Agris Director Edward Stiles, spent the weekend at COP28 in Dubai after a visit to Equatoria Teak Company, our forestry operation in South Sudan. He found two worlds, completely disconnected from each other, and isn’t surprised the COP28 Agreement is so weak. 

The consensus agreed yesterday at COP28 is, at best, lukewarm. From an Africa perspective it’s deeply disappointing, because it won’t deliver the finance needed to help developing countries mitigate climate change and adapt to the life-threatening changes it will bring. 

I spent last weekend at COP28, after a few days at Equatoria Teak Company, our forestry business in South Sudan. Here, in the middle of the jungle, we have already planted 3 million new trees, we are helping more than 1500 smallholder farmers cultivate high-value, drought- and pest-tolerant Excelsa coffee, and we are supporting thousands more lives through quality jobs. What our company is doing represents tangible actions to mitigate climate change with new forests, and to improve the resilience of communities by providing jobs and a market for their coffee. 

The echo-chamber of the Dubai Expo felt like a world away. “We don’t support private enterprise” is what one private foundation set up to support agricultural livelihoods told me when I described our coffee project at ETC. This narrow mindset is not what we need for developing innovative, sustainable business models that will blend finance and expertise to deliver action immediately. 

The director of one African country’s forestry authority shared my disappointment and frustration about the lack of commitment to mechanisms that will channel money to the Global South, beyond disaster relief: “The biggest waste of a week,” was how he put it. “I was hoping it would be clear how money would come into Africa.” 

In his closing speech, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell acknowledged the limit of the conference’s success: “Whilst we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end,” he said. “Now all governments and businesses need to turn these pledges into real-economy outcomes, without delay.”

At Agris we are rapidly expanding our agricultural operations, producing avocados, herbs and vegetables. This year we have become the biggest herb producer in East Africa and thanks to blended finance from AgDevCO we are implementing drip irrigation, soil carbon monitoring, and high-yielding, disease-tolerant genetics at Evergreen Avocados. At Evergreen Herbs we use waste from our mushroom farm to improve soil health, integrated pest management, rainwater collection and drip irrigation.  

Sustainable, regenerative farming of this nature will reduce the staggering amount of greenhouse gases produced by agriculture and I was glad to see plenty of organisations advocating for new food systems on social and mainstream media. Then I arrived at COP, where it’s estimated that less than 1% of attendees were farmers. The people who are getting their hands dirty, are not being given seats at the table. Many of the world’s 3bn farmers are hungry, malnourished, and focused on surviving into tomorrow so a trip to Dubai was off the cards. And many investors are not prepared to make the long-term commitment required for regenerative farming models, which don’t necessarily deliver quick returns, but are critical for increasing productivity on existing agricultural land – without which hundreds of millions of people will go hungry and global warming will rise.   

A real commitment to investing in the business models and operators who can deliver change IMMEDIATELY is desperately needed. This is why we, at Maris, are doubling down on our focus on market leading organisations within the forestry and regenerative farming sectors. It is also why, having successfully built East Africa’s leading commercial solar provider, we are now broadening our focus to scale other renewable energy and climate tech ventures, including electric mobility and small-scale hydro. Sadly, a similar sense of urgency was severely lacking across COP28 and the Dubai consensus. 

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