The Great Green Wall of Africa


Translated from an article by Jacques Hallard
Confronting desertification in the African Sahel Strip means fighting the decline and degradation of arable land, enabling local populations to sustain themselves, survive and live better in certain territories where creeping desertification and recurrent dryness impede agricultural production with food crops – guarantors of a fragile food security – and lastly, trying to better adapt to climate change, which is having an effect there too: these are the challenges that inspired a joint action initiative between 11 concerned states in 2005.
Many regional, national and international organizations have contributed to this gargantuan project, which aims for nothing less than the establishment of a strip of developed lands across more than 7,000 kilometers, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean in the West to the southern outlet of the Red Sea in the East, and also from Dakar in Senegal to the Republic of Djibouti.
In order to provide management for the Great Green Wall project, the Panafrican Agency on the Great Green Wall was created in 2010 under the leadership of the African Union and the CEN-SAD (Community of Sahel-Saharan States).
The Great Green Wall of the Sahara and Sahel project receives support from the UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development). It can also benefit from achievements and experience gained from the “Great Green Dam” program carried out in Algeria since the 1970s.
This project to restore natural resources across vast territories has notably received the technical and scientific support of the IRD (French Institute of Research for Development) in 2010 and the CSFD (French Scientific Committee on Desertification) in 2012. It seems wise to consider taking action on groups of small, well-defined geographic sectors, developing versatile gardens that enable the diversification of local foods, and involving the populations of these areas in order to convince them to avoid overgrazing in the planted zones.
The lessons learned from the Algerian experience can help us choose which species to recommend a priori. Among these species, it has been recommended in particular to use the filao (Casuarina equisetifolia, of Australian origin, most suited to seasides), the desert date palm (Balanitesa egyptiaca), and the white gum tree (Acacia senegal). The following species have also been suggested: the African baobab (Adansonia digitata), the jujube (Ziziphus spp.) or the shea-tree (Vitellaria paradoxa), for various uses.
The big obstacle to achieving this project is that the geographical zone in question is currently subject to much political and social instability in many states. Armed conflicts, complex civil wars and continual humanitarian crises prevent concrete and appropriate measures from being implemented in the land. National and international policies have yet to be elaborated, detailed and shared with populations, who are most often disadvantaged, for a practical implementation, which has anyhow proven urgent and indispensable.
Work on this project began in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania in 2014. But it was in 2008 that the Republic of Senegal took the lead and that’s probably why it was the results from this latter country that were reviewed and commented on. Great efforts need to made for popular education and sharing knowledge and techniques in the territories targeted by the African Great Green Wall project. The initial good results in Senegal must be expanded upon.
Some Links:
The Great Green Wall in the Sahel (Lengthy Academic Article)
Africa is Building a “Wall of Trees” (Ventures Africa)
Battle of the Desert (II): A ‘Great Green Wall for Africa’ (IPS News)