Africa’s “Great Green Wall” changes direction to push back the desert
By CARLEY PETESCH
KEBEMER, Senegal (AP) – The idea was striking in its ambition: African countries aimed to plant trees in a line of nearly 5,000 miles spanning the entire continent, creating a natural barrier to hold back the Sahara Desert as climate change was sweeping the sands south.
The project called the Great Green Wall began in 2007 with a vision for trees to spread like a belt across the vast Sahel region, from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, by 2030. But as temperatures rose and rainfall declined, millions of the trees planted died.
Desert control efforts continue in Senegal on a smaller scale. At the western end of the planned wall, Ibrahima Fall walks in the cool shade of dozens of lime trees, watering them with a hose while yellow chicks scurry around his feet. Just beyond the lush green orchard and a village lies a desolate and barren landscape.
The citrus harvest provides refuge from the heat and sands that surround it. Outside the low village walls, winds throw sand into the air, inviting desertification, a process that tears life out of fertile soil and turns it into desert, often due to drought or drought. Deforestation.
Only 4% of the original Great Green Wall goal was met, and it would take around $ 43 billion to reach the rest. With short-term prospects for completion of the barrier, organizers have moved from planting a wall of trees to testing a patchwork of smaller, more sustainable projects to stop desertification, including community efforts designed to improve lives and help the most vulnerable farmers. .
“The project which does not involve the community is doomed to failure,” says Diégane Ndiaye, who is part of a group known as SOS Sahel, which has helped with planting programs in Senegal and in the countryside. other Sahelian countries, a vast geographic area between the Sahara to the north and the more temperate African savannah to the south.
The programs focus on restoring the environment and reviving economic activity in villages in the Sahel, Ndiaye said.
With the loss of precipitation and the advance of the desert, “this strip of the Sahel is an area very vulnerable to climate change,” he said. “So we should have projects that can rebuild the environment … repair the dunes and also help protect the vegetable growing area.”
On the Atlantic coast of Senegal, the casuarinas extend in a strip from Dakar to the northern city of Saint-Louis, forming a curtain that protects the start of the Green Wall region, which also cultivates more than 80% of the vegetables from Senegal. The branches that rise to the sky tame the winds coming from the ocean.
This reforestation project began in the 1970s, but many trees have been felled for timber, and replanting work is more recent. More trees are also being planted in front of the dunes near the water to protect the dunes and prevent them from moving.
“We have had a lot of reforestation programs which today have not yielded much because they are often carried out with great fanfare” and not with good planning, Ndiaye said.
Fall, the 75-year-old village chief, planted the citrus orchard in 2016, placing the trees near a water source on his land. His is one of 800 small orchards in six municipalities in a town called Kebemer.
“We once planted peanuts and it was not enough,” he said in the local Wolof language. “This orchard provides income that allows me to take care of my family. He said he can produce 20 to 40 kilograms of limes per week during peak season.
Enriched by trees, the soil also grew tomatoes and onions.
The village used the profits from the orchard to replace the straw houses with cement brick structures and to buy more sheep, goats and chickens. He also added a solar panel to help pump water from a communal well, saving villagers from having to pay more for water in the desert.
The President of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi A. Adesina, spoke about the importance of stopping desertification in the Sahel during the United Nations global climate conference COP26. He announced a commitment by the bank to mobilize $ 6.5 billion for the Great Green Wall by 2025.
The most recent projects in Senegal are circular gardens known in Wolof as “tolou keur”. They feature a variety of trees that are strategically planted so that the larger ones protect the more vulnerable.
The curved rows of the gardens are home to moringas, sage, papaya and mango trees resistant to dry climates. They are planted so that their roots grow inwards to improve water retention in the plot.
Senegal has 20 circular gardens in total, each adapted to the soil, culture and needs of individual communities so that they can cultivate much of what they need. The first indications are that they thrive in the area of the Great Green Wall. Solar energy provides electricity for irrigation.
Jonathan Pershing, deputy special climate envoy at the US State Department, visited Senegal as part of a trip to Africa last month, saying the US wanted to join with African countries to fight against climate change.
“The desert is expanding. You really see it moving south, ”Pershing said.
Regarding the Great Green Wall project, he said, “I don’t think a lot of people thought it would go very far,” including himself. But there are signs of progress, as seen in community projects.
“It has a global advantage, and people are willing to make those kinds of long-term investments through their children and families, which I think is a hallmark of what we need to do in this area. ‘other climatic domains. “