Culture 3 min read

The Great Green Wall of Africa: Fighting Nature With Nature

The great green wall is one of the most ambitious projects of modern times, and it's already well under way. ¦ Image via the Great Green Wall Organization

The great green wall is one of the most ambitious projects of modern times, and it's already well under way. ¦ Image via the Great Green Wall Organization

Africa is facing the serious ecological problem of desertification.

Large swathes of the African continent are exposed to desertification hazards as a result of human activities caused by population growth.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Africa could lose two-thirds of its arable land by 2030 due to desertification.

With its mainly semi-arid climate, the Sahel region in Africa acts like transition space between the desert to the north and the savanna lands to the south of the continent.

The Sahel is increasingly vulnerable to desertification and not just because it borders the Sahara.

Desertification is more about the process of land degradation than “sand invasion,” and this is one of the biggest misconceptions about the phenomenon.

To combat the degradation of land and stop hostile drylands from gaining more ground, tree planting is the best bet.

Through their root systems, trees can prevent erosion by reinforcing the soil’s stability and conserving rainwater. Trees can also sequester carbon, reduce air pollution, and create sustainable economic value.

Tree-Planting and Desertification, a Simple Solution to a Complex Issue

There’s a history in Africa of using trees as the last line of defense against desertification.

In 1970, Algeria launched the Green Dam initiative, an agroecological project aimed at the reforestation of three million hectares of the Algerian steppe to counter desertification.

Seven years later, late Wangari Muta Maathai created her Green Belt Movement NGO that, in a little over 30 years, has planted over 51 million trees.

Maathai’s work has even inspired a kid to find the “Plant for the Planet,” a colossal global initiative that aims to plant 1 trillion trees to fight climate change.

Another ambitious tree-planting project in Africa is the Great Green Wall (GGW) in the Sahel region.

Initiated by the African Union in 2008, the Great Green Wall is a multi-species vegetal belt that’s 4,000 miles long and 10 miles wide. The GGW crosses the width of Africa from Senegal in the west, through a dozen countries, until Djibouti in the east.

Once complete, the Great Green Wall “will be the largest living structure on the planet, three times the size of the Great Barrier Reef.”

On paper, the Great Green Wall is a practical move for the Sahel countries to address the significant environmental, economic, and societal challenges of land degradation.

The initiative that first started with 11 countries has seen nine more join the effort. Just across three participating countries – Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Senegal – about 80 million acres of degraded land have been restored.

After a little over a decade since its launch, the GGW is now about 15 percent complete. But, its immense socio-economic impact is already being felt.

“A decade in and roughly 15% underway, the initiative is already bringing life back to Africa’s degraded landscapes at an unprecedented scale, providing food security, jobs, and a reason to stay for the millions who live along its path.”

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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