GEF Africa sustainable forestry fund.
British development finance institution, CDC (www.cdcgroup.com) has committed US$50 million to the GEF Africa Sustainable Forestry Fund (GASFF), the first private equity fund to focus solely on sustainable forestry in sub-Saharan Africa. The fund is to be run by the investment team of Global Environment Fund (GEF) which has a long history of investing in sectors that make a positive impact on the environment and quality of life.
It is a pioneering investment to help develop and grow businesses in Africa’s expanding forestry sector and bring jobs to those communities, as well as broader potential ecological benefits.
The first close of GASFF is US$84 mln, which is being committed principally by development finance institutions. Private investors are expected to invest later, and this should eventually bring the fund to its US$150 mln target size.
The fund is targeting commercial returns and is expected to invest in and develop 5-10 forestry businesses across sub-Saharan Africa, with a particular focus on “greenfield” and existing plantations. The forestry businesses will grow, process and market timber products to meet the growing global demand from industries including construction, energy, furniture and bio-fuel.
GEF has around US$1bn funds under management, including an emerging markets forestry fund which has invested in businesses in South America, South-East Asia and Africa. In 2009, GEF received the Financial Times’ award for Sustainable Investor of the Year. GASFF is managed by John Earhart, one of the creators of the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), and Ole Sand, who joined GEF from the forest investment team at the International Finance Corporation. Their combined experience and that of their team in the forestry industry in emerging markets will mean that the fund and its investments will be subject to world-class environmental, social and sustainability standards.
The GASFF fund closed on 24 May and planned to start to make investments immediately, with an investment size typically between US$15 mln and $30 mln. There are several countries within sub-Saharan Africa that provide good opportunities for forestry investments including Mozambique, Tanzania, Swaziland, South Africa, Uganda, Ghana, Malawi and Zambia.
The fund’s investments will drive economic improvement in the communities in which it invests through direct employment, local taxes, support for local schools, and other community projects. The fund’s investments will also support the basic needs of employees and families, including housing, schools, clinics, clean water, nutrition programs and job training.
GASFF’s forestry assets will also sequester significant quantities of carbon dioxide, and will avoid deforestation and degradation through its sustainable management of plantations and natural forests.
Comments from CDC’s Chief Executive Richard Laing (per press release):
“The climate and conditions in sub-Saharan Africa give it a compelling natural advantage in developing sustainable forestry, but the continent has traditionally failed to attract investment because of high perceived risks. An improving political and economic backdrop, combined with growing local and global demand for timber and increased attention on climate change issues, means that African forestry is now well placed to receive the investment its people and governments are calling out for.
“As well as the economic impact that this investment can bring, plantation forests also provide important environmental benefits, including reducing carbon emissions, protecting soil and reducing pressure on natural rainforests. Sub-Saharan Africa has the potential to reap these rewards.”
“CDC has been instrumental in the creation of this fund, the first of its kind in Africa. From identifying the need for a sustainable forestry fund, selecting the manager to run it, through to providing the US$50m cornerstone investment that is essential to getting it off the ground, CDC continues to play its part in bringing innovative and vital investment to developing countries.”
The international community has realized the importance of protecting African forests in order to fight against global warming of the planet. Talks had stalled on an initiative called the UN-REDD programme (The United Nations Collaborative Programme
on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries – www.un-redd.org) which aims that rich countries should provide an international fund to finance developing countries who manage to preserve their forests. Africa supported this.
On 27 May, in Oslo, the rich countries announced they would contribute about $4 billion on their fight against deforestation by 2012, mainly United States ($1 bln), Norway ($1 bln), Japan ($500 mln), the United Kingdom ($480 mln), France ($375 mln) and Australia ($120 mln), joined by Germany ($464 mln) and Denmark.
It could mean more funding for forest protection in the Congo Basin, which is reportedly 26% of global tropical forest.