The African Great Green Wall Initiative
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The Great Green Wall is an African-led project with an epic ambition: to grow an 8000 km line of plants and trees across the entire African continent. Its goal is to provide food, jobs and a future for the millions of people who live in a region on the frontline of climate change.  Once completed it will be the largest man-made structure on Earth and a new Wonder of the World. 

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About sixty years after it was first proposed, eleven African countries are building a ‘Great Green Wall of Africa’ to stop the spread of the Sahara Desert.  Sub-Saharan Africa has some of the best farmland and in the world. So naturally, the vast majority of food production in Africa takes place there. However, the Sahara desert has been slowly spreading south, covering previously fertile lands with sand and absorbing them into the desert in a process known as desertification.

With less than three per cent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s total cropland currently benefiting from sustainable land and water management, this is now an urgent and major effort to build the resilience of people in the Sahel region and the natural systems on which they so intimately depend.

A United Nations report from 2007 estimated that if the desertification is left unchecked, 2/3 of Africa’s arable land will be covered with sand by the year 2025. It is this rapid spreading of the Sahara that inspired the idea for the Great Green Wall of Africa.

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Endorsed in 2007 by African Heads of State and Government, the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative aims to reverse land degradation and desertification in the Sahel and Sahara, whilst mitigating social, economic and environmental crises for the region’s most vulnerable people.

This programme is the equivalent of China’s programme to stop the spread of deserts in northeast Asia.

Africa’s Green Wall will need to become a living green wall to span nearly 8000 miles across the African continent, designed to slow or even stop the relentless spread of sand and the impacts of desertification. The scope of this unique organic building project is unprecedented, as is its urgency.The trees should be ‘drought-adapted species, preferably native to the areas planted, the Great Green Wall website says, listing 37 suitable species. The initiative hopes the trees will slow soil erosion; slow wind speeds and help rain water filter into the ground, to stop the desert from growing.

As an expert explains, ‘The trees will act as a barrier against desert winds, help to hold moisture in the air and soil, reduce erosion, enhance biodiversity, provide new grazing land and be a source of vegetation. The project is also recognized for the role it will play in local agriculture and employment.’Protection from the sand won’t be the only benefit though. Besides bringing thousands of jobs to people living in poverty, the project is also attracting large numbers of scientists, medical professionals and tourists to the area and turning previously unusable land into gardens and nurseries.

The cooperation of the twelve contiguous African countries involved is as impressive as their challenge is daunting. Participating nations include Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. The African initiative brings together more than 20 African countries across North Africa, the Sahel and the Horn, international organizations, research institutes, civil society and grassroots organizations, supporting local communities in the sustainable management and use of forests, rangelands and other natural resources in dryland areas.  It also seeks to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well improve the food security and community livelihoods in the Sahel and the Sahara.

Showing what can be done to beat desertification; in southern Niger farmers have rehabilitated over 5 million hectares of land, using a low cost land restoration technique called farmer-managed natural regeneration. This has boosted crop and livestock yields, as well the production of medicine and firewood. In Senegal, 27 000 hectares of degraded land were restored by the planting of 11 million trees. Part of this re-greened area is being converted into a community-based reserve for eco-tourism. Also, a mechanized technology, known as the Vallerani-system inspired from traditional practices has helped to restore more than 50 000 hectares of agro-forestry systems in Burkina Faso, Niger and Senegal. It is seeding native trees, shrubs and herbs, boosting the production of crops, gums and resins, and providing fodder for livestock.

So far, the African Union, in cooperation with the European Union, FAO, the Global Mechanism of the UNCCD, the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew and the Walloon Region of Belgium, has mobilized more than €50 million in support of the Great Green Wall Initiative.

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