Bernard Giraud: “We must think big, try to make as big an impact as possible”


Interview with Bernard Giraud, President of Livelihoods.


How and why was the Livelihoods fund created a year ago?


It originated from two findings. On one hand, we knew that there were 1.3 billion people suffering from malnutrition, 80% of whom were farmers, fishermen and breeders. These people are highly dependent on their ecosystems, and thus on the ecological statuses of these ecosystems. If too much mangrove is cut, or if the waters get too salty, or if the water table becomes exhausted, they suffer directly and severely. On the other hand, we were also aware that in our everyday lives, we generate greenhouse gases, especially when living in a developed country. These emissions must be reduced, and although many crucial initiatives are working towards this reduction, with the ever-growing world population, increases in greenhouse gas emissions are almost inevitable. With these two elements in mind, we decided that we should work on both fronts: continue to reduce our emissions, and at the same time offset them. Healthy ecosystems provide a better environment for farmers, and they also retain carbon dioxide. And that is the positioning of the Livelihoods fund: to kill two birds with one stone.


How does Livelihoods work to achieve this aim?


We work as an intermediary to help local populations to strengthen their ecosystems and thus positively impact the environment. Thanks to the companies that partner the fund (Danone, Schneider Electric, CDC Climat, Crédit Agricole and, more recently, the La Poste group and Hermès International) we fund large-scale, ambitious ecosystem rehabilitation programmes. Our model is unique in that the companies take a risk when they invest: they give money before the project has even started, which differs from the usual offset initiatives. This basically provides small-scale organisations with the means to develop big projects. For instance, in India, in the Ganges delta, we helped a NGO with a mangrove reconstitution project: people there live on islands poorly protected from floods by sea walls made of earth. So the mangroves now work as “green shields” and contribute to the preservation of the fauna and natural biodiversity.

In Senegal, we worked with the NGO Oceanium to replant 10,000 hectares of mangroves, which represents around 100 million trees! It is the biggest reforestation project in the world, affecting the everyday life of 450 villages.

Since we work with major groups and companies, we feel that we must think big, to make as much of an impact as possible, and that we must help accelerate the process, because it is an emergency. If you look at the bigger picture, we have not reconstructed that much yet. We have had our successes, but we remain humble.


What is your assessment of the fund’s first year of existence?


Well, first of all, our five projects are doing well and we have a sixth underway in Kenya. We opted to implement large-scale programs via cooperation with local communities, and that was the right approach, it works. Secondly, despite the difficult economic context, we have managed to bring six major companies on board and to reach capitalization of 25 million euros. The movement is widening. We have also created a network of people, organisations, research centres, companies, etc. who want to share their experiences, and thanks to them we are now building new competences. In October, our Livelihoods camp will gather doers and experts to discuss the best ideas on a very wide range of issues, such as education, women’s empowerment, access to energy, etc.

I am also glad that there is gathering interest and recognition of these actions from both other private companies and public institutions. For instance, the French fund for the world environment has recently funded us too.


How do you see the future?


As public funds become rarer, it is important that private actors invent new models that are perennial, sustainable and that mobilize as many people as possible, to create wider and wider synergies. Everyone keeps talking about the green economy, but there are people who are already living with these preoccupations every day, and it is crucial that we do not forget about them. In July, we will hold a seminar in Senegal to define how we can mobilize the population towards the aim of protecting the mangrove. It is extremely important to communicate the benefits of what we do to local populations. Funding projects that are carried out by local organisations and benefit the local population is key for us.

In India, in the Araku valley, we are working with the Adivasi community to plant six million fruit trees.

They plant and take care of the trees because the trees matter to them: they are the ones who collect the fruit, they benefit directly from the reforestation. We are also starting to work, on a larger scale, on how we can help the farmers, fishermen and breeders to transform their products.

Our model is still very young, but it is promising. It does not cost much, it relies mostly on intelligence, education, training and know-how. Each day, it attracts more and more interest, even from NGOs that we have not funded, from biodiversity experts and from other corporations. Together, we are strong.

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  • James Greyson

    Impressive project. Ecosystem regeneration is vital.

    Thinking big should mean not accepting increasing emissions. Let’s really think big and cut emissions to the level where GHG concentrations can fall.

    There is a particular opportunity in cooking and energy-production with biochar as a byproduct that regenerates agricultural soils and helps ecosystems re-establish. This unites net-negative carbon with net-positive food and ecosystem security.

    Let’s also think big about scaling initiatives such as yours. Innovative policy for global systems change is available. Both the real landscape and the policy landscape can be regenerated!