The Great Green Wall: Africa’s most ambitious land restoration initiative to date

Hi all! Today I wanted to talk about an extremely interesting and ambitious project that began over a decade ago, and for many represents a symbol of hope in a region severely suffering the consequences of climate change. I came across this project a few years ago and to be honest I haven’t really heard much about it since. For that exact reason I wanted to touch up on it today because I really do think it’s an important initiative tackling major climate change issues.

This project is of course The Great Green Wall, an 8.000 km long land restoration initiative stretching across the southern border of the Sahara desert, that is aiming to transform what is considered to be one of the poorest areas in the world, the Sahel region in Africa.

Great Green Wall / YouTube

The initiative began in 2007 and is led by the African Union in collaboration with 20 African nations, as well as international partners such as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Bank and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The project aimed to construct what would be the largest living structure on Earth, an 8000 km long and 15 km wide area of restored landscape that would span across 11 countries and the entire African continent. The project aimed to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land, sequester 250 million tonnes of carbon and create 10 million rural jobs by 2030. The total expected cost of the initiative was 8 billion USD.

Source: https://www.greatgreenwall.org/press-kit#press-kit-internal

Source: https://www.greatgreenwall.org/press-kit#press-kit-internal

A little more than a decade into the initiative and significant advances have already been made. Approximately 15% of the wall has been completed, 12 million drought resistant trees have been planted in Senegal and 15 million hectares of degraded land have been restored in Ethiopia. Five million hectares of restored land in Niger have delivered an additional 500.000 tonnes of grain per year, which is enough to feed 2,5 million people. Progress is also being made in Nigeria, where five million hectares of degraded land have been stored and Burkina Faso is not far behind with a total of three million hectares of restored land to date.

A short documentary, Growing a World Wonder (2016), follows a young Senegalese girl named Binta as she and her family tend to their section of the Great Green Wall and discuss how the project is already transforming their lives for the better. A full-length documentary on the Great Green Wall initiative is currently in the works and is to be released in 2019.

Source: https://www.greatgreenwall.org/press-kit#press-kit-internal

Source: https://www.greatgreenwall.org/press-kit#press-kit-internal

However, a lot has changed since 2007. Currently the wall isn’t aiming to be a narrow belt of planted trees that stretches across the entire southern border of the Sahara from Senegal to Djibouti. Instead, the goal is to surround the entire area of the Sahara with a wider band of trees, bushes and other vegetation. In addition, the new vision of the project includes all African countries surrounding the Sahara, not just the 11 original sub-Saharan countries located in the Sahel. What started as the “Great Green Wall” has become “Africa’s flagship initiative to combat land degradation, desertification and drought.”

The Sahel region has suffered greatly due to climate change, population growth and unsustainable land management practices. As a consequence, the area has suffered from severe food and water shortages, mass unemployment and migration, as well as serious conflicts over declining natural resources. Global warming and over-farming continue to threaten the livelihood of millions of people.

Regardless of the form it takes, the Great Green Wall initiative aims to increase food security through the restoration of fertile land, creating green jobs and giving an economic boost to small businesses and enterprises. Furthermore, it hopes to bring peace to a region struggling amid conflicts, combatting mass migration and displacement of communities.

Source: https://www.greatgreenwall.org/press-kit#press-kit-internal

Source: https://www.greatgreenwall.org/press-kit#press-kit-internal

Creating fertile land in the Sahel region means creating opportunities of employment especially for women, many of whom have been left without any economic resources in villages populated mainly by women and children. Financial security also offers young girls the opportunity to return to school. Attendance numbers in schools have in fact increased for example in Senegal, where the wall has created gardens for women to grow and sell their own crops. 

The Great Green Wall is about development; it’s about sustainable, climate-smart development, at all levels. Each of the 30 countries developed national action plans, That is the biggest achievement, because now they own it. It’s about ownership, and that has been the failure of development aid, because people were never identified with it. But this time they identify. This is our thing.
— Elvis Paul Tangam; African Union Commissioner for the Sahara and Sahel Great Green Wall Initiative

The initiative has been met with certain backlash, as some claim that it is too simple a solution to an extremely complex problem. Some critics claim that a desert is a natural ecosystem that shouldn’t be treated as a problem. Others say that the project’s ambitions are simply unrealistic. Whatever the case, it can’t be denied that desertification is a severe issue in the Sahel, and it is directly related to climate change. 45% of Africa’s population lives in drylands that are susceptible to decertification. That cannot be ignored.

Whether the Great Green Wall initiative reaches its end target is ultimately not the only measure of its success. The project has already raised awareness about the serious, tangible impacts of climate-change in an already poor region of the world. It is showing us that collaborative efforts can and will go a long way.

If you’d like to learn more about the Great Green Wall, you can visit the initiative’s website at: http://www.greatgreenwall.org, follow them on Twitter, Facebook or check out their videos on YouTube.

Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored. The Great Green Wall is an initiative I came across a few years ago and felt very inspired by, so I wanted to re-visit the topic and write about it.

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