Insurance companies are typically a fairly passive partner in disaster, showing up only when things have gone horribly wrong. The largest agricultural insurer in South Africa has broken the mold by backing a massive effort to slow the effects of drought, which threatens farmlands in the small country. Planting millions of trees has helped to reduce land degradation and ward off desertification, and the initiative could even lead to increased water supplies in communities that have lived under water restrictions for nearly a decade.

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Rather than sit idly by and watch farmers lose untold acreage of croplands, Santam is working to actively reduce drought risk for its customers by funding Living Lands, an international nonprofit that has been active in South Africa since 2008. Working with government agencies, community organizations, and individual farmers, the project has planted more than 3.7 million trees so far in an effort to stop land degradation and restore the compromised water catchment system. All of this falls under a larger project intended to create “a living landscape” in the Baviaanskloof.

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“This is a business imperative for us, the likelihood of our sustainability is highly dependent on this,” Ray-Ann Sedres, head of integrated sustainability at Santam, told The Guardian. She explained Santam recognizes how climate change is impacting businesses, and feels projects like this tree-planting effort are crucial for the company’s survival.

The city of Port Elizabeth, now home to 1.4 million residents, hopes to reap direct benefits from the tree-planting program. The city has doubled in size since 1997 and endured water restrictions on and off since 2007. Baviaanskloof area farmers report the rate of topsoil loss has slowed, indicating the runoff which causes erosion has been reduced. With any luck, Port Elizabeth’s water supply will also stabilize as the result of this unique approach to risk management.

Via The Guardian

Images via Living Lands and Rick McCharles/Flickr