Can a 4000 mile wall of trees stop the drift of the Sahara Desert?
• A version of this article was posted on the blog, Africa in Transition. The opinions expressed are those of the author.
In February 2011, an international summit in Bonn, Germany officially approved the construction of a Pan-African Great Green Wall (GGW) in support of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). The initiative plans to strategically plant strips of trees approximately nine miles wide and over 4,000 miles long.
The central idea is that this forest belt serves as a barrier against desert winds and thus revitalizes the soil to protect against land degradation. It will extend across Africa, passing through eleven countries – Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan. They have all adopted, or plan to adopt, the early stages of the program.
The GGW initiative, originally envisioned by African leaders in the 1980s and 1990s, is a global response to the advance of the Sahara Desert into the savannas and farmlands of sub-Saharan Africa. Desertification, which now affects 40 percent of Africa, has been further exacerbated by climate change in recent decades.
Many of the continent’s most vulnerable communities living in threatened areas depend on healthy ecosystems to support livelihoods dependent on agriculture, livestock and fisheries. They now see their livelihoods threatened. The World Food Program has warned that some ten million people are at risk of starving to death due to desertification in West Africa’s Sahel alone. These problems are further compounded by poorly managed land and water resources.
Desertification also increases civil conflicts between populations vying for arable land. Nomadic groups are constantly in conflict with sedentary farmers, who often take up arms to prevent unwanted grazing. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Nigeria’s Middle Belt – Fulani herdsmen and Berom farmers have fallen into an unprecedented spiral of sectarian violence on increasingly scarce land. In fact, the Nigeria Security Tracker estimates that sectarian violence kills more people than the northern insurgency group known as Boko Haram.
There are early signs of success in the GMV initiative. In Senegal, villagers of Widou Thiengoli reported better harvests and diets richer in vitamins due to increased production of vegetables and fruits.
This is not the first time that such an initiative has been undertaken. Mongolia and China began similar efforts to counter the advancing Gobi Desert in 2006. Additionally, President Franklin Roosevelt successfully initiated windbreak programs in the 1930s, using strategic planting. of foliage to combat land degradation caused by the Dust Bowl on the American High Plains. .
The windbreaks initiative was successful, however, because it supplemented its “green wall” policies with monetary incentives for farmers who changed their techniques to adopt more environmentally friendly production methods. . The GGW initiative in Africa must ensure that it alters the behavior of land users in the same way, and not just changes the land.
Kyle Benjamin Schneps is a dual masters candidate at Columbia University, specializing in international security policy and global health initiatives.