The African Union is at the start of a project which dates back to 2008 which proposes to create a massive vegetation wall stretching from side of the continent to the other. With aim to combat desertification in Africa, the great green wall will run across the continent south of the Sahara desert. But what are the gains and limitations for such a vast project.
For thirty years Yacouba Sawadogo, a farmer from Burkina Faso, has been using traditional ground protection techniques to help put an end to the desertification of Sahel. This is a region south of the Sahara desert which has been afflicted by drought for a long time. Sawadogo and his inspirational forestation techniques landed him the title “the man who stopped the desert” which is the title of a 2010 documentary about his life.
Each year, the Sahara desert expands by 2 km and this growth doesn’t seem to be slowing down. As a result, fertile green zones are being put in danger as well as the populations living there. The Sahara is expanding to the south but also to the north. It is here that countries like Tunisia are seeing three quarters of the fertile lands being threatened by desertification.
We know why this is happening. It is a lot to do with human activities and the green-house effect as a result of our pollution. Vegetation getting wiped out for domestic purposes in lands with little arable resources is also another factor. In half a century, Africa is expected to have already lost 650 000 km² of it’s arable land which is the equivalent to the surface area of France!
Strictly speaking desertification is not the same as the the natural expansion of a desert. It refers to the drying out of lands as a result of human activities which makes the land resemble a desert. However commonly affected areas like the Sahel are found at the edge of the desert, which makes us think that the desert is advancing. In reality, this is not the case.
In 2008, the Africa Union outlined a the great green wall project which was proposed to extend 7, 800 km in distance and 15 km wide. This natural wall of forestation aims to contain the desertification which in sadly making vegetation disappear. Senegal is the spearhead of this project which plants around 2 million acacia trees every year. This type of tree adapts very well to the dry and arid climate. Ecosystems are progressively reviving as seen by the return of birds which had previously disappeared from the region.
The possibility of growing vegetable gardens allows communities to cultivate fruits and vegetables which were previously impossible as they mostly require very basic watering. This also provides a natural source of income for local populations in a context where water resources are increasingly scarce.
The African Union’s project has limitations however as although Senegal is well advanced other countries seem to be lagging behind. This is the case for Sudan and Mali which have not yet started the reforestation programme. These two countries are politically very unstable and are in the grip of war.
Here is a short video from the BBC which explains why Africa is planning a Great Green Wall: