REDMOND, Washington — The Great Green Wall initiative was launched by the African Union in 2007 with the goal of growing an 8,000 km natural wall across the width of Africa to slow the spread of the Sahara Desert. The desert has expanded by more than 10% in the past century and will continue to do so until major changes are made.
To date, 20 African countries have signed up for this initiative. If completed, this wall will be the largest living structure on earth, three times bigger than the Great Barrier Reef. The idea for a living wall has been in the making since the 1970s when the Sahel, a region along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, became severely degraded and was no longer able to support many of the 135 million people living there. Without arable land to make their living off of, millions became stuck in the cycle of poverty.
The Goals of the Initiative
The goal of the Great Green Wall initiative is to slow the spread of the Sahara Desert and lift millions of people out of poverty by ensuring they have land to live and thrive on. Approximately 135 million people depend on this land for food and work. This initiative aims “to restore 100 million hectares of currently degraded land, sequester 250 million tonnes of carbon and create 10 million jobs in rural areas” by 2030.
While this may seem like an overly ambitious plan, many countries have already made incredible progress. Ethiopia, which has restored the most to date, has planted on an area more than five times the size of London, Senegal has planted over 18 million trees and Nigeria has produced and planted eight million trees and created 1,396 jobs.
Sources of Funding
The U.N. estimates that this initiative will cost $33 billion overall. However, this initiative has the support of 20 African nations, as well as international partners, such as the African Union, the European Union, the United Nations and the World Bank. In January 2021, France, the World Bank and other donors gave $14 billion, nearly half of the projected amount needed. This brought hope to the project, which has been struggling to find and maintain funding.
Impacts of the Initiative Achieve on the Ground
Unlike other plans, the Great Green Wall initiative focuses on involving the local communities and using indigenous knowledge and practices. There is a lot more going into restoring forests than just planting trees since they have to be watered, cared for and protected from animals. It is a long-term project, but the part of these plans that makes headlines is the planting of trees, not the number of trees that grow and thrive.
Not only has this project helped and will continue to help stop the spread of the Sahara Desert, but it is also creating thousands of jobs. People are able to earn a living by caring for the trees and harvesting fruit, leaves and gum. So far, 335,000 jobs have been created, which helps decrease the unemployment rate across the region which has been growing as huge numbers of young people enter the job market every year. This, combined with increased food security, has the potential to prevent conflict in the region by providing economic opportunities. Initiatives can also become a source of pride and a reason to stay, breaking the cycle of migration. The plan will create more jobs and provide more resources to people throughout the Sahel region, lifting thousands of people out of poverty.
– Harriet Sinclair