Overstocking with livestock over the past century has severely degraded more than 1 million hectares of subtropical thicket in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. ThicketGrowth (Pty) Ltd. was formed in 2022 to start the large-scale ecological restoration of these vast areas of desertified land. The company plans to restore tens of thousands of hectares per year by planting cuttings of an indigenous tree, namely Portulacaria afra, also known as spekboom. This large-scale restoration will result in the return of indigenous plants and animals to the landscape, increased volumes of water flowing into aquifers and rivers, an enhanced carrying capacity of the landscape for livestock and game, an overall greening of the landscape which improves the aesthetics for the tourism industry, and considerable capture of carbon into plants and soils which combats climate change. Carbon financing will be used to fund ThicketGrowth’s operations.
ThicketGrowth is part of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration’s global movement (www.decadeonrestoration.org) to restore hundreds of millions of hectares of degraded land over the next decade. The vision of ThicketGrowth is to be a world leader within this UN Decade by highlighting how restoration of a million hectares of degraded land by a dedicated team is eminently achievable.
The restoration of degraded subtropical thicket by planting spekboom has been researched intensely for the past two decades. Results from this research, including rates of carbon sequestration, improvements in soil health and return of plant diversity have been documented extensively in the peer-reviewed literature. Examples of this literature are available here. (Extract the list from https://africarbon.co.za/publications/. Additional items from 2021 to be added.)
ThicketGrowth has established a nursery of 1.5 million cuttings of spekboom and is presently planting out rooted cuttings into several hundred hectares of degraded subtropical thicket in the Sundays River Valley. By the end of 2024, Thicketgrowth aims to have planted at least 25,000 hectares, with even greater momentum and upscaling occurring from 2025.
Dirk Muench is Executive Director Corporate Investments at South Pole.