Deforestation in Africa—the rate at which trees are being cut down—is happening at twice the global average rate.
The implications of that reality range from increased exposure to climate change risks and hobbling biodiversity and conservation efforts. Komaza, an Africa-focused forestry company, is hoping to slow down those effects by scaling its sustainable “micro-forestry” model which sees it work with smallholder farmers to grow and harvest trees.
In Kenya, where the model has been deployed so far, Komaza provides smallholder farmers with seedlings and technical guidance to plant and cultivate trees in exchange for payment. For farmers who are mainly focused on subsistence farming, the upside includes optimizing underutilized vast pieces of land, earning extra income and getting access to market through Komaza’s wood processing and sales operations. Essentially, farmers supply land and labor while Komaza provides seedlings, support and harvesting services. Komaza was founded by American scientist Tevis Howard in 2006.
Planting and harvesting trees under its sustainable model, Komaza believes, can plug local supply for industrial wood and cooking fuel and offers a sustainable alternative to rapid, unbridled deforestation which forces loggers deeper into forest reserves. By working with smallholder farmers, Komaza also sidesteps the cost-intensive model of maintaining costly plantations.
So far, the model has proven convincing enough for the 25,000 farmers in Kenya who have partnered with Komaza to plant six million trees since the company’s founding in 2006. And it has also won over investors as Komaza has just raised $28 million as part of a Series B equity round co-led by AXA Investment Managers, through its AXA Impact Fund, and Dutch development bank FMO. The round also saw participation from Mirova’s Land Degradation Neutrality Fund as well as Novastar Ventures which led Komaza’s $9.9 million Series A round in 2017. Komaza now plans to expand operations across East Africa to meet its target of planting a billion trees by 2030 as well as upgrade its wood processing facilities.
Komaza’s merger of financial gain and conservation efforts have also been deployed by national governments on the continent. Last year, as part of the Central African Forest Initiative, Gabon agreed a 10-year deal which will see Norway pay $150 million for the central African country to battle deforestation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A year earlier, Seychelles also agreed a deal with US-headquartered charity The Nature Conservancy, to swap part of its debt for a plan that designated nearly a third of its waters as protected areas.
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