Blog by Claire Warmenbol, IUCN Global Water Programme.

SUSTAIN is a 10-year programme supporting inclusive green growth in Tanzania and Mozambique, with a particular focus on creating shared value for business, communities and nature. Both countries possess strong development potential and are seeing rapid growth in both the agricultural and extractive sectors. Last week SUSTAIN Partners came together in Tete, Mozambique to reflect on learning from the first five years of the programme.

To some it may still come as a surprise that there is a strong link between sustainability and financial performance. A recent study 'From the stockholder to the stakeholder’ from the University of Oxford highlights that 88% of reviewed sources show that good sustainable practices result in better operational performance, and 80% of the reviewed studies demonstrate that prudent sustainability practices have a positive influence on investment performance.

SUSTAIN demonstrates just that: making sustainability and inclusion part and parcel of African growth corridors is a win-win for all, including nature. By placing itself amidst the triangle of society-government-business, SUSTAIN helps to implement a shared vision of economic growth, ecosystem resilience and social prosperity. The new SUSTAIN infographic, illustrates how SUSTAIN aims to achieve this vision. 

Over the last 5 years, SUSTAIN has worked on the ground establishing partnerships with business, local government and communities to find solutions which strengthen business competitiveness and benefit local people without damaging natural resources. SUSTAIN interventions range from empowering local institutions, to improving business practices and inclusive value chain development.        

For example in the Kilombero valley in Tanzania, SUSTAIN works with the Kilombero Sugar Company (part of Illovo Sugar Africa) through the African Wildlife Foundation. This partnership helped create community-business collaboration in order for communities to receive access and training in climate-smart agriculture approaches. This, in turn, allowed outgrowers to cultivate pest and drought resistant sugarcane variety which requires less land to grow. The collaboration helps communities increase their income, reduces degradation to the landscape, and allows the company to function in a healthy and stable environment.

The financial risks of ignoring sustainability are indeed high. Blackrock, the largest asset manager in the world, announced this year that if firms want to continue to receive their support, they need to think beyond profits. Instead, the company said, they need to think about the contribution they make to society (New York Times, 15 Jan 2018).

As we visited the Hydroelectric Cahora Bassa (HCB) company, the above statement rang particularly true. Our field group was focused on the work around and with the Cahora Bassa Dam, the largest hydroelectric power plant in southern Africa. Jose Chiburre, SUSTAIN’s Project Manager in Mozambique’s Zambezi Valley from ADPP, said “When faced with operational risks linked to ecosystem degradation of the water catchment area, HCB understood the need to include climate change adaptation and biodiversity conservation into the company’s environmental policy. We see a huge opportunity for the company to become a leader in sustainability, and to contribute to the broader landscape.” ADPP will now continue to work with HCB on helping implement those policies, including creating stronger linkages with the upstream Magoe National Park to protect the resources the company depends on.

Milagre Nuvunga, MICAIA Director and SUSTAIN partner in Mozambique, said “conservation provides economic benefits and returns – it makes business sense” when asked how SUSTAIN has looked at conventional challenges differently. MICAIA is leading SUSTAIN work around nature-based value chain development to complement local livelihoods. For instance, they have started the commercialisation of baobab powder and have linked local production to national markets thereby increasing income for local communities. With training and support to local communities, people learned how to better negotiate prices, practice sustainable harvesting, and access new markets.

After five days of rich and intense dialogue, presentations, interviews and stories, the path ahead is ambitious but clear. SUSTAIN needs to capitalise on the influence and space it has created on the ground and with national institutions to drive change in investment so that sustainability and inclusion –slowly but surely- becomes business as usual.