The protection of our water and landholdings from degrading practices remains the foundation of our long-term investment in Africa. However, from this core principle, we have embraced an expanded and ambitious strategy that includes more specific focus on where we can impact conservation of biodiversity on a wider stage by creating links with government, regional stakeholders and conservation initiatives to combine resources and vision where possible.
CHALLENGES TO SUSTAINABILITY
Our operations maintain a focus on sustainability, even though there remain some negative impacts within our businesses that continue to demand solutions.
We have seen evidence of changing weather patterns predicted to impact Africa in a significant way. Our role within this scenario is clear: contribute to an era where we see a transition from fossil fuels to renewable electricity provision (through Rift Valley Energy) and contribute to the sophisticated development of farming methods that adapt to changing conditions. Both objectives are attainable and we believe that RVC's culture of innovation and entrepreneurship will lead to solutions where climate change demands adaptation.
Water management has been a key component to many of our operations since inception. Climate change will further promote the conservation of water to the highest priority. Our strategy will be to continue adapting the most efficient storage capacity in conjunction with the most conservative methods of irrigation. Technology will assist these improvements and we remain motivated to explore all relevant advances into the future.
Review of our energy usage, emissions and waste is underway. An independent energy audit of our larger processing plants (tea and tobacco), is planned for 2016 and will allow for improvements where possible. In addition, the implementation of the group-wide ESMS throughout 2016 will cast fresh eyes on waste management where necessary.
The effect of the tobacco industry on deforestation, due to a demand for curing fuel, has been widely exposed. In an effort to manage and reduce this impact, NT closely supports the Sustainable Afforestation Association (SAA), a Zimbabwe based Non Governmental Organization (NGO) set up to research and implement mitigation of the destruction of natural habitat through agricultural activity. In FY15, Northern Tobacco (NT) contributed over $1 million towards SAA's objective of planting 3 million trees within renewable plantations to meet wood-fuel demands.
Tobacco cured with ethanol - Carolina Trial barns - 2015
With an ever pressing need to tackle the sustainability of tobacco production, Rift Valley's Northern Tobacco looks to roll out a trial of this local and innovative curing technique amongst its smalls-scale growers. The aim being to reduce the use of fossil fuel or firewood.
In parallel to SAA initiatives and our supply of plantation timber and coal to all growers for curing purposes, we continue to look to assisting more innovative solutions to widespread wood-fuel demand. To this end we are looking to create a consortium in 2016 that will collaborate with donors to provide a suite of viable solutions. One such option is the introduction of liquid ethanol for tobacco curing, which looks promising as a viable carbon neutral long-term solution. NT is running trials on this new technique in 2016.
The threat of fire looms largest within Rift Valley's plantation forestry businesses, where wild 'bush' fires can spread rapidly across landscapes in the dry season, when hot and windy conditions provide high risk environments. Lessons have been learnt from losses to biological asset and natural vegetation at both Border Timbers (Zimbabwe) and Florestas de Niassa (Mozambique) and fire management is constantly reviewed. A combination of community liaison (increasing awareness and preventative collaboration), along with optimum fire-breaks, standby water storage and improved response capacity, has expanded our ability to prevent and tackle the seasonal risk of fire.
An ongoing focus of the group's attention this year has been the management of Panama Disease (PD) at Matanuska Bananas in Mozambique. Here follows a description of the response of Matanuska and RVC to the outbreak of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense, Tropical Race 4 (FOC TR4), at Metocheria farm. The management of Panama Disease Following its discovery on the farm in 2013 and on understanding the impact FOC TR4 has had on Cavendish banana plantations worldwide, Matanuska has undertaken significant measures to both contain the disease and also manage its impact on the future of farm productivity. Following consultation with world experts in plant pathology, as well as growers with practical experience of managing the disease, management have drawn up a strategy that includes:
1. Containment of the spread of FOC TR4.
Every effort has been made to put in place infrastructure to isolate the out break and prevent spread via the passage of vehicles and pedestrians through the farm. The entire farm has been secured by fence and all entry and exits have universal disinfection control. In addition, drainage ditches have been constructed within the farm and around the perimeter to assist spread control.
2. Enhancing technical capacity to control the disease.
Matanuska management has been consistently in touch with world authorities on the science and management of FOC TR4 since the outbreak. We continue to invest in equipment, data collection and worldwide opinion to allow for the most advanced diagnostics, management and training to best deal with the disease. A dedicated research facility is planned for the farm with the assistance of donor support.
3. Maintaining Matanuska as a fully operational
productive plantation. Given the investment in the farm's success as one of the most impressive agricultural developments in Mozambique (a unique impact on the economy, poverty reduction and food security of the region), there is an immense priority to keep the farm productive. Management is therefore focused on not only controlling FOC TR4 where possible, but introducing a combination of Taiwanese disease resistant banana varieties with alternative crop planning for long-term viability. The focus and goal is therefore to see the resistant varieties thrive, to be replanted throughout the farm, in combination with the introduction of new crop varieties.
The costs of the above management steps have been, and will continue to be, very significant indeed. FY15 saw approximately $240,000 spent on PD management, with FY16 control and replanting measures budgeted to cost over $2,785,000. A continued control and replanting program will cost several million dollars over the next eight years.
FLAGSHIP PROJECTS Further (and more precise) conservation impact is foreseen through the launch of select, focused interventions within areas of our business operation:
A collaboration with the Tanzanian Forest Conservation Group (TFCG) is underway to protect Tanzania's highland 'cloud' forests.
Habitat protection on a landscape scale in Mozambique
This ambitious project, which aims to impact sustainable land use withinan area of nearly 1 million Ha of vulnerable habitat in Mozambique, has been over a year in development. The objective remains to preserve natural forest and create models of improved small-scale farming. The rationale for RVC is to see the growth of the area's industrial plantation, a key role in securing economic stability. The future of plantation forestry relies in part on the ability to secure widespread sustainable land-use practice within agriculture and the natural forest into the future. Without improvements to agricultural methods and productivity, and also a reduction in the destruction of natural forest, the current environmentally unsustainable status quo in the area will be a constraint to agricultural stability. The initiative has therefore begun the process of addressing land-use issues in order to roll out a range of collaborative interventions, together with strategic implementing partners with requisite expertise. Pilot projects, funded by Rift Valley Forestry, are already underway.
A multi-stakeholder forum to impact sustainable land use in Mozambique
Led by RVC, a 'not-for-profit' organisation, The Niassa Natural Capital Association, has been set up to assist the development of sustainable land use initiatives within Niassa province, Mozambique. The organisation will include representation from all significant stakeholders within Niassa province: private sector, civil society, rural communities, non-governmental organizations, donors, conservation bodies and research organisations, with the specific intention of developing synergies between all parties that can bring focus to sustainable land-use issues threatening the region's natural capital resources. The objective is to bring about meaningful solutions to a range of current problems. The Association will be unique in Mozambique, as a mechanism to improve unsustainable land-use practices. It is hoped that collaboration between its varied membership will lead to a combined purpose, sufficient to impact change on the ground. Through a combination of advocacy, the support and replication of working models of rural development and the ability to engage a cross-section of society, the NNCA will function as an important catalyst to impact sustainability throughout the province.