These start-ups are helping women while reforesting Africa

The modern reforestation movement can be traced back to a woman.

The modern reforestation movement can be traced back to a woman. Image: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Stefan Ellerbeck
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate

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  • The world continues to lose 15 billion trees every year which is accelerating nature loss and global CO2 emissions.
  • Rural communities and especially women are crucial to the reforestation movement.
  • The World Economic Forum’s UpLink platform has recognized ecopreneurs who contribute to Africa’s Great Green Wall tree restoration initiative.
  • Three winners of the challenge are start-ups which champion local women.

The statistics are stark.

There were around six trillion trees before the onset of the agricultural revolution 12,000 years ago. Now only around half remain, and the world continues to lose an estimated 15 billion trees every year.

The consequent effect on the escalating climate crisis is significant. If tropical deforestation was a country, it would rank third in global CO2 emissions.

Slow progress in global forest restoration.
Slow progress in global forest restoration. Image: Statista

Thankfully, the risks to the world of losing more trees are being increasingly understood. We’re seeing significant government-led contributions to reforestation like Canada’s 2 Billion Trees commitment and Pakistan’s 10 Billion Tree Tsunami Project.

Reforestation in Africa is also seen as a growing priority. Africa is home to 15% of the world's forests. As the UN notes, forests serve as the "lungs of the world" and efforts to protect trees, grasslands and more help defend against soil erosion and help regulate local weather conditions, among other benefits.


What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

Women, sustainability, reforestation and reversing poverty

The modern reforestation movement can be traced back to a woman. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai created the Green Belt Movement back in the 1970s. By mobilizing a grass-roots effort to plant millions of trees in Kenya, she showed that healthy forests contribute to livelihoods, food security and equity for all.

Engaging women in reforestation is key. The World Bank says, “considering gender differences in the use of, access to, and benefits from forest landscapes has led to more fair and effective design of interventions and institutional arrangements that have maximized program results and successes in addressing deforestation in many countries.”

Additionally, women play outsized roles in subsistence farming and the gathering of food and fuel. As a result they are are typically more susceptible to climate change's adverse effects. Finding ways to ensure natural resources can empower women can create sustainable solutions that protect the planet while reversing poverty.

Women are crucial to the success of forest landscape restoration.
Women are crucial to the success of forest landscape restoration. Image: CIFOR

Green jobs will reshape economies in coming years, but women can be locked out of many opportunities. Some of the quickest wins for green jobs, according to the African Development Bank, will come from sectors like agriculture where women already dominate. The greening of these sectors can spur sustainability - for people and planet - in the short term.

The Trillion Trees: the Sahel and the Great Green Wall Challenge is part of the World Economic Forum’s UpLink platform. This challenge aims to find startups that can ensure the Great Green Wall - an 8,000km stretch of trees across the entire width of Africa - can deliver benefits to people and the environment of the Sahel.

Trillion Trees: the Sahel and the Great Green Wall Challenge winners

Here are three winners of that challenge who are ensuring that women are at the forefront of their work.


1. Nigeria: Shea Empowerment Foundation

Shea butter is found in beauty products like moisturizers, as well as foodstuffs like chocolate. Most shea nut collectors are women, and the industry is currently booming. Exports of shea products from African countries have increased by around 600% since 2000, Foreign Policy reports.

The Shea Empowerment Foundation is an NGO that aims to boost income generation and poverty alleviation in the sector. The start-up says its aim is to plant 2000 Shea trees in south west Nigeria, to help create long-term economic as well as environmental security for local communities. It also provides training on parkland management to "improve biodiversity and soil health on Shea plantations."

Our mandate is to empower the marginalized (especially women and youth) in Nigerian society and in the process, increase their economic contributions to their communities whilst increasing their knowledge and skills in their preferred/selected field,” it says.

2. Senegal: Baobab des Saveurs

The Baobab tree contains a citrusy pulp that is rich in vitamin C, calcium and magnesium and has become a popular ‘superfood’ in the US and Europe.

Exports of the fruit rose from 50 tonnes in 2013 to 450 tonnes in 2017, Reuters reports. They are expected to reach 5,000 tonnes by 2025, potentially making it a $400 million industry.

Baobab des Saveurs is a start-up operating in Senegal which helps women producers profit from one of the company’s organic product lines, Desert Dates. “We are convinced that each actor in a value chain has a role to play,” the company says.

It trains local women to plant economically valuable trees like the Baobab. It adds that landscape restoration is only possible if people recognise the value of selling non-timber forest products (NTFPs) such as desert dates.


3. Mali: Herou Alliance

Seeds from the Moringa tree contain a wide variety of nutrients with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The tree has also gained ‘superfood’ status and is often used as a health supplement.

The Herou Alliance is a Mali-based women’s cooperative which exports Moringa products to eight countries and supports over 5,000 local women producers. It says the demand created by its activities provides a catalyst for farmers to plant more trees to also improve their own livelihoods.

"By planting Moringa in 12,000 hectares by 2025 we will create a great carbon store, promote rapid shade cover in arid and semi-arid areas and provide poor and dried soils with natural good fertilizer," CEO Rokiatou Traore told WomHub. "Our green innovation deals with malnutrition, poverty of women and youth in rural areas, immigration and climate change, all hindering Africa’s development,” she adds.

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Related topics:
AfricaClimate and NatureGender Inequality
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