AFRICA – The Great Green Wall is an initiative spanning across Africa, from Dakar to Djibouti, that aims to diminish poverty and soil degradation in the Sahel-Saharan region through green, naturally-regenerating practices, such as planting native trees and shrubs or implementing more sustainable farming techniques.
“This form of natural regeneration benefits local communities and the global environment alike by increasing crop yield, improving soil fertility, reducing land erosion, improving fodder availability, diversifying income, cutting wood collection time for women, strengthening resilience to climate change, [and]increasing biodiversity,” said the Global Environment Facility, or GEF.
Initially proposed in the 1980s, the initiative was renewed in 2012 due to increasing environmental pressure as a result of climate change. Since 2011, the U.S. has allocated $115 million and the European Union has provided 1.9 million euros in funding.
The Sahel region of Africa borders the Sahara desert and its population is one of the poorest in the world.
“They depend heavily on healthy ecosystems for rainfed agriculture, fisheries, and livestock management to sustain their livelihoods. These constitute the primary sectors of employment in the region and generate at least 40 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in most of the countries,” said the GEF.
Each individual country in the Sahel region has designed initiatives to meet its specific needs under the Great Green Wall umbrella Initiative. Some nations, like Niger and Senegal, have made impressive progress. In Niger’s Zinder region, tree density has increased immensely since the mid-1980s and five million hectares of land have been restored.
In Senegal, 27,000 hectares of land have been restored by planting 11 million trees. There are currently plans for part of this restored area to be reserved for eco-tourism based in the local community.
The methods of restoration in these countries have been critical to the long-term success of the projects. Niger and Senegal have stressed collaboration with local farmers who promote natural regeneration and using native plants. This method “has greatly boosted crop and livestock yields, as well as the production of medicine and firewood,” said the FAO.
Apart from Niger and Senegal, other Sahel countries have not begun implementing their initiatives beyond initial planning. There is speculation as to why this is. Some local and national groups believe that the initiative in some countries has “marginalized local people in decision making,” and focuses on “turning currently productive agricultural land to tree monocultures” that “will further stress the water system and may result in a loss of traditional livelihoods,” states James Ford and David O’Conner in their article in the journal, Sustainability.
The same study by Ford and O’Conner of McGill University suggests that to increase success of the Great Green Wall Initiative in these countries, the local communities should invest energy into planting native shrubs rather than trees.
“The higher growth rates of shrubs as early colonizing plants would mean that land reclamation and recovery would be more likely to keep pace with current projections of climatic change. In areas where plant life has been removed, either from natural or human causes, shrubs are often a primary pioneer species, often establishing years before trees and able to reach maturity within a fraction of the time compared to tree species,” said Ford and O’Conner.
Shrubs also improve soil quality by infusing them with needed minerals that improve crop yields.
The Great Green Wall Initiative is a visionary, ambitious plan that would greatly improve the quality of life for one of the worlds poorest regions. However, it is yet to be determined whether or not the vision will manifest completely, or if it will remain a localized success story in Niger and Senegal.
– Aaron Andree
Sources: Global Environment Facility, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations