A South African insurance firm and local farmer have already planted more than 3.7 million trees to try to stop land degradation and restore a heavily degraded water catchment system

The restoration of the harmful effects people have had on the natural environment over the last century does more than just protect our planet’s threatened natural ecosystems, it can also protect us from the crises that arise as a result of these imbalances. Living Lands, an international not-for-profit organisation, started doing just that in South Africa, by bringing together the users and beneficiaries of a rapidly degrading river in the Baviaanskloof area that provides water to South Africa’s fifth largest city.

The problem started in the 20th century when farmers in the area were subsidised to run as many sheep as they could and cut water channels into the land to aid runoff by an uninformed government. These practices wiped out the subtropical thicket – a forest which retained water during periods of low rainfall. Compounding that, South African scientists say the changing climate now causes rain to fall in more isolated storms, which in turn cause even more runoff. This ‘double whammy’ is typical of degraded land around the world, according to conservation group IUCN, which recently highlighted the restoration project as a successful way to regenerate landscapes.

But it wasn’t until funding from Santam, South Africa’s biggest agricultural insurer, came along, that the project really got off the ground. “This is a business imperative for us, the likelihood of our sustainability is highly dependent on this,” said Ray-Ann Sedres, head of integrated sustainability at Santam. She feels that projects such as this are crucial for the company to survive in a warming world. “The strength of our business does not lie in land rehabilitation, it lies in the fact that we understand risk” she says.

According to Sedres, this risk analysis is being used by municipalities and other partners to help with disaster planning and the communal effort to halt land degradation. Santam is also helping drive partnerships with local and national government in order to address climate change issues and put disaster mitigation strategies in place before they happen.

“Santam knows that if we don’t make sure that there is water downstream where business sits, then business stops and business continuity claims arise,” Sedres said.

Read more about the work Living Lands is doing here.