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The Great Green Wall Africa

The Great Green Wall – a symbol of hope

The Great Green Wall Africa

The Great Green Wall Africa

Drylands currently cover just under half of the global land area and are home to 3 billion people. Drylands eco-systems are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation and inappropriate land use which leads to desertification: the degradation of drylands which can be caused by both human activity and climatic variations. When the drylands begin to degrade, the natural spaces stop being productive within the ecosystem. Thus, greenhouse gas emissions increase and biodiversity decreases, having a multiplying effect on the climate crisis. Land degradation also means less protection from extreme weather events in these areas, such as drought, floods and sandstorms. This is evidently a pressing issue in the current condition of our climate, with the highest number of people being affected in South and East Asia, the Sahara region and the Middle East. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, an estimated 500 million people live on land that is undergoing desertification.

Climate variability through increases in both land surface temperature and evapotranspiration, as well as a decrease in precipitation, play a large role in desertification. Not to mention the combination of climatic variability with human activity, such as deforestation, unsustainable land management practises and pressure on the land from population growth. Risks from desertification are projected to increase further due to climate change in years to come which is why movements such as The Great Green Wall’ are so important for the future of our world.

The largest living structure on the planet

The Great Green Wall is an African-led movement with an immense aim to grow an 8000km natural wall across the entire width of Africa. The project has a $2 billion budget, largely funded by the World Bank, as well as partnerships that have been fostered by the African Union. The wall promises to be a solution to the many urgent threats that face not only the African drylands, but beyond. Once complete, the wall will be 3 times the size of the Great Barrier Reef, and the largest living structure on the planet. A decade has passed since the start of this project, and with 15% completion, the project has seen unprecedented benefits. Not only is it bringing life back to previously degraded land, it is also providing food security, jobs and a better way of life for those who live along its path. The initiative uses an integrated landscape approach, that allows each country to address land degradation, climate change adaption/ mitigation and forestry within its own context. Each participating country has its own individual goals, which include reducing erosion, diversifying income, increasing crop yield, and improving soil fertility.

The Great Green Wall initiative

Jean-Marc Sinnassamy is a senior environmental specialist with the Global Environment Facility (GEF). He helps manage a program developed under the Great Green Wall initiative. Sinnassamy is quick to point out a misconception in the initiative in that it is much more nuanced than simply planting a belt of trees across the continent. “Behind the name or the brand ‘Great Green Wall,’ different people see different things. Some people saw just a stripe of trees from east to west, but that has never been our vision,” he says. “In Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso . . . natural regeneration managed by farmers has yielded great results. We want to replicate and scale up these achievements across the region. It’s very possible to restore trees to a landscape and to restore agroforestry practices without planting any trees. This is also a sustainable way of regenerating agroforestry and parkland.”

The Great Green Wall is a great global symbol for humanity actively overcoming its biggest threat, which is our degrading planet. It represents hope that we can work with nature, even in challenging environments, to build a better world for the generations to come.

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