Good news for Africa’s Great Green Wall

The ambitious Great Green Wall for the Sahel and Sahara Initiative (GGW) has received at least 10billion* United States Dollars in new funding. The funding will fast track efforts to restore degrading land, save biological diversity as well as create green jobs and build the resilience of the Sahelian people.
Emmanuel Macron, President of France, made the announcement at the just concluded One Planet Summit for Biodiversity co-organized by France, the United Nations, and World Bank. The GGW snakes along the southern margin of Africa’s  Sahara Desert running from the Atlantic coast to the Red Sea. The Great Green Wall Accelerator makes up 30 percent of 33 billion United States Dollars needed to achieve the Great Green Wall’s ambitions for the year 2030.

Mohamed Cheikh El-Ghazouani, President of Mauritania and current chair of the Conference of Heads of State and Government of the Pan-African Agency of the Great Green Wall, welcomed the Accelerator program on behalf of the region.

“We welcome the announcement of the Great Green Wall Accelerator Initiative, whose objective is to release an initial contribution over the period 2021-2025, to give effect to the commitments of the financial partners in a coordinated framework,” said Ghazouani.

“The mobilization of this additional funding through an innovative approach will certainly contribute to the achievement of the Great Green Wall goals, which aim by 2030, at the restoration of 100 million hectares of degraded land and the creation of 10 million green jobs. This initiative will certainly facilitate the alignment of our partners’ interventions, in response to the concerns raised by our Ministers of Environment at the last Great Green Wall Conference,” said Ghazouani.

Ghazouani stressed that it would “enable our countries, in accessing the necessary funds, to increase local investments within the framework of the five pillars adopted and to strengthen the capacities of the national agencies of the Great Green Wall. In this context, I would like to suggest the establishment, in each of our countries, of a biodiversity Fund into which we will contribute a portion of the resources resulting from the cancellation of our debts. A cancellation that we call for with all our hearts.”

“Pandemic recovery is our chance to change course. With smart policies and the right investments, we can chart a path that brings health to all, revives economies, and builds resilience. Innovations in energy and transport can steer a sustainable recovery and an economic and social transformation. Nature-based solutions, such as Africa’s Great Green Wall are especially promising,” said António Guterres, UN Secretary-General.

Since its inception in 2007, the Great Green Wall (GGW) has partnered with stakeholders to regreen the region and create an 8,000 km long world wonder involving at least 11 countries and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The GGW Initiative, now well into its second decade, is an African-led flagship program demonstrating how to harness the power of nature to provide policy solutions to multiple and complex environmental threats, such as land degradation, desertification, drought, climate change, biodiversity loss, poverty, and food insecurity, simultaneously. The GGW has inspired many African countries which are now associated with it and its work is contributing to the implementation of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. GGW is among the iconic global campaigns targeted for completion during the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration ending in 2030.

What is the Great Green Wall (GGW)?

The Great Green Wall is an African-led initiative, which aims to restore the degraded landscapes of the Sahel – one of the world’s most impoverished regions.  People in the Sahel region of Africa live off the land in a literal sense and depend on its productivity for their everyday survival. Consider that 80% of the population here still rely on rain-fed agriculture for work but 65% of African land is degraded.

In the last 30 years, the region has been devastated by severe droughts and massive loss of fertile land due to climate change, over-farming and unsustainable land management practices. But people are fighting back: The aim is to restore 100 million hectares and create 10 million jobs by 2030. 

Already much has been achieved. In Senegal, more than 12 million trees have been planted; In Ethiopia, 15 million hectares have been restored. Nearly 18% of the Wall is estimated to be complete, Once complete, the Wall will stretch an extraordinary 8000 km across the entire width of the Continent – a new world wonder for a modern age.

The Wall is a compelling symbol for all humanity that we can take action against our degrading planet. If the world’s poorest can do it, so can we all. The main causes: the combined effects of poor land management practices, overgrazing, population growth, and the emerging threat of climate change caused vast areas of land to be degraded in the Sahel. Without sufficient productive land to grow food or sustain decent lives, a spiraling cycle of poverty quickly emerged.

In the face of increasingly desperate circumstances, community leaders and political visionaries such as Burkina Faso’s revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara, started to look for a long-term solution. 

In the 1980s, the extraordinary idea of transforming the region’s degraded landscapes through a ‘Great Green Wall’ stretching across the width of Africa, from Senegal in the West to Djibouti in the East, started to gain traction. But it took another two decades before the idea was actually realized – when former President Obasanjo of Nigeria and President Wade of Senegal put it firmly on the international agenda once more at the 7th Summit of the Heads of State of CEN-SAD in June 2005.

Finally, in 2007, the initiative was officially endorsed by the African Union, and a decade down the line we see that there are now more than 20 countries involved and supported by the international community.

Why is the Great Green Wall Important?

Land degradation is a crisis of mammoth proportions. 65% of African land is currently degraded, jeopardizing the livelihoods of nearly two-thirds of the Continent’s population. When you consider that 80% of Africa’s economy depends on a climate-sensitive natural resource base like rain-fed, subsistence agriculture – then you start to understand the implications of land degradation on the workforce here.

 Millions of people – particularly rural youth – are currently facing an uncertain future due to the lack of decent rural jobs and continuous loss of livelihoods due to land degradation and falling yields.

If we don’t act, frustrations will boil over with more migration and more conflict over a shriveling resource base.

This is the backdrop of what land degradation tangibly means in the Sahel. Ignoring the plight of jobless young people in sub-Saharan Africa is a recipe for political instability and global insecurity. The Great Green Wall is one piece in the puzzle in providing genuine alternatives for people increasingly seeking a way out’ of abject hopelessness and desperate poverty.

In Africa, 200 million of the 375 million young people entering the job market over the next 15 years will be living in rural areas. Such a fast-growing young population makes rural employment crucial for easing rural-urban migration.

Why should the world care about the Great Green Wall?

We live in a globalized world, where the degradation of land in the Sahel has implications not just on people living there, but for humanity as a whole. Just look at the European migration crisis. People sometimes fail to notice that the vast majority of migrants originate from dryland

areas – from Senegal, Gambia, Nigeria, etc, this is not to say that climate change or natural resource degradation is the only push factors.

 Considering the fact that 80% of jobs in the Sahel are in agriculture – when land does not produce any longer for the people who depend on land for survival, people have to look for alternatives.

The UK Ministry of Defence predicts that 60 million people will migrate from degraded parts of Africa to Europe by 2045 unless action is taken. The alternative is often even worse. Competition and conflict over the productive resources that remain are growing. Lake Chad, one of the region’s lifelines, has lost 90% of its surface area in less than a generation due to desertification and climate related processes.

It is no coincidence that the terrorist group, Boko Haram, is especially active in the area around the shrinking lake. For African youth in particular the potential for radicalization or conflict is not an abstract or distant threat. It is a daily reality. Ignoring the plight of jobless young people in sub-Saharan Africa is a recipe for political instability and global Insecurity.

The Great Green Wall is one piece in the puzzle in providing genuine alternatives for people increasingly seeking a way out’ of abject hopelessness and desperate poverty. In a speech about the Great Green Wall in March 2018, the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins put it very well when he said: “We are one global family: we must recognize that the problems faced by a farmer in Niger are our problems; that the struggles of women in Mali to live decently are our struggles; that the hunger of a child in Sudan is our hunger.”

By Sanjida Jannat

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