Where is the Great Green Wall, this pharaonic project for the Sahel?

Where is the Great Green Wall, this pharaonic project for the Sahel?

Violet Field inPlanetJan 12, 2021 7 min read2 views

8,000 km long and 15 wide, from Dakar to Djibouti. It is in this strip crossing Africa that the Great Green Wall is trying to emerge, bit by bit. A pharaonic project that the One planet summit

The Great Green Wall for the Sahel project, initiated in 2007, aims to create a curtain of greenery nearly 8,000 kilometers long and 15 km wide, from Senegal to Djibouti. - SEYLLOU DIALLO / AFP
  • The Great Green Wall is one of the flagship initiatives carried out since 2005 by the African Union and eleven countries of the continent. The idea? Fight against desertification in the Sahel by restoring 100 million hectares of degraded land.
  • The challenge is to improve the living conditions of populations, but also to fight against climate change and to preserve biodiversity. If the Great Green Wall can boast of great concrete achievements, the overall record remains meager.
  • In an attempt to accelerate its realization, the actors present at the One Planet Summit, this Monday, promised to allocate to the Great Green Wall $ 14.3 million over the period 2021-2025. But the success of the project does not depend only on the amounts invested.

Restore 100 million hectares of degraded land, sequester 250 million tons of CO2 and create 10 million green jobs ... All in the Sahel, which crosses Africa from west to east and makes the transition from the Sahara to the north and the Sudanese savannas in the south, more watered. "We are talking about rural areas among the most vulnerable on the planet", specifies Sandra Rullière, of the agriculture, rural development and biodiversity division at the French Development Agency (AFD).

This gives an idea of the ambition of the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel, flagship project of the African Union, carried out for fifteen years but whose progress is slipping. Hence the investment forum organized this Monday morning, on the sidelines of the One Planet Summit, an international summit for biodiversity, to try to accelerate the realization of this Great Green Wall.

But what are we talking about exactly? What has already been done within the framework of this Great Wall? And why is it not going fast enough? 20 Minutes takes stock.

Where is this Great Green Wall located?

The idea relates to a strip of 8,000 kilometers long, from Dakar, Senegal, to Djibouti, about fifteen kilometers wide. It crosses eleven countries and a diversity of landscapes. Manon Albagnac, agronomist and in charge of the “Sahel Desertification” program of the NGO Cari, notes however some common points. “The climate is already dry with a rainy season concentrated over three months of the year. But also increasingly marked climate change, a need to combine agriculture and livestock, a source of tension. "There is also a large population:" 300 million inhabitants today, 500 million expected in 2050 ", indicates Rémi Hémeryck, general delegate of SOS Sahel, another NGO to intervene in the region.

What do we mean by the Great Green Wall?

You have to get out of your head immediately the idea of a large stone fortification, like the Great Wall of China, or of a row of trees which would aim to stop the advance of the Sahara on the Sahel. “There may have been this idea of creating a large forest strip,” continues Rémi Hémeryck. But it does not work that way, there is not a large desert front [the Sahara] which is eating away at the surrounding territories [the Sahel] so that the African Union has revised its copy. "

The idea of this Great Green Wall is to fight against desertification in the Sahel. “But within the meaning of its official definition,” explains Sandra Rullière. That island degradation in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas. It can be caused by climate change, but also the pressure of human activities, even more, when these are based on mismanagement of natural resources. "

This Great Green Wall is, therefore, to be seen as a mosaic of restoration projects and sustainable management of degraded lands. Both agricultural, pastoral, but also forestry. "The challenge is to improve the living conditions of the populations by increasing the fertility of the land and, by extension, the yields of the farmers who operate them," continues the project team leader at AFD. In doing so, we are also fighting against climate change by allowing better storage of carbon in the soil and finally preserving biodiversity, by bringing life back to these degraded soils, by improving forest management… ”

Where is this project today?

Both Manon Albagnac and Rémi Hémeryck have examples of concrete achievements to give. “This sometimes involves investing in very simple developments, such as zaï and demi-lunes, cultivation techniques which consist in crisscrossing the fields of holes so that the water no longer flows over these degraded lands, which have sometimes become as hard as the rock, but on the contrary infiltrate, ”explains Manon Albagnac.

“Zaï has borne fruit in Burkina Faso in particular. This technique has enabled Burkinabé farmers to increase their income, slow the rural exodus and strengthen the country's food self-sufficiency, says the first assessment report on the Great Green Wall commissioned by the United Nations Convention and published. September 7th. Eight Sahelian countries have now succeeded in reproducing this technique. "Niger has also restored a lot of lands using the half-moon technique," adds Rémi Hémeryck.

Once the land has been restored, “another challenge is to set up agroforestry systems that allow farmers' income to be diversified while helping to fertilize the land,” continues the General Delegate of SOS Sahel. This notably involves planting acacias in the fields, which Chad now does a lot. Not only, gum arabic - made from the sap of acacias - can be harvested and sold, but these trees will help to fix the soils, provide them with nitrogen and thus fertilize the crops. "

We should also mention the development of windbreaks, dune stabilization projects, tree planting, water retention, and conservation measures among the achievements of the Great Green Wall. Nevertheless, the overall balance sheet remains meager. The appraisal report identified 4 million hectares restored between 2011 and 2017 *. We are far from the 100 million hectares of land to be restored by 2030. But also far from the pace to be maintained of 8.2 million hectares to be developed per year.

Why is it not going fast enough?

It is already a question of investment. According to the Pan-African Agency of the Great Green Wall, 200 million dollars [170 million euros], including 150 million from foreign funding, has been mobilized since the start of the initiative. The assessment report estimates between 36 and 43 billion dollars the amount to be invested by 2030 to meet the objectives. The heads of state meeting this Monday at the One Planet summit have promised to mobilize 14.3 billion dollars [11.8 billion euros] between 2021 and 2025 to accelerate this Great Wall, announced Emmanuel Macron on Twitter.

The Great Green Wall is an African initiative to green the Sahel. It is a chance for ecology, for biodiversity, for agriculture and populations. To accelerate, we, the #OnePlanetSummit players, are committing by mobilizing $ 14.3 billion.

- Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) January 11, 2021

But the success of the Great Wall does not only depend on the amounts invested. “These eleven African states also need to involve the players in the field, local communities, professional organizations…, insists Rémi Hémeryck. Let it not be just a top-down operation. "A gap that Manon Albagnac also points out:" It is only if the local populations take ownership of the projects that they become sustainable, she said. It won't do any good to plant a tree if there's no one behind it to take care of it. That's the whole problem: in the 4 million hectares that are said to be rehabilitated under the Great Green Wall, some are no longer so today. "