Agriculture globally is a significant contributor to, and also uniquely vulnerable to, climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss. The figures are gloomy. According to the OECD, 17% of total global emissions come directly from agricultural emissions, and another 7-14% from land use change for farming. Around 52% of the land used for agriculture is moderately or severely affected by soil degradation. Due to drought and desertification, 12 million hectares are lost annually and with this we lose the capacity to grow 20 million tons of grain. However, agriculture also has the potential to play a heroic role in the struggle against climate change & loss of natural capital, and Signature is determined to see the land we invest in become a force for good. Nature-based climate solutions can contribute around 33% of CO2 reductions by 2030, and the massive land areas under agriculture can, if responsibly managed, have a positive impact on biodiversity and the ecosystem services we depend upon, such as soil fertility, water availability & quality, pollination capacity & air quality. Where regenerative agriculture practices are introduced to smallholder programmes, their reach and impact are extended, and the resilience of these small farmers to the ravages of climate change is improved.
One pillar of Signature’s approach which supports both our climate and our biodiversity objectives is our tree-planting programme. Trees have the potential to sequestrate carbon, prevent erosion, improve soil productivity, provide habitat and food for other species, and in many cases they can also provide a foundation for a sustainable economic activity.
Morocco: In the north-east of Morocco are the remnants of what used to be the largest cork oak forest in the world; the forest of Maamora. Only around 500km2 of the original 3,000km2 still remain, following decades of poor cultivation practices, unskilled harvesting of bark (often fatal to the tree), and the introduction of livestock which eat any seedlings. Despite these ravages, the forest remains important from both a biological perspective, regulating weather and providing a habitat for many species, and an economic perspective in terms of cork, acorn, truffle and wood harvesting, and for beekeeping. Signature is the investment manager in respect of a blueberry farm and an avocado farm in the region and has welcomed the opportunity to contribute to restoration of the forest.
In collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, farm management have planted ~6,500 cork oak and carob trees over an area of 10ha, providing an important habitat for pollinators and birds. In addition, all verges and bare slopes around the farm have been replanted, providing further habitat, sequestrating carbon and preventing erosion.
Nigeria: The Fund’s Pandagric farm in Nasarawa State occupies an area of land which would historically have been dense forest but has been largely cleared and burned for subsistence farming. The farm is now dedicated to grain farming and milling operations, but hundreds of hectares still remain available for forest restoration. From a biodiversity perspective, the farm is committed to not clearing primary forest, to maintaining buffer zones along waterways, to allowing forest regeneration in unused areas, and to active re-planting in non-arable areas. An indigenous tree nursery has been established on the farm, and the next phase will include assisting local community members to also establish nurseries to produce trees for sale to the farm.
Species selected for planting include useful species which can be sustainably harvested to provide income for communities in the future, such as shea nut and locust bean. In addition to the indigenous programme, the farm has embarked on a parallel programme of planting economic and food-bearing trees in order to improve food security and reduce malnutrition in the area. The most recent planting was a batch of 500 citrus trees, intended to provide vitamin C and bolster immune systems, and also to provide fodder for the community bee-keeping programme.