel by foot or canoe to sound the alarm, which could take hours – or days. Now, internet access points are being installed in remote areas, allowing people to report illegal activities in mere minutes.
The project also promotes the development of sustainable income generating activities and governance support for Indigenous rights, in the form of training and awareness raising.
The Sahel: Clean cooking methods to improve forest resource management
The vast, rich forests in West and Central Africa are also under threat. Hundreds of millions of households across the Sahel use firewood for cooking and heating, which not only produce smoke and indoor air pollution, causing an estimated 500,000 premature deaths each year, it is depleting nearby forests.
To address this rapid deforestation, a €6 million AFD Grant is financing a project that will expand access to cleaner and more efficient cooking methods. Biomass and butane cooking stoves are among the alternatives that reduce wood consumption and use alternative fuels, lessening pressure on forests and allowing them to regenerate.
Nature-based solutions for climate resilience
The Kiwa Initiative
With countless islands and exceptional marine biodiversity, the Pacific region is particularly vulnerable to climate change and large-scale climate hazards such as ocean warming, sea level rises, tropical cyclones and salinization of groundwater.
The Kiwa Initiative is a pioneering program that facilitates access to funding for climate change adaptation through nature-based solutions, by protecting, managing and restoring biodiversity.
“A number of experiments have shown that not only can natural resources be restored, but they can then serve to protect communities and ecosystems from climate change through the restoration of coastal ecosystems (coral reefs and mangroves), agroecology and organic agriculture,” wrote Karen Mapusua, Director of Land Resources at Pacific Community in a guest essay for AFD. “All are good examples of Nature-based solutions, which can provide sustainable responses to the impacts of climate change.”
With a total budget of €75 million managed by AFD, the ambitious, multi-donor financing program finances some 20 projects in 19 Pacific countries and 3 French territories.
Projects include the creation of a network of “learning organic farms” to support farmers in their transition to sustainable organic production and food systems based on nature-based solutions, with the exchange of best practices across the region.
These farmer-run training centers will help provide climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration, greater biodiversity, the phasing out of genetically modified organisms, soil conditioning, waste recycling and the protection of pollinators.
Other projects tackle invasive species management, community-based fisheries, and mangrove and coral reef restoration for coastline protection.
“Our projects embrace an approach that unites biodiversity and climate concerns,” says Guillaume Chiron, AFD’s Deputy Head of Agriculture, Rural Development and Biodiversity, “notably by implementing nature-based solutions, ensuring the participation and ownership of local communities, and respecting the rights of indigenous peoples.”
The coalition of contributors, including the European Union, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, pools financial resources, and supports initiatives led by regional organizations, national authorities and civil society.
Gambia: Mangroves to arrest coastal erosion
Nature-based solutions are also being used in Gambia, where a €7 million AFD grant is providing strategic, scientific and technical assistance for the large-scale restoration of mangrove ecosystems. These extraordinary natural buffers can slow and even prevent coastal erosion.
Conservation Trust Funds: BACoMaB
Across West Africa, the coastal waters not only teem with life, they are an invaluable economic engine. Fishing accounts for about 10% of Mauritania’s GDP, and is the main employer, providing more than a third of the country’s jobs. But these waters are also plied by industrial vessels from around the world, many of which are responsible for illegal fishing, pollution and overfishing.
By 2009, it was clear more needed to be done to protect the region’s biodiversity, and the BACoMaB trust fund was launched. AFD was among the first contributors, and provided another €5 million a decade later to finance marine and coastal reserves and protected areas.
BACoMaB finances efforts to oversee the protection of Mauritania’s Banc d’Arguin National Park (PNBA), one of the largest protected areas in Africa. It has not only boosted maritime surveillance to identify and intercept errant vessels, it has also enabled local scientists to monitor the risks of marine pollution and trends in fish stocks.
This is one of several projects funded by AFD via conservation trust funds, aimed at long-term sustainable development and the protection and regeneration of biodiversity. Such financial mechanisms are used increasingly to finance protected areas, which are all the more vulnerable because they are often under-funded.
Protecting biodiversity around the world
AFD Group is involved in hundreds of projects that protect, preserve and restore biodiversity. In Rajastan, India, a 140 million-euro project is helping to conserve forests and wetlands, curb soil erosion and make it more fertile. Some 60,000 hectares are to be reforested or restored.
"This project is fully in line with the High Ambition of the Coalition for Nature and People [HAC, a coalition of 100 countries],” says AFD’s Guillaume Chiron. Co-chaired by France and Costa Rica, HAC aims to protect 30% of terrestrial and marine ecosystems by 2030 – an historic initiative agreed in the final stages of COP15.
The Legacy Landscapes Fund
A number of financing mechanisms are being used by AFD Group and its partners to scale up the protection of biodiversity. The Legacy Landscapes Fund supported by the German government, AFD and private philanthropic organizations is working to conserve some of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots and protected areas. So far, the fund has collected over €200 million in direct contributions to support climate mitigation and adaptation.