The Great Green Wall is an initiative designed to stop the desertification of the semi-arid Sahel region in Africa. The essential idea is to plant a giant greenbelt of trees that would span Africa from Senegal to Djibouti. It also includes a number of other environmental, economic, and food security development initiatives aimed at addressing challenges resulting from desertification of the Sahel.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), desertification “refers to land degradation in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid areas resulting from factors such as human pressure on fragile eco-systems, deforestation and climate change.” Desertification has had and could continue to have a significant negative impact on the rural livelihoods and food security of Sahelian Africans. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, rainfall could decrease by up to 25 percent in North Africa by the end of the 21st century and according to Isaac Held, a researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “the wet will get wetter and the dry will get dryer.”
The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative was approved in 2007 by the African Union and a harmonized regional strategy was established in 2012 by African governments and heads of state. Partnerships continue to be developed and established between stakeholders and action plans and knowledge management systems are being developed for each participating nation.
The belt is projected to be approximately 15 kilometers wide by 7,775 kilometers long and pass through a total of 11 countries in the Sahel where the landscape is mostly sandy, scrubby, and dry grasslands. It is designed to be as continuous as possible, with potential re-routing due to various natural obstacles such as bodies of water and rocky areas. The project would include the installation of water retention ponds and the planting of drought-tolerant and ideally native plant species.
The trees will slow wind speeds and reduce soil erosion, as well as to encourage increased rainwater filtration into soils. This can improve soil fertility to the benefit of local populations whose livelihoods depend on grazing and agriculture. Wildlife conservation can also benefit from the re-forestation. The green belt would also help to sequester carbon; just one acre of trees planted in an ecosystem like the Sahel could sequester two to three tons of carbon.
The belt has been designed to pass through areas where agriculture and livestock farming have long been active according to local traditions, which makes local inhabitants key beneficiaries and stakeholders. According to the French Scientific Committee on Desertification, “economic analysis has shown that assisted natural regeneration, which requires little investment, is the most cost-effective for resource-poor farmers.” The hope is that the initiative would not only reverse desertification but also provide locals in the Sahel with potentially new sources of fuel, food, fodder, resins, building materials, shade, and natural medicines with which they are already familiar.
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