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The Great Green Wall - The Next World Wonder

Millions acres of land restored and things are only just getting started. It could be our planet's greatest ever lesson in grassroots-led, ecological development, from people for people.The GGW aims to restore Africa’s degraded landscapes and transform millions of lives in one of the world’s poorest regions.

Ten million hectares a year in need of restoration along the Great Green Wall (United Nations)

A groundbreaking map of restoration opportunities along Africa's Great Green Wall has been launched at a UN climate change conference, based on collection and analysis of crucial land-use information to boost action in Africa's drylands to increase the resilience of people and landscapes to climate change.

"The Great Green Wall initiative is Africa's flagship programme to combat the effects of climate change and desertification," said Eduardo Mansur, Director of FAO's Land and Water Division, while presenting the new map at the COP22 in Marrakech. 

"Early results of the initiative's actions show that degraded lands can be restored, but these achievements pale in comparison with what is needed," he added during a high-level event at the African Union Pavilion entitled: "Resilient Landscapes in Africa's Drylands: Seizing Opportunities and Deepening Commitments".

Mansur hailed the new assessment tool used to produce the map as a vital instrument providing critical information to understand the true dimension of restoration needs in the vast expanses of drylands across North Africa, Sahel and the Horn.

Drawing on data collected on trees, forests and land use in the context of the Global Drylands Assessment  conducted by FAO and partners in 2015-2016, it is estimated that 166 million hectares of the Great Green Wall area offer opportunities for restoration projects. See "Trees, forests and land use in drylands: The first global assessment"

The Great Green Wall's core area crosses arid and semi-arid zones on the North and south sides of the Sahara. Its core area covers 780 million hectares and it is home to 232 million people. To halt and reverse land degradation, around 10 million hectares will need to be restored each year, according to the assessment. This will be major a contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The data were obtained by analysing 63 000 half-hectare sample plots spread across the drylands of North Africa, Sahel and the Horn with FAO's Open Foris Collect Earth tool and very-high-resolution satellite images provided by Google Earth Engine and Bing Maps.

The data collection is a collaborative effort of the African Union, the CILSS/AGRHYMET Regional Centre, the Directorate General of Forests (Tunisia), Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia), FAO, Google and the World Resources Institute.

A great green mosaic

Experts say a variety of restoration approaches will be required to bring the Great Green Wall initiative to an effective scale and create a great mosaic of green and productive landscapes across North Africa, Sahel and the Horn.

  • These include natural regeneration allowing farmers to protect and manage the natural regeneration of forests, croplands and grasslands.
  • Where degradation is more severe, large-scale land preparation and enrichment planting is needed, mobilizing high-quality seeds and planting materials and involving communities in the selection of the native species to be used.
  • Even closer to the desert, sand encroachment can be fought by establishing and protecting the most adapted native woody and grassy vegetation and implementing sustainable management of oases systems.
  • Developing comprehensive value chains that benefit local communities and countries has the potential of transforming the lives of millions of people in Africa's drylands, making the Great Green Wall initiative a game-changer for the continent. 

The drylands map was made possible with the support of Action Against Desertification, an initiative of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) in support of the Great Green Wall programme , national UNCCD action plans and south-south cooperation to promote sustainable land management and restore drylands and degraded lands in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, implemented by FAO and partners with funding from the European Union in the framework of the 10th European Development Fund (EDF). East African countries among 10 Africa states aiming to restore 100m hectares by 2030, among the results :

  • Senegal: Creation of 9 multipurpose gardens and 85percent of people employed in these gardens are women and youth from pastoralist communities. Provision of alternative pasture and fodder gardens for pastoralists during lean / dry season to control transhumance which causes conflicts. Impact includes increase in number of school-going children, reduction in transhumance, improvement in health and nutrition, development of non-farming income.
  • Nigeria: 11 states out of 36 involved 638.96 km shelterbelt established, 309 ha community orchard plantations established; 292.7 ha community woodlot established; 22 ha community vegetable gardening to enhance food security; 157 solar powered boreholes constructed and benefitting over 40,000 people and 150,000 livestock through the provision of water. ( see more from the image below or check out the Great Green Wall page  )

From the initial idea of a line of trees that crosses African deserts from east to west, the vision for a Great Green Wall has evolved into that of a mosaic of interventions that address challenges faced by the people of the Sahel and Sahara. The goal of the Great Green Wall initiative is to strengthen the resilience of the region’s natural systems through sound ecosystem management, sustainable development of land resources, protection of rural heritage and improvement of living conditions for local populations.

The first step was taken with the development of a harmonized strategy under a €1.75 million African Union project launched in September 2011.

The strategy has set the following main objectives:

  • Improve living conditions for people in the arid zones of Africa and reduce their vulnerability to climate change, climate variability and drought.
  • Improve the state and health of ecosystems in the arid zones of Africa and their resilience to climate change, climate variability and drought.
  • Mobilize resources for the implementation of the Great Green Wall Initiative through the establishment of efficient partnerships between national and international stakeholders. Supported by the European Union (EU), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO ) and the Global Mechanism (GM-UNCCD), the African Union Commission works with thirteen countries and various partners to develop national action plans and project portfolios at country and trans-boundary levels, connecting multiple stakeholders.

The partner countries are: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan. The Great Green Wall (GGW) Initiative comprises 21 African countries and is implemented under the coordination of the African Union.

The GGW Initiative once completed will become on one of the greatest environmental achievements of the 21st Century. According to the UNCCD, more than USD 8 billion has been mobilized and pledged since the beginning of the initiative. But as new funding and commitments come in, it is becoming harder to find detailed and centralized information about donors, pledges and projects.

Key results: 500 000 people reached; 50 000 hectares of land under restoration;  4.3 million seedlings produced;  90 000 kg of seeds produced (FAO)

Further reading: ( compilation prepared by UNCCD Library)