Build That Wall: The Great Green Wall

Andrew Burger

Multilateral project partners aim to boost efforts to stem the Sahara Desert's advance, combat desertification, reverse land degradation

The Sahara continues to expand southwards across Africa's Sahel region, burying landscapes that have supported subsistence farming communities for many generations, forcing them to move, setting the stage for and already causing violent conflicts, sociocultural as well as over natural resources and the right to earn a livelihood in an essentially borderless region of the world that plays a huge role in weather patterns and climate well beyond its terrestrial boundaries.

Spanning some 3.5 million square miles and home to unique flora and fauna, as well as languages and old, old cultures, the Sahara has been expanding southwards across the Sahel at a 48-kilometer per year rate and wiping out ages-old communities and desert ecosystems as it does. LINK SATELL Temperatures in the Sahel and in the area across the Sahara in the north and the Sudanian in the south have been rising at the fastest rates in the world.

The wide ranging and profound effects of increasing desertification and land degradation worldwide have risen to the top of the worldwide community of nations' strategic agenda in the form of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Three of four Malians living in the Sahel depend on agriculture, and most on subsistence farming, for their livelihoods. Generally speaking, they grow rain-fed crops on small plots of land, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Creeping desertification, climate change, migration and conflict

So-called “creeping desertification” threatens just about all of Mali-- nearly 98 percent, according to the U.N. -- as a result of nature and human activity. In a report, IPS zooms in on the effects the spreading Sahara is having across the world's largest desert. in the world, according to a report from IPS, the non-profit International Press Service.

Tuareg rebels got organized and in 2012 forced Abdoulaye Maiga and her family to leave their their home and subsistence farm in northern Mali along with entire communities as the rebels fought to set up a new, northern state. The family and many others returned in 2013 when the situation stabilized, according to IPS' report.

Climate change leads to major migration

Climate change was the next development that forced them to migrate again. “As time went by, the land became useless and we found ourselves having no more land to work on. Nothing would come out that could feed us, and our livestock kept dying due the lack of water and grass to eat, ” Abdoulaye was quoted.

“Drought across the Sahel region, followed by conflict in northern Mali, caused a major slump in the country’s agricultural production, reducing household assets and leaving many of Mali’s poor even more vulnerable,” FAO says.

“We used to move up and down with our livestock, looking for water and grass, but most of the times we found none. Life was unlivable. The Sahara is coming down, very fast,” Abdoulaye reportedly said.

Major multilateral efforts to stem the Sahara's advance and “green” the Sahel

Significant, coordinated efforts to stem the Sahara's advance are taking place across the shrinking boundary region between the Sahara and the Sahel. One high profile, multilateral initiative that's been under way for many years now is the Great Green Wall (GGW),  a USD8 billion dollar project. The project was launched in 2007 by the African Union (AU) with the support of UNCCD,and backing from the World Bank, the European Union and FAO.

Genuine, substantial progress regarding restoration of soil fertility of Sahel lands has been made, according to project updates. Part and parcel of efforts, nearly 120 communities in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have been participating in a green belt project that has resulted in the restoration more than 2,500 hectares of degraded and drylands, according to the UNCCD. More than two million seeds and seedings have been planted from 50 native species of trees, as well.

Elsewhere, China's central government has been major advances working to address creeping desertification on a vast scale, particularly in the north, where it is wiping out ecosystems, lives and livelihoods, as well as playing a big part in the loss of land and water resources, rising temperatures and a rapidly changing climate. A regional reforestation program has yielded gains in forest cover that have been the fastest in the world.


Land & Agriculture