Africa's Restoration Economy: Insights from South Africa's Wetlands

Across Africa, people are looking for hope, opportunity and security in the face of growing threats to society and the natural resource base on which we all depend. These threats are many and include over-extraction of natural resources, biodiversity loss, human disease, increasing climate extremes, unemployment and limited economic opportunities. Africa’s population has by far the highest proportion of vulnerable people globally. Their vulnerability to these multiple threats has intensified in the current COVID-19 pandemic, with its associated economic fall-out and widespread loss of jobs. As ways are sought to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a growing call to ‘build back better’. This involves implementing approaches and stimulus packages that get national economies and individual livelihoods back on their feet. Building back better also entails supporting investment and behavioural change towards reduced ecosystem degradation and ultimately to a more resilient society. Degraded ecosystems produce less food, store less water and carbon, and support less wildlife than healthy ecosystems. It is only with healthy ecosystems that people’s livelihoods can be enhanced, climate change counteracted, and biodiversity collapse averted – a recognition that led to 2021–2030 being declared the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Ecological restoration is defined broadly as the process of assisting in the recovery of an ecosystem (eg, a wetland) that has been damaged/degraded and includes what is commonly referred to in South Africa as wetland rehabilitation. Allied with ecological restoration is the concept of the restoration economy, which refers to economic activity associated with planning and implementing ecological restoration projects. The restoration economy provides economic development for some rural areas. It can also enhance social networks, develop skills and connect people to natural environments.