What is the African Union’s ‘Great Green Wall’?

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Over 60 years since the initial proposal of the ‘Great Green Wall’, the project has finally gained the support and funding it needs. The Great Green Wall Initiative for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative (GGWSSI) has the ambition of creating the largest living structure on the planet by planting a 7,700 kilometre tree belt stretching the entire length of the Sahara Desert and running through a total of 7 countries. 

British environmental scientist, Richard St Barbe Baker, conceived the idea of planting trees across the southern Sahara back in 1952. However, he did not receive the support necessary at the time to see his dream through. Skip forward to 2005, when the President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, revived Baker’s vision as the answer to the current environmental and economic problems that plague the Sahel region. Recent statistics suggest that 83% of rural sub-Saharan Africans depend on the land for their survival; however, when over 40% of said land is degraded and impossible to cultivate, this leaves the residents of Sahel destitute.

In 2007 the ‘Great Green Wall’ project gained phenomenal support that has resulted in a total of 21 African countries participating, alongside a pledged $8 billion investment from bodies such as the World Bank and French government. The overall purpose of building this impressive structure is to provide a barrier against the growing Sahara desert and to interfere with the desertification process that has caused famine, drought and devastating poverty throughout the Sahel region. Across the continent the ambition is to restore 50 million hectares of land that can then provide food and resources for 20 million people and in turn create jobs and financial security. If successful, the project will also contain 250 million tonnes of carbon.

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However, not everyone is a fan of the ‘Great Green Wall’. Many scientists have disapproved of the project from the get-go. The consensus among the scientific community is that the Sahara Desert is not advancing, and all the changes are likely caused by a mixture of factors, including climate change and unsustainable land management. Some believe that the project is wasteful, since previous initiatives have found that 80% of the trees planted in the Sahel region die within two months without water or protection.

The production of the ‘Great Green Wall’ has already begun, mostly in Senegal where around 15% of the wall has already been planted, which equates to about four million hectares of restored land. The benefits of the project are already being harvested, including creating 20,000 jobs in Nigeria. However, this is not the only positive sustainable development to emerge from this project. The countries within the region are unified as they work together to tackle the big issues that they face, including: climate change, economic growth and poverty. Each country tackles a specific issue, such as: education, technological advancements and agriculture. They then share all developments across the region to reach their unified goal together. For example, in Nigeria there has been fundamental improvement of water management and abating soil erosion, while in Senegal they have focused on agri-business development.

Only time will tell as to whether the ‘Great Green Wall’ is truly “Great”. There is evidence to support both sides of this argument, although it is undeniable that the project is an impressive ambition, and one that has not only inspired hope, but also more and more ambitious projects that have made positive and effective change; all of which take steps forward in making the region and the planet more sustainable.
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Former English Student | Travel Editor 2016-17 |Current MSc. International Politics | Editor at Wessex Scene for 2017-18.

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