Climate change comprises a number of devastating consequences. One of these is desertification, the expansion of desert areas to the detriment of plants, animals and people. This is occurring throughout the world, but Africa is in the early stages of a brilliant solution to fight back – the Great Green Wall.
Led by the African Union (AU), the Great Green Wall is a 20-country strong initiative to transform the lives of those living in regions on the frontline of climate change by providing greater food security, employment opportunities and regional stability in the face of persistent drought, increasing lack of resources and mass migration to Europe. An 8 000km band of green and productive landscapes is being created across North Africa, the Horn and the Sahel, the southern edge of the Sahara desert and one of the poorest places on earth.
The idea of a Great Green Wall is an old one: in 1952, English forester Richard St Barbe suggested a 50km-wide “green front” of trees to contain the spread of the Sahara. From the seventies, droughts in the Horn of Africa and Sahel invigorated this idea, but it was the AU, in 2007, that approved the Great Green Wall in its current incarnation – one that involves productive land as well as indigenous plants.
According to the project’s website, the Great Green Wall has achieved marked success to date. It’s “growing” fertile land; food security; green jobs and, so, providing income to families and a reason to stay for thousands who would otherwise leave for Europe; and economic opportunities for commercial enterprises. Progress has also been made on several other fronts. According to Elvis Paul Tangam, AU Commissioner for the Sahara and Sahel Great Green Wall Initiative, the greatest achievement is that those in the regions the wall covers have accepted working together for a common goal.
Tangam points out that there has been success on the ground: about 15% of the actual “wall of trees” is already planted. In Senegal, for instance, more than 27 000ha of indigenous trees have been planted. These don’t need watering, and they have resulted in the return of many animals that have not been seen for decades. In Mauritania, Chad and Nigeria, market gardens and small farms have taken root, giving the young population work. However, it will be a few years before these interventions are self-sustaining, but they also need to be profitable (selling to both national and international clients) and they are nowhere close.
Though the project faces its share of challenges, the Great Green Wall’s successes, so far, outweigh them. It also doesn’t need to be said that abandoning the initiative is simply not an option if Africa is to withstand climate change and continue its development.
“The Great Green Wall is about development; it’s about sustainable, climate-smart development at all levels,” explains Tangam.
Once complete, Africa’s Great Green Wall will be a living symbol to human resilience and a natural Wonder of the World.