Africa faces a huge problem with desert encroachment. About two-thirds of the African continent consists of deserts or drylands. Every year in Africa, desertification swallows land the size of the Republic of Benin. Desert encroachment has drastically distorted the quality of life in Africa, resulting in nomadic movements, instability, reduction in productivity and restricted economic growth.The Great Green Wall initiative is a pan-African proposal to “green” the continent from west to east in order to battle desertification. The vision of a great green wall to battle desert encroachment was birthed in 1952 by British environmental scientist, Richard St Barbe Baker but was unachievable then. However, the idea was revisited by Nigeria’s former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, who proposed it to the African Union. In January 2007, the African Union approved the Green Wall Initiative.
The project which started six years ago was developed to solve land degradation and climate change through an 8,000-kilometre-long strip of land stretching from Dakar to Djibouti. Eleven Sahel-Saharan states comprising of Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan and Chad created the Pan-African Agency of the Great Green Wall (PAGGW).
Currently, about 21 countries are in involved in the project. In August 2016, Namibia’s Environment and Tourism Minister, Pohamba Shifeta, said that Southern Africa would join the Great Green Wall (GGW) initiative. The South African Development Community (SADC), which has 15 member States, would bring the total number of countries involved in the project to 36.
The proactive move to launch the Green wall initiative was an apt decision. According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) , 46 percent of African land is currently affected by land degradation, threatening the livelihoods of nearly 65 percent of the Africa’s population. In 2015, the FAO estimated that more than 20 million people in the Sahel were food insecure. Most of the poor and hungry live in rural areas and a major part of their income comes from agriculture.
The progress of the initiative is remarkable. About 15 percent of the “tree wall” is already planted. Senegal has reclaimed more than four million hectares of land and in Ethiopia, 15 million hectares of land has been restored. Senegal has planted more than 27,000 hectares of indigenous trees that don’t need watering.
“Many animals that had disappeared from those regions are reappearing. Animals like antelopes, hares, and birds that for the past 50 years nobody saw, said Elvis Paul Tangam, the African Union Commissioner for the Sahara and Sahel Great Green Wall Initiative.”
In 2015, heads of major international agencies and world leaders pledged $4 billion at the UN Global Climate Change Summit (COP21) to the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative (GGWSSI) over the next five years to speed the implementation of the initiative. The World Bank has pledged $1.9 billion for the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative (GGWSSI).and other climate change programs.
The problem of insurgency within these regions still hinders the full delivery of the initiative. The rise of terrorist groups in Niger, Chad, Sudan, Mali, and Nigeria poses a threat to the development of those areas. For example, Boko Haram dominance of Sambisa Forest has led to mass migration of dwellers from that area.
There is a social reality about trees in Africa that countries need to tackle. Trees provide fuel for different domestic purposes. The use of these trees contributes significantly to deforestation in Africa. Given the general climate, afforestation in the Sahel- Saharan region is an effort which can be likened to running a plant nursery in an inferno. Citizens living in these communities pluck off the few surviving saplings for firewood almost as soon as they take root.
The need for fuel is important for domestic purposes. It is very important to grow trees to combat climate change. But the challenge is how to balance the need for trees as a source of fuel while husbanding it to meet other environmental needs.
The fulfillment of this vision will boost the development and integration of Africa. It is estimated that over the next 10 years, more than 50 million hectares of land will be regained, which will expropriate 250 million tons of carbon. “The Great Green Wall is about development; it’s about sustainable, climate-smart development, at all levels,” says Elvis Paul Tangam.
Credit: Ventures Africa