Are African countries planting a giant wall of trees to stop the spread of the Sahara Desert?
An ambitious effort by a group of African countries to tackle the effects of climate change and desertification has been in the works since 2007. The Great Green Wall (GGW) initiative plans to make trees grow as a belt across the Sahel region which is at the base of the Sahara, in order to prevent the expansion of the desert due to climate change.
According to a meme shared with us by our readers, more than 20 African countries are part of this effort, and the wall of trees, says the meme, will stretch 7,000 km across the continent from coast to coast. other.
This meme is largely true, although the length of the GMV varies, as the project itself is far from complete. According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the project “aims to restore Africa’s degraded landscapes and transform millions of lives in one of the world’s poorest regions, the Sahel. . When completed, the wall will be the largest living structure on the planet – a 8,000 km natural wonder of the world spanning the width of the continent.
The project aims for the “wall” to extend from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, by 2030. The official website of the GMV details the reason for all their efforts:
The catalyst for the Great Green Wall is the daily impact of desertification and climate change that jeopardizes the future of millions of communities in the Sahel region of Africa.
Since the 1970s, the Sahel has been severely affected by recurrent periods of drought. These droughts have threatened the livelihoods and futures of entire populations across the region.
The lack of rain led to the disappearance of livestock and the destruction of cereal crops. The great famines that shook the sub-Saharan region in the 1980s each affected millions of people. In addition, the high population growth rate increases the demand for food and the pressure to access other natural resources that are the basis of the livelihoods and survival of the rural population.
Millions of people – especially rural youth – currently face an uncertain future due to the lack of decent rural jobs and the continued loss of livelihoods due to land degradation and declining yields.
But according to the Associated Press, since the project began in 2007, millions of planted trees have died due to reduced rains and rising temperatures. Only 4% of the original project goal has been achieved and around $ 43 billion is needed to complete it. Given the challenges they face, the focus of the project has also shifted from simply planting a wall of trees to a ‘patchwork’ of smaller, more sustainable projects that focus on solutions focused on community that support agriculture and prevent desertification.
The GGW accelerator, announced in January 2021, details these changes:
The Great Green Wall Initiative has shifted from its initial focus on tree planting to a comprehensive rural development initiative aimed at transforming the lives of Sahelian populations by creating a mosaic of green and productive landscapes in 11 countries (Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti).
Progress was made in the second decade of the initiative, with nearly 18 million hectares of degraded land restored and 350,000 jobs created in the Sahel and Great Green Wall countries.
The accelerator also highlighted the additional challenges they encountered in the process of establishing the GGW, including âinsufficient coordination, exchange and information flow at regional and national levelsâ, âweak organizational structuresâ and âa lack of consideration of national environmental priorities. . “
Some of the changes include the planting of orchards and circular gardens where the tall trees strategically protect the smaller ones. A number of them flourished in the Senegalese portion of the GMV.
According to the official GGW website, there have been a number of successes. Senegal has planted around 12 million drought-resistant trees in less than a decade, while 5 million hectares of degraded land have been restored in Nigeria and 15 million hectares in Ethiopia. A November 2021 report published in the journal Nature Sustainability assessed the economic impact of the program and concluded that it was worth it:
The Great Green Wall program is a colossal initiative aimed at restoring 100 million hectares of degraded ecosystems in 11 countries in the region. [â¦] We evaluated the economic costs and benefits of future land restoration projects under this program. We applied different scenarios that take into account both the market and non-market benefits of restored ecosystems and take into account the heterogeneity of local decision-making contexts in terms of investment planning horizons, discount rate and time required. so that restored ecosystems begin to produce yields. their benefits in their entirety. The results show that each US dollar invested in land restoration earns an average of $ 1.2 in the baseline scenario, ranging from $ 1.1 to $ 4.4 depending on the scenarios. A maximum of ten years are required for land restoration activities to reach social equilibrium, taking into account both market and non-market ecosystem benefits. To finance all proposed land restoration activities, an investment of US $ 44 billion is required in the baseline scenario (US $ 18-70 billion depending on the scenarios).
The report adds that âviolent conflicts in the Sahel should reduce accessibility to these degraded ecosystems from 27.9 million hectares to 14.1 million hectaresâ.
While originally only 11 countries were involved in the effort, today more than 20 African countries are involved. You can read more about the impact and the ongoing projects here and in this video:
Since the focus of the GMV has evolved beyond simply planting trees and is still an ongoing effort, we rate this claim as “mostly true”.
âAfrica’s ‘Great Green Wall’ focuses on combating the desert. Associated Press, November 13, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/11/13/africa-great-green-wall-521292. Accessed November 29, 2021.
âCultivate a wonder of the world. Â»Great Green Wall, https://www.greatgreenwall.org. Accessed November 29, 2021.
Mirzabaev, A., Sacande, M., Motlagh, F. et al. âEconomic efficiency and targeting of the Great African Green Wall. Nature sustainability, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00801-8. Accessed November 29, 2021.
The Great Green Wall Initiative | UNCCD. https://www.unccd.int/actions/great-green-wall-initiative. Accessed November 29, 2021.