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In fact, the Sahel is a vast, diverse belt across the continent, as much as 1,000 km wide and stretching more than 5,000 km from Sudan to Senegal. It is a region rich in natural resources, extensive agricultural land, a generous mineral endowment and substantial water resources. It boasts of an ancient history and a strong culture, with a high degree of continuity and an overlap in local traditions that provide a surprising amount of homogeneity across its many peoples. Regional institutions designed to promote integration are strong.

In short, the Sahel is a land of opportunity. Much of that opportunity is just waiting to be unlocked and to serve as the engine that will restore a vibrant, stable and prosperous Sahel.

A New Initiative for a Brighter Future

I recently participated in a United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) policy dialogue in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation at the stunning Bellagio Centre in Italy. Our discussion theme was “A Land of Opportunities: Framing Contextual and Practical Solutions for Lasting Peace and Prosperity in the Sahel.’’ We introduced an exciting initiative aimed at reversing present trends in the Sahel, and restoring its economic, social and environmental capital. The initiative focuses on the large-scale mobilization of communities, social groups and networks to accelerate installation of clean energy, restore degraded lands and catalyse the development of rural enterprise across the Sahel belt, with a special focus on youth and women.

The new initiative aims to generate action by creating a dynamic platform that will inspire, motivate and mobilize youth, women, civil society, communities and professional networks across the Sahel to act at a massive scale to improve their lives and ensure a stable and prosperous future for the region. This action will be in response to a new, positive and mobilizing narrative focused on the untapped opportunity that the Sahel represents, and underlining the potential to act, immediately and at scale, to reverse current trends.

The platform will connect and seek to inspire target communities across the region, promoting new ideas, sharing information, enabling coordination and reporting stories and results. In an increasingly connected Sahel, use of the social media has become a feasible too for mobilizing action. It will build on a rich culture and tradition of story-telling.
Ecology, Energy, Enterprise

The initiative will focus on three principal axes of activity that have the power to transform the Sahel – restoration of degraded lands and sustainable agricultural practices; provision of clean energy, and development of small- and medium-scale rural enterprise.

There is a vast potential for ecological restoration to return land to productivity and to biological diversity across the Sahel, both through the recovery of degraded lands and through the spread of sustainable agricultural and livestock management practices. This process is actually already underway; millions of hectares of land have restored and regained their green cover, and, contrary to popular belief, tree cover in the Sahel has increased in recent years. The potential for spreading beneficial ecological practices on a very large scale clearly exists.

This central pillar of the initiative aims to make information and know-how about what is already working widely available across the region, and apply it to millions of square kilometres, reinforcing and expanding the Sahel’s Great Green Wall holding back the advance of the Sahara.
Action on the scale envisaged under the initiative can only be achieved in partnership with many actors – local, national, regional and international – who share a commitment to its goals. The platform will allow for many to contribute, to propose ideas and to add strength to the social mobilization that underpins the initiative.

The initiative will also, of course, need money. Funding on a large scale will need to be generated, from development finance, private investment, public-private funding and blended finance, and from domestic resource mobilization. The initiative will underscore the potential for new, crowd-sourced and fintech-based funding vehicles.

Finally, the initiative will ride on a wave of communication – positive stories aimed at promoting the new narrative and changing the public perception of the Sahel as a place in control of its own destiny.

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is a UN SDG Advocate, Conservation International’s Senior Indigenous Fellow and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. She is also a former co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change. She is a member of the Mbororo pastoralist community of Chad.

“The Sahel is a land of opportunity… waiting to be unlocked.” Read the whole article following the link above