greatgreenwall

Why African Nations Are Banding Together To Build A Great Green Wall Across The Sahara

Photo courtesy of Greg Neate via Flickr

Due to climate change and both human and nature-related land degradation, areas that once saw biodiversity and vegetation are seeing dangerous decline in arability.

In sub-saharan Africa, a specific type of land degradation called desertification has become an urgent issue, with an estimated 500 million people living on land undergoing this transformation.

With the Sahara Desert expanding southwards at 30 miles per year, the UN estimates that two-thirds of Africa’s arable land could be lost by 2025 if this trend continues.

While the effects of global warming can’t be stopped, per se, they can be countered. Which is why eleven African countries have together formed an initiative to construct a “Great Green Wall” of trees across the continent, from west to east, to restore native plant life where it might otherwise be overcome by the Sahara.

What is the Great Green Wall, and who is building it?

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According to the Guardian, the wall will be 4,300 miles long and 9 miles wide, spanning the entire width of Africa from Senegal to Djibouti.

This stretch of vegetation will consist of chiefly drought-resistant plant life (such as indigenous acacia trees) to provide vital nutrition to inhabitants and help communities deal with climate change.

The initiative is not only about planting trees, with each country involved allowed to “develop one or several projects in the context of this program and assign some or all of their financial allocations to the Great Green Wall.”

Participating in the ambitious project are 11 nations — Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti.

The project was approved by the African Union in 2007, and has received $1.8 billion from the World Bank, $108 million from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), as well as support from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Food Programme, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

Slow and steady progress

Though the forest wall will take years to build, progress has been seen even in infancy. In Senegal, 50,000 acres of trees have been planted, already the FAO says.

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Photo courtesy of the Global Orphan Project via Flickr.

Southern Niger, too, has brought about low-cost land restoration, boosting crops, livestock yields, and the production of medicine and firewood.

Since as many as 11 million people in the Sahel region don’t have enough to eat, this re-greening process is hoped to not only slow wind speeds and prevent erosion, but to provide fruits and vegetables to those in the midst of severe food crisis.

The initiative may also help hold moisture in the air and soil, provide biodiversity and grazing land, contribute to local employment, agriculture, and tourism, curb terrorism, sequester carbon, and benefit regional wildlife.

Though it will likely be 10 to 15 years before the in-progress wall becomes a forest, the process has a lot of promise to not only halt desertification, but aid millions of impoverished people and their communities.

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Jennifer Markert