Three years after it was first proposed, preparations for an African ‘wall of trees’ to slow down the southwards spread of the Sahara desert are finally getting underway.
The ‘Great Green Wall’ will involve several stretches of trees from Mauritania in the west to Djibouti in the east, to protect the semi-arid savannah region of the Sahel – and its agricultural land – from desertification. But tree planting is a crucial part of the exercise. At the CEN-SAD meeting last month Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said: “This project consists in planting trees over a distance of 7,000 km from Dakar to Djibouti to constitute a 5 km wide green strip across the desert to stop any further progress of desertification process. With the regeneration of biodiversity, we plan to give our planet a new ‘green lung’ and contribute thus to the fight against climatic changes. Alongside of the Great Green Wall we are planning to build water capture basins…to enable farmers in rural areas to grow food all year long, develop fish farming and satisfy their nutritional needs and even export market garden produce.” Senegal has been chosen to provide technical leadership for the effort owning to its past successes in combating desertification.
Mariam Aladji Boni Diallo, the Benin-based president of the Cen-Sad summit organising committee, says she hopes the Green Wall will consist of more than just trees. Diallo told SciDev.Net that “reforestation, restoration of natural resources and the eventual development of fishing and livestock breeding” were priorities for the project. However, she said that funding for the project was still tentative.
The UNESCO-linked non-profit Observatory of the Sahara and the Sahel has prepared a report on the project, saying the labour-intensive project should be used to create employment but advising that payments be partly withheld for two years until the trees were established, and that payment be based on plant growth.
The Green Wall initiative was conceived and first proposed by Nigeria’s ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005. While the idea was met enthusiastically, the African nations have lacked funding to begin work on the project. In late 2007 however, the European Union pitched in with help in designing the plan. The EU has promised further support with implementation, as well.