World Bank investments in the Great Green Wall: a desert mirage?
At the One Planet Biodiversity Summit on January 11, World Bank President David Malpass announced a major new World Bank Group funding commitment in the Sahelian arid zones of Africa, which border the southern border. Sahara Desert, for a total of $ 5 billion over the next five years.
As the Bank’s press release notes, the investments will ostensibly be used to “help restore degraded landscapes, improve agricultural productivity and promote livelihoods in 11 African countries on a strip of land stretching from Senegal. in Djibouti ”.
The investments are integrated into a larger initiative – the Great Green Wall of the Sahel, which was first announced in 2007. The Bank’s new commitment was part of the $ 14 billion pledged at the Great Wall initiative. Green at the One Planet Summit in January by France and other donors.
Too often decisions are made on a map in a remote office about an area deemed empty and conducive to regreeningIan Scoones, Institute of Development Studies, and Camilla Toulmin, International Institute of Environment and Development
As noted in a January blog post by Ian Scoones of the UK-based Institute of Development Studies and Camilla Toulmin of the International Institute for Environment and Development, the initiative is certainly on a “grandiose” scale. : “Extending over 8,000 km and 100 million hectares,… the advance of the Sahara deserts must be repelled by the planting of trees and the greening of the landscapes of the Sahelian region. … Visible from space and pronounced like a natural wonder, the symbolism of a wall reversing environmental degradation, quelling insurgency and conflict and stemming the flow of migrants is dramatic.
However, important questions remain about the underlying development logic of the initiative, which have been echoed by the findings of the Bank’s own Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) in its evaluations of the Bank’s existing investments in the past. Sahel.
The Great Green Wall: a continuation of (bad) colonial interpretations
As Scoones and Toulmin point out, scientific theories regarding the expansion of the Sahara to the south first arose in European colonial times – and then turned out to be wrong. They note: “In 1934, the colonial scientist… EP Stebbing first claimed that the Sahara was expanding year after year. This was based on a flawed analysis, but at the time it fueled the doomsday idea of environmental degradation… Huge efforts have been made in top-down soil conservation measures as well as in regulating soil conditions. agricultural and livestock populations.
The narrative of desertification extending south into the Sahel has persisted, often providing the rationale for foreign-funded interventions. However, as Scoones and Toulmin point out, an emerging body of evidence shows that the Sahel defies such simplistic explanations: “Dryland degradation emerges through a complex interplay of processes and does not extend in one direction. Satellite imagery and archaeological evidence from these arid regions show wet and dry spells, with greening and drying up of landscapes occurring in phases over time. These are highly variable environments, where attempts at stability and control are unsuccessful, and where livelihoods are best served by diversification, risk allocation and mobility. “
IEG analysis raises critical questions
A January blog from IEG provided an overview of its assessments of the Bank’s involvement in the Great Green Wall to date, through the Sahel and West Africa Program in support of the the Great Green Wall (SAWAP). While this is not an assessment of all projects funded by the World Bank under SAWAP, IEG presented the sample as indicative of some of the lessons learned from the initiative so far. here.
While the IEG has declared that SAWAP has been a “technical success”, apparently increasing the vegetation cover and resulting in the rehabilitation of land in the project sites, this comes with the caveat that, “a precise understanding of the change of vegetation cover across the Sahel, attributable to donor investments in the Great Green Wall, has been limited due to underinvestment in measurement (e.g., a standardized vegetative difference index to measure vegetation change , recommended as part of a regional World Bank project at the start of SAWAP, was never implemented.) And, more importantly, none of the World Bank projects estimated the effect of the modification of precipitation regimes on the greening effects. “
The IEG also highlighted other issues related to the SAWAP projects funded by the World Bank. These include “the use of zonal enclosures – a land management practice that seeks to restore degraded land by preventing livestock and humans from freely accessing it in the short to medium term -” [which] risks exacerbating the vulnerability ”of those who depend on communal land.
The blog added that in some cases the projects exacerbate localized inequalities: “Raising the value of degraded land, as has been done by the Great Green Wall initiative, changes the decision-making calculation of land users – with Increased agricultural value, this land can fall prey to elites, and can lead to encroachment by non-traditional farmers who risk dislocating the local population. He continued, “Because land restoration primarily benefits those who have access to land, some women and youth are particularly disadvantaged in the Sahel.”
Green the Sahel from below?
IEG assessments show the potential pitfalls of the Great Green Wall initiative – including the danger that fixation with expensive funding commitments and tree planting targets could override delicately balanced local practices. of land use in the Sahel undertaken by farmers, pastoralists, and others.
As Scoones and Toulmin have pointed out, “climate change can become a catch-all explanation for governance failures, while in the Sahel, security and counterterrorism programs can be linked to development. … Too often, decisions are made on a map in a remote office in an area deemed empty and conducive to regreening.
They conclude: “The focus on regenerating landscapes and promoting livelihoods through a sensitive and local approach to sustainable development is the way forward and will likely cost less than $ 14 billion.
In an editorial for Thomson Reuters Foundation on March 3, Wanjira Mathai and Salima Mahamoudou of the World Resources Institute echoed this sentiment, saying that “the magic that can restore Africa’s degraded farms, forests and pastures lies in the millions of local champions across the country. the continent, especially young people and women. “