The Great Green Wall: More Than Just Trees

The Great Green Wall, deemed one of the most inspirational and urgent movements of our times, is an African-led initiative which was launched in 2007 with the aim of growing the largest living structure on the planet – an 8000 km long and 15 km wide wall of trees and plants across the entire width of Africa. The initiative is led by the African Union and intervenes in 11 countries namely: Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sudan. It is meant to hold back the Sahara from expanding southward by forming a transitional zone between the arid Sahara Desert to the north and the belt of humid savannas to the south.

The Issue

The Great Green Wall was initiated to halt desertification and address climate change in the Sahel region – the semi-arid zone which spans the southern edge of the Sahara Desert from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east. The conception of this project dates back to the 1970s when the once-fertile Sahel started to become severely degraded as a result of climate change, population growth, and unsustainable land use. About two-thirds of the people living in this region depend on agriculture and livestock, and while the population continues to grow rapidly, arable land continues to shrink every year. This lack of sufficient productive land to sustain the millions of communities across the Sahel region has led to a spiraling cycle of poverty, fueling severe food and water shortages, recurrent conflicts over declining natural resources, mass unemployment and forced migration. These daily impacts on the population of the Sahel region serves as a catalyst for the Great Green Wall which is meant to bring the dry lands back to life.

Growing More Than Just Trees

The Great Green Wall is a great example of Nature-based Solutions (NbS), showing how man can work with nature to address numerous challenges faced by humanity and create a unique legacy for the next generation. It is a symbol of hope in the face of some of humanity’s biggest challenges and promises wide-ranging benefits, from supporting local livelihoods through increased food security to global impacts including mitigating climate change and stemming the flow of migrants to Europe, and promoting Global Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Great Green Wall is more than just growing trees, but is all about changing the lives of millions of people by (GGW, n.d.):

  • Growing fertile land, one of humanity’s most precious natural assets
  • Growing a wall of hope against abject poverty
  • Growing food security for the millions that go hungry everyday 
  • Growing health and wellbeing for the world’s poorest communities
  • Growing improved water security, so women and girls don’t have to spend hours fetching water everyday
  • Growing gender equity, empowering women with new opportunities
  • Growing sustainable energy, powering communities towards a brighter future
  • Growing green jobs, giving real incomes to families 
  • Growing economic opportunities to boost small businesses
  • Growing a reason to stay in order to break the cycle of migration 
  • Growing sustainable consumption patterns to protect the natural capital of the Sahel
  • Growing resilience to climate change in regions where temperatures are rising faster than anywhere else on earth
  • Growing symbol of peace in countries where conflict continues to displace many
  • Growing symbol of interfaith harmony across Africa
  • Growing strategic partnerships to accelerate rural development across Africa

Current Status: Successes and Challenges

Since its launching in 2007, the Great Green Wall initiative has evolved from its initial focus on tree planting towards a comprehensive rural development initiative aiming to transform the lives of Sahelian populations. Now in its second decade, some progress has been made with almost 18 million hectares of degraded lands restored and 350,000 jobs created across the Sahel. Country specific progress data as of 2020 includes (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification(UNCCD), n.d.):

  • Ethiopia: 5.5 billion plants and seeds produced; 1 million ha land restored; 218 405 jobs created
  • Senegal: 18 million trees planted; 850 000 ha land restored; 322 221 people affected
  • Nigeria: 8 million trees planted; 1396 jobs created
  • Sudan: 1.9 million plants and seeds produced; 85 000 ha land restored
  • Burkina Faso: 16 million plants and seeds produced; 45 383 jobs created; 50 000 households improved
  • Mali: 135 472 plants and seeds produced
  • Eritrea: 129 million trees planted
  • Niger: 146 million trees planted; 21 487 jobs created

Key goals have been set for the Great Green Wall to be achieved by 2030 and these include: restoring 100 million hectares of degraded land, sequestering 250 million tons of carbon; and creating 10 million green jobs in rural areas. The accomplishment of these goals is estimated to require at least 33 billion US Dollars. Numerous African countries and global partners have pledged their support to this effect. In addition to the 11 African countries where the Great Green Wall is grown, other African partners include Cameroon, Ghana, Algeria, Benin, Cape Verde, Egypt, Gambia, Libya, Somalia, and Tunisia. International partners include the European Commision, The World Bank, Global Environment Facility, and many more.

Advancements on the Great Green Wall have not been without any challenges. Climate change is one of these challenges. Drought and heat waves are more frequent and more intense in some parts of the Sahel, and this affects the survival chances of tree saplings and diminishes crops’ profitability. Conflict is another challenge which slows down the progress of the Great Green Wall in the Sahel, with nearly half of the area where restoration is economically and ecologically viable, falling within the orbit of conflict zones. Other challenges include, lack of consideration in national environmental priorities, weak organizational structures and processes for implementation, lack of mainstreaming of environmental issues into policies, and insufficient coordination and flow of information at regional and national levels (GGW, n.d.).

Make the Great Green Wall Famous

Collective action is greatly needed from global citizens around the world to strengthen this urgent and inspirational initiative, which will create a unique and lasting legacy for all humanity. We can all spread the word and make the Great Green Wall famous, so that governments and organizations will support this life-changing initiative. Visit https://www.greatgreenwall.org/ to learn more and take action.

References

Gramling, C. (2022, January 3). Africa’s ‘Great Green Wall’ could have far-reaching climate effects. Retrieved from https://www.sciencenews.org/article/africa-great-green-wall-trees-sahel-climate-change

Great Green Wall (GGW). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.greatgreenwall.org/

Martyn-Hemphill, A. (2019, September 26). Why is Africa building a Great Green Wall. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/av/magazine-41391844

United Nations Climate Change (UNCC). (2015, November 30). Great Green Wall: ‘Growing A World Wonder’ – Restoring the productivity and vitality of the Sahel region. Retrieved from https://unfccc.int/news/great-green-wall-growing-a-world-wonder-restoring-the-productivity-and-vitality-of-the-sahel-region

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. (n.d.). The Great Green Wall. Retrieved from https://www2.unccd.int/actions/great-green-wall-initiative

Vyawahare, M. (2021, November 26). Conflict and climate change are big barriers for Africa’s Great Green Wall. Retrieved from https://news.mongabay.com/2021/11/conflict-and-climate-change-are-big-barriers-for-africas-great-green-wall/

Leslie Fotso
3 Thoughts on The Great Green Wall: More Than Just Trees
    Obie Agusiegbe
    16 Jun 2022
    7:43am

    There are great initiatives being done across the globe and they need our support. This is a good topic, and the article is well written.

    Angelica Ramoutar
    17 Jun 2022
    2:50pm

    Great article Leslie. I liked how you highlighted that we need to be growing more than just trees. Learning about the Great Green Wall and how important it is to our society is insightful.

    Leila Kamdem
    17 Jun 2022
    8:51pm

    Thank you for a very informative article on a critical and inspiring initiative.

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