Commerce and conservation in Africa

A conservation lodge in Namibia

Much of Africa, you may be surprised to learn, is growing faster than the US. The economies of Kenya, Ghana, Botswana, Rwanda and Tanzania all grew by at least 4% last year. (US GDP growth was 1.7 percent.) But while modernization is lifting millions of Africans out of poverty, unchecked growth — of farms, ranches, mining and infrastructure — threatens Africa’s unsurpassed wildlife and wild places.

Can commerce and conservation coexist in Africa? A nonprofit called the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) has set out to prove that they can do better than co-exist: It is going into business for itself to demonstrate that thriving commercial enterprises, if run right, can help protect wildlife and their habitat.

Last year–its 50th anniversary year–the foundation created an  investment company called African Wildlife Capital to raise money from investors in the US to support conservation-friendly businesses in Africa. African Wildlife Capital has raised about $3 million, all of it through its own board, and so far it has invested in three projects–an avocado farm in Tanzania, a livestock operation in Kenya and a tourism lodge in Namibia. [click to continue…]

Investing in nature

This is a good time to consider “impact investing,” and if you don’t know why, check the latest statement from your savings account or money market fund. My Vanguard money market fund is paying 0.04 percent interest; a Bank of America savings account pays 0.01 percent.

You don’t need an MBA to understand that the financial return on those investments is close to zero. The social or psychic returns? No better.

Mark Tercek, the president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, happens to have an MBA (from Harvard), and he spent more than 20 years at Goldman Sachs before leaving in July 2008 (good timing!) to lead TNC. So it’s no surprise that he has introduced impact investing, in the form of interest-bearing Conservation Notes, to the conservancy.

Investors can lend money–minimum $25,000–to The Nature Conservancy to help the organization protect natural resources.They get a modest payback, along with the knowledge that their money is doing good. “It’s an investment-grade opportunity to achieve environmental impact on the ground,” Mark told me, when we spoke by phone the other day. [click to continue…]