SEATTLE, Washington – After decades of limited rainfall and agricultural exhaustion, Africa’s Sahel region has steadily lost arable land. This has led to the gradual desertification of many countries. The The African Union proposed the Great Green Wall as a solution. Although the proposal was initially greeted with skepticism and suffered early setbacks, it began to improve land while reducing poverty in rural African communities.
How it works
Unlike the name of the project and the original plan, the Great Green Wall is not simply an initiative to plant trees along an accepted line in the Sahel. Rather, it’s an agreement for the planting of trees as well as the good management of local agriculture in semi-arid communities. The complexity of the project lies in the fact that desertification is a complicated issue; agreements on the definition vary among experts.
The consensus is that Desertification is the degradation of land in drier regions due to multiple factors, mainly due to climatic issues and human activities. While the climate is generally out of control, most humans can control their activities. Overuse of unstable land by growing numbers of the rural poor in Africa has led to less suitable land available over the years, and the repetitive cycle forces families to migrate and look for work elsewhere.
The Great Green Wall aims to involve indigenous Sahelians in the process of rejuvenating their communities. By teaching people responsible land management and proper farming techniques and planting native drought-tolerant trees, small communities of established farmers will emerge and the land will gradually become more suitable for cultivation. The resource-depleted Sahel needs fertile land for a rapidly growing population. In 2019, the extreme the poverty rate in Niger was 41.4% despite the country’s strong economic growth of 6.3%. If nothing changes soon, even more people will fall below the poverty line in the underdeveloped region.
Success so far
In areas where implementation is high, the project has yielded interesting results. Although only 15% was completed, the wall promises great improvement to struggling communities living in the Sahel. According to the UN, countries like Ethiopia, where Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has made the land loss crisis a top national priority, have restored more than 15 million hectares of land since 2007.
Other countries like Nigeria and Senegal, report similar stories. Senegal has planted 12 million drought-resistant trees over the past decade while Nigeria claims the restoration of five million hectares of land. Thanks to significant funding and the involvement of local governments and communities, these countries have produced solid results.
The Great Green Wall is distinguished by its expansive ambitions. By 2030, the project aims to create 10 million new rural jobs while restoring 100 million hectares of lost land. Although employment statistics remain inconclusive, the recent restoration of five million hectares in Niger is helping the country restore 200 million trees over several decades. A World Resources Institute spokesperson estimates that this is enough for 500,000 tonnes of grain per year, perhaps enough food for 2.5 million people.
The ambitions of the project stem from the restoration of the rural environment. Over the years, many jobs have been lost due to the deteriorating climate. Farmers migrated and other workers had to follow suit. With these new practices potentially bringing suitable land and products to thousands of communities across the region, the possibility of widespread poverty reduction is quite high.
The way to go
Despite the benefits obtained so far, the project continues to encounter difficulties with regard to its organization. With insecurity and terrorism afflicting several Central African states, project funding has been cut off in some regions, such as Burkina Faso, for security reasons. However, the great green wall is full of promise. With the appropriate inclusion of local indigenous communities, perhaps even more land will become usable.
– Joe Clark