Earlier this week, leaders from eleven African nations met in Dakar, Senegal, to discuss the proposed great green wall of Africa. The wall is an ambitious pan-African greenbelt project aimed at covering the entire Sahel-Saharan region from Senegal (West Africa) to Ethiopia (East Africa).
By planting a wall of trees across Africa, the leaders hope to stop desertification, which experts claim is driving poverty and insecurity in the region. The wall is also expected to improve food security, reduce unemployment and provide African youth with an alternative to migrating to Europe or joining terror groups like Boko Haram.
“The Great Green Wall is about more than just planting and counting trees, it is about building resilience in communities and developing sustainable projects to give young people reasons to stay,” said Camila Nordheim-Larsen of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.
The $2 billion project is expected to arrest the sands of the Sahara, halting the advancement of the desert and restoring over 50 million hectares of arable land. The entire wall is estimated to be 15 kilometers wide and 7,700 kilometers long.
The UN estimates that at least 40 percent of Africa is affected by desertification and two-thirds of the continent’s arable land will be lost by 2025 if something urgent is not done to halt the trend.
The Project Is Underway
The idea of growing trees to stop desertification in the Sahel-Saharan region was first introduced by the former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005 and was later adopted by the African Union in 2007.
Since its adoption, the project has received backing from various organizations including the World Bank Group and the UN. French President François Hollande promised that his government will be contributing 1 billion euros towards anti-desertification efforts, which include the Great Green Wall of Africa.
Senegal, one of the eleven African nations within the Sahel-Saharan region, has already embarked on the project, and has thus planted more than 12 million trees, stretching up to 150 kilometers and covering about 40,000 hectares of arable land.
The Senegalese government says it intends to extend the plantation to 545 kilometers, which will cover at least 800,000 hectares. According to Senegalese authorities, these efforts have already started paying off as agriculture is, once more, becoming a major economic activity in areas that have been struggling with effects of desertification.
Is Everyone for the Project?
Many scientists have supported the Great Green Wall of Africa saying it will help boost rainfall and recharge the water table, which has significantly dwindled over the years.
Although everybody agrees that the main objective of growing the green wall is to uplift local communities, varying opinions exist, particularly with regard to how the project will best manage to achieve the intended results.
While the leaders literally envision a massive wall of trees arresting the desert, scientists and development organizations view it as a figurative wall with different projects aimed at alleviating poverty and improving degraded lands.
Many have also raised questions about the sustainability of the wall, given Africa’s hunger for timber and charcoal.
Nevertheless, for communities living in the region, herding livestock, watering gardens, and wishing for the rains to come, the Great Green Wall of Africa is the key to a positive change in Sahel-Saharan region for generations to come.