Africa’s Great Green Wall: a driver for prosperity, peace and sustainability

Photo by: Daniel Tiveau/CIFOR on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

With COP26 and global commitments in the fight against climate change in full swing, it is time for countries to own up their environmental agendas. And many are doing so, with developing countries taking the lead in a number of ways. These countries usually contribute the least but suffer the greatest the distress of environmental degradation across the world.

Among the initiatives to revert climate change sprawling throughout our planet, Africa’s Great Green Wall (GGW) stands out. This is an African-led and African-owned initiative with a clear-cut ambition: to grow an 8,000-km long belt of trees spanning from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east.

When completed, it will become the largest environmental and development endeavour in the continent, with a size and visual impact even greater than that of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Launched in 2007 by the African Union, the initiative was originally conceived to halt the encroachment of the Sahara and combat climate change-induced desertification.

It includes the 11 countries selected as intervention areas, namely the Sahel neighbouring nations of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti. To that are added another 10 participating countries, namely Ghana, Cameroon, Algeria, Benin, Cape Verde, Egypt, Gambia, Libya, Somalia and Tunisia.

Many international organizations are also supporting the initiative from a number of areas, such as climate finance actors (Green Climate Fund and Global Environmental Facility), development banks (African Development Bank and World Bank), bilateral cooperation agencies (Agence Française de Développement), UN organizations (Food and Agriculture Organization) or the European Union.

Africa’s Great Green Wall stretches from Senegal in the West to Djibouti in the East. Source: Great Green Wall

The GGW has three main ambitions: to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land, to sequester 250 million tons of carbon and to create 10 million green jobs in rural areas, according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

In slightly more than a decade, the Great Green Wall has evolved from a tree-planting initiative into a comprehensive rural development program with 18 million hectares of land restored and 350,00 jobs created. The Wall also encompasses an Accelerator that is facilitating funding, building capacities, and tracking progress for the initiative.

Yet, planting trees to halt desertification is just a tiny sprout in the lush forest of opportunities offered by the Great Green Wall. Indeed, this ecosystem-based intervention is poised to become a substantial ally in climate change efforts.

Instrumentalized by the UN initiative REDD+ (Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), forests are crucial carbon sinks and this one would be no exception. The potential for climate change adaptation, and more specifically EbA (ecosystem-based adaptation) is also encouraging.

Desertification in the Sahel region. Source: European Union Institute for Security Studies

Furthermore, the Wall can unleash a powerful socio-economic impact upon neighbouring communities in the Sahel, worn out by persistent conflict, drought, terrorism, food scarcity and other recurrent evils.

The initiative will support communities to grow fertile land, enlarge economic opportunities, enhance their food security by obtaining nourishment from the forests or developing climate-smart crops, and beyond. It stands as a textbook example of a nature-based solution, turning forest ecosystems into a key lever for human wellbeing in a sustainable and cost-efficient way.

Indeed, maybe one of the most outstanding outcomes of the GGW, once completed, would be how it sets an example with resounding clarity. The initiative is poised to become a beacon of sustainability in the African continent and worldwide, enforcing the much-needed change of paradigm in how humanity relates to nature.

With it comes mobilization of green and climate finance, capacity-building for local communities on sustainable land management, an improvement in food security, the development of innovative practices like agro-forestry, and many other examples on how to harness the power of nature for humanity.

All in all, in a region wrecked by conflict and forced migration, oftentimes triggered by fights over scarce natural resources, the GGW could bring together peace, prosperity and sustainability and send shockwaves across the world. Now, with adequate support, African countries have a brilliant opportunity to prove to the global community how man and nature can work together to solve some of the greatest challenges of our generation.

Jorge Alarcón
Jorge Alarcón
Jorge joined GlobalCAD through the ICEX Scholarship Programme on Business Internationalisation and works as a technical and research assistant.