Climate Change Image: Grand Muraille Verte

Published on April 21st, 2013 | by Don Lieber


The Great Green Wall Of Africa — A 4,000 Mile Defense Against Climate Change

Image: Grand Muraille Verte

Image: Grand Muraille Verte

One of the most unique large-scale international climate change projects is underway in Africa. A 4,000 mile “wall of trees” is being constructed across the east-west axis of the continent as a defense against rapid, expanding desertification of the Sahara.

11 nations — Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti — have agreed to participate in The Great Green Wall initiative (GGW), planting a contiguous “wall of trees” stretching 4,300 miles long and 9 miles wide, across the entire width of the African continent from Djibouti in the east to Senegal on the west.

The project was approved by the African Union in 2007, under the umbrella of the  Community of the Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD). In 2008, the first trees were planted along the wall’s path.

Progress (and reporting) currently varies from nation to nation; the process is still in its infancy and will take several years to complete. Nevertheless, the project is already showing some success: a World Food Program (WFP) report from Senegal details how villages in Widou Thiengoli are now harvesting fresh fruits and vegetables from the dry desert sands, a by-product of the Wall initiative. Some 50,000 acres of trees have already been planted in Senegal, according to press reports.

Desertification has emerged as a “major planetary threat” with particularly daunting challenges for Africa. Climate change has led to prolonged periods of drought and other symptoms of desertification, which are being experienced by a growing number of countries. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that two-thirds of the African continent is classified as desert or dry lands. Rainy seasons and other weather patterns — long consistent – are now changing across the region. In Senegal, for example, the rainy season now begins in September — it traditionally started in July.

The UN estimates that two-thirds of Africa’s arable land could be lost by 2025 if this trend continues.

According to the Great Green Wall website, the goal is to help mitigate the environmental effects of climate change, including the expansion of desertification.   The trees will act as a barrier against desert winds, help to hold moisture in the air and soil, reduce erosion, enhance biodiversity, provide new grazing land and be a source of vegetation. The project is also recognized for the role it will play in local agriculture and employment.  

“People used to go to towns to seek paid work during the lean season, but since the project started, that has changed,” says Papa Sarr, Technical Director of the Senegal National Agency of the Great Green Wall.

The Great Green Wall initiative is supported by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Food Programme, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the UN-backed Global Environment Facility (GEF) – the largest public funder of UN environmental projects.  
The Great Green Wall has received a total of $1.8 billion dollars from the World Bank and another $108 million from the Global Environment Facility. 
Ulrich Apel, a forestry expert with GEF, said the program could serve as a model for similar projects around the world in areas, such as central Asia, which face similar challenges in adapting to a rapidly changing climate.    

The Green Wall, said Apel, “is off to a promising start.” Standing near a row of waist-high trees in Widou village – one of Senegal’s Green Wall locations — he said: ”In 10 to 15 years this will be a forest. The trees will be big and this region will be completely transformed.”

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About the Author

Don Lieber has written extensively on international human rights, war and disarmament, and climate justice. His writings have have been published by the United Nations, The Associated Press, The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, DeSmog Blog, E-The Environmental Magazine, and others. He is a frequent contributor to PlanetSave. When not writing about climate change, he plays bass for the NYC-based band "Wifey".

  • Gwennedd

    This is a great project! many thanks to those who are undertaking this massive work. Also the first time I’ve heard of this. I’m wondering what effect this will have on hurricanes. Are they not begun by the winds blowing off the west coast of Africa? And what effect this will have on the Amazon. I seem to remember a documentary stating that the desert winds carried soil particulates (dust) across the Atlantic and depositing it on the Amazon basin, renewing the depleted soil on the forest floor.

  • ThirdSection

    With all of the warring going on in this region, particularly in Eritrea, Sudan and Mali, this is not just a climate initiative or an engineering feat, it is also a peace initiative.

    For these countries to succeed at this, they HAVE to (literally) cast their swords into plowshares, and I think that’s wonderful.

  • Sherrie

    Thanks yet again, Don; This has generated a lot of buzz– Lots more needed.
    -until other countries follow suit.

    Right off the bat, this readily lends itself to general consumption, given no high level of tech or political savvy needed. -so, perfectly understood at once by young’uns and,well, anyone. In that spirit, I’m sharing this with my middle school students, among others.

    • Don lieber

      Middle-school students? nice to know teachers are exposing this issue to young students….climate change will effect them and their world far more than it will effect the apathetic robber-barons behind the global fossil fuel industries. Thank you for being such a conscientious educator. When your students are just a little older, they will be of age to make choices and affect change on their terms. Teach on…..

  • BuckarooJim

    Truly inspiring. As with so many things, I had not heard about this before, even though it’s been happening for many years. Similarly, most people I speak with have never heard of the incredible research done into the phenomenon called “Global Dimming” wherein pollution (not greenhouse gases, but particulate pollution) is literally blocking the sun and thus lowering temperatures and altering evaporation patterns in certain geographic areas. NOVA broadcast an episode in 2006 called “Dimming the Sun” in which a very strong case is made for how “Global Dimming” is more to blame for the Sub-Saharan drought than greenhouse gas induced “Global Warming.” Still man-made, but of a very different sort. The coal and other industrial pollutants drifting southwest from India and China obscure the sun over the western Indian Ocean and prevent the normal creation of monsoon conditions through evaporation. A multi-million dollar scientific study was conducted over the course of many years to investigate this. So, bringing the rain back to the Sahara could possibly be accomplished through strict particulate pollution controls in India a China. In this case, curbing greenhouse case emissions may be, while not irrelevant, at least less significant. I feel that we need to keep our perspective broad and our minds receptive to new information in order to most effectively address the complicated challenges created by human activity (hyper-activity) on planet earth.

  • Willem Van Cotthem

    all over the world, worrying about the effect of desertification, are
    attentively looking for success stories in the combat of land
    degradation. This Great Green Wall project could bring significant good
    news about the possibilities to make progress. Taking into account
    that 50.000 acres have been successfully planted in Senegal, this
    “success storiy” merits to be fully illustrated (field photos, aerial
    photos, satellite photos).

    am looking forward to see these fantastic documents and I am eagerly
    looking for the “lessons learned” in Senegal, which would be very
    profitable for the other 10 countries involved.

  • sherrie

    If they can do it, “we” can do it!!!!!!!

  • Diane Krstulovich

    So inspiring! Thank you, thank you, thank you for this wonderful news!

    • sherrie pasarell

      One of the things that keeps me from being really desolate about all this is to see that others express inspiration that someone’s keeping it out there… So thanks to you, and thanks to the author of the article. I personally haven’t gotten any really impressive responses from our representatives– but feel better being a part of a larger group that cares!

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