From developed to developing countries, the businesses are shifting away from a narrow focus on profit to an inclusive approach that benefits the planet and the people. These innovators are taking sustainability as the starting point and developing businesses that focus on societal impact.
In South Asia, some of these entrepreneurs are looking toward the land, which has suffered from decades of degradation. Their mission is to heal this damage and build strong rural economies. The opportunity is big: nearly 140 million hectares of land in India could benefit from restoration. That is around 42% of its entire area, much of it managed by marginalized people like women and tribal communities.
These restoration entrepreneurs have the potential to become the ambassadors of the global restoration movement, encouraging young minds to think and develop profitable business models along these lines. They are creating livelihood opportunities for women, marginalized people, and forest dwellers that suffer the most from rural poverty. But these business leaders need help accessing the finance, networks, and technical advice that they need to scale up their work and benefit more people.
To fill that gap, World Resources Institute (WRI) and Sangam Ventures, with partners Startup India and the IKEA Foundation, have launched the Land Accelerator South Asia, a four-month training programme and curated network for restoration entrepreneurs. This effort builds off past success in Africa, where the programme’s first two cohorts took place in 2018 and 2019.
After a rigorous selection process with 316 applications, a vibrant and enthusiastic cohort of fifteen companies from this region is presently getting support from this first-of-its-kind programme.
These companies take a variety of approaches to growing the restoration economy, an entire ecosystem of companies that regenerate the land and rural livelihoods. They are improving the condition of the soil and water, helping farmers carefully select planting material, controlling pests, and developing sustainable and resilient value chains that benefit farmers. Together, they have created 360 jobs, restored 54,800 hectares of land, engaged 66,900 small and marginal farmers, and planted nearly 500,000 trees in the past year.
4 Business Approaches To Restoring Land
Some companies are helping farmers sustainably control pests without harming the beneficial insects like bees that farms and forests rely on for pollination, AI-GENIX International replaces artificial pesticides and chemicals with its artificially intelligent insect and worm traps that increase farm yields by 30-40% and reduce costs for farmers. The traps use reactive-machine AI technology to produce sounds that lure pests in. The company has sold over 3,000 self-installable pest traps, which protect over 3,000 hectares.
Other entrepreneurs are helping farms adopt natural, organic and smart ways to prepare their land and restore soil health. SenzAgro is a Sri Lankan precision agricultural firm whose innovative soil sensing system is currently used in 10,000 hectares across seven farms. On an average, it increases crop yields by 20%, lowers water use by 40%, and decreases artificial pesticide and fertilizer use by 40%. The team is also building smart irrigation solutions for rubber, tea and sugarcane plantations.
Business can also supply farmers with high-quality inputs, from tree seedlings to plantation and food crops. Vasumitra Life Energies offers a suite of 100% organic fertilizers and nutrients that over 60,000 small holder farmers in India are using to reduce their use of water by 50% and their use of chemicals by 70%, while increasing their yields. The company’s goal is to make the transition to organic farming and profitable for farms around the world. Over 400 retailers throughout India stock their products.
By developing value chains that encourage small and marginal farmers to sustainably harvest and add value to non-timber forest produce, some companies are building rural prosperity. Aadhimalai Pazhangudiyinar Producer Co. purchases and markets non-timber forest products collected by over 1,600 indigenous people from over 160 villages in Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve. The company sustainably harvests a variety of products, ranging from wild gooseberry to shikakai and soap nuts, which they sell to wholesalers while paying forest-dwellers 20-25% above the market rate.
The Path Forward
The talent, drive and vision of these 15 entrepreneurs can help define future of landscape restoration across South Asia and contribute to the global movement ahead of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. With the support of a strong ecosystem of mentors and investors, they are bound to flourish and achieve their intended impact at scale. We believe the Land Accelerator can help build and strengthen the community working towards the common goal of restoring South Asia’s landscapes.
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