Protecting the Sahel-Sahara: The Great Green Wall

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The Great Green Wall – solving the desertification problem?

The Sahel and Sahara regions of Africa have long battled land degradation, which unfortunately determines the overall health of the ecosystem. Dating back to the nineteen-sixties, the devastating effects of land degradation on human, animal and plant life have been experienced in the Sahel, with both nature and human activities identified as culprits of the phenomenon. Although the Sahel is naturally predisposed to land degradation—no thanks to land-atmosphere feedbacks that occur because of changes in Sahel rainfall, a consequence of changes in sea-temperature in the Gulf of Guinea and by El-Nino in the Pacific—human activities like wrong farming techniques and chopping down of trees for domestic use, have also amplified the situation.

To combat the Sahel’s desertification problem and the expanding Sahara desert, Nigeria’s former Head of State Chief Olusegun Obasanjo proposed (in 2005) the planting of trees across the continent, from west to east. This has been dubbed the “Great Green Wall of Africa”. The idea met with strong support from former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and other African states. In January 2007, the African Union approved the “Decision on the Implementation of the Green Wall for the Sahara Initiative”. 11 African countries—Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan—are in partnership to achieve this one-of-a-kind natural regeneration project. The collaboration aims to combat policy, investment and institutional factors that aggravate the effects of climate change and lead to deterioration of the environment and natural resources.


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The Great Green Wall will comprise trees planted on a belt of land 9 miles wide and 4,400 miles long, from Dakar to Djibouti. The goal is to plant drought-resistant trees, native to respective localities. The trees will act as wind breakers, slowing down sandstorms which typically displace soil. Tree roots also mean rain water will be able to filter into the earth, replenishing the water table and ensuring richer soils which will no doubt benefit local flora and fauna. Although this project is bold and not without critics, it is underway and has attracted significant funding from various international sources, e.g. $1.8 billion from the world bank and $108 million from Global Environmental Facility, plus €1 billion annually by 2020 from France. Elsewhere it is reported that a total of $3billion has been raised.

The beauty of this project does not lie solely in preventing desertification and allied problems; planting trees will provide jobs and a source of livelihood for many, enriching local communities while keeping many out of trouble.