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Desertification in the Sahel region of Africa is advancing quickly. A novel solution that involves planting thousands of trees may help protect the area’s environment and the livelihoods of locals.
Climate change is a huge problem, and it will require an equally large solution – multiple solutions, in fact. In Africa, one such idea involves planting a wall of trees, 8,000km long and 15km wide, which, once complete, will be the largest living structure on the planet – three times the size of the Great Barrier Reef. Africa’s Great Green Wall (GGW) was launched in 2007 by the African Union, with the first trees planted in Senegal the following year. The wall will stretch across the entire width of the continent, traversing more than 20 countries at a cost of $8bn.
The financial outlay of the GGW is likely to be worth the effort. For the last 100 years, the Sahara Desert has been expanding by more than 7,600sq km every year, making it around 10 percent larger today than it was in 1920. Climate change and the increased risk of drought that it brings seems to be exacerbating the situation. It is hoped that the GGW can arrest the Sahara’s advance, but it should do more than simply act as a barrier to desertification. By 2030, it should sequester 250 million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere, restore 100 million hectares of degraded land and create 10 million jobs in rural Africa.
Achieving these ambitious goals will require a huge international undertaking. Communities will need to cooperate to plant the necessary vegetation, which must be protected against animals, bush fires and human deforestation. Technological input will be necessary to ensure that such a large area of land is able to support tree growth without having any irrigation in place. Lastly, a huge amount of financial support will be required from governments and supranational organisations alike.

A grain of hope
More than a decade since the first sapling went in the ground, the GGW is about 15 percent complete. Since 2007, the project has shifted somewhat in terms of its methodology, encompassing regreening techniques that were already being employed on a small scale by indigenous farmers, rather than the overly simplistic idea of planting a huge line of trees on the edge of the Sahara. Even with much work still to be done, the GGW has achieved some impressive results.

Key examples of progress include the restoration of 15 million hectares of land in Ethiopia, along with improvements to land tenure security. In Senegal, 11.4 million trees have been planted and 25,000 hectares of land restored, while in Niger the restoration of land has led to the production of 500,000 tonnes of grain every year, enough to feed 2.5 million people. Other African states have experienced similar benefits.
“The GGW of the Sahara is also on the front line in the battle against climate change,” Tim Christophersen, an ecosystems expert for the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), told World Finance. “It is contributing to the fight by boosting local community access to renewable energy for basic household needs, as well as communal and production needs, and aiding citizen mobilisation through a GGW public awareness campaign that promotes a rousing call to ‘grow a new world wonder’.”
As well as its local impacts, this flagship initiative promises global benefits. By serving as a carbon sink, the GGW will help with the international fight against rising temperatures. Meanwhile, by bringing stability to the Sahara region, it may help prevent socio-political upheaval from overflowing into neighbouring regions. This is part of the reason why the project has received support from a host of international donors. In addition to pan-African organisations, the World Bank, EU and UN are all partners. Governments from Ireland and Turkey, among others, have also pledged financial support.
“The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation [FAO] supports the initiative through its Action Against Desertification (AAD) programme,” said Moctar Sacande, International Project Coordinator at the FAO. “The AAD is working on the ground on large-scale agro-sylvo-pastoral land restoration with farmers and village communities, planting trees and useful species to increase vegetation cover and reverse land degradation. Of course, there are many, many other strategies often used locally, but this is very efficient in reversing the negative trends and improving landscape productivity.”
But with much of the wall still to be built, more support will be required. Desertification is a serious issue – one that does not only affect the Sahara and its surroundings. The successes of the GGW are to be welcomed, but they must be built upon. Read the full article following the link above