Something Positive: The Great Green Wall of Africa

It’s been a very long year so far. Between disease, financial crunch and political upheaval, it seems like the world is just plain confusing, if not actively out to get us.

In times like these, it’s important to occasionally take time out for something majorly positive.

Today’s installment of Something Positive features climate change. I know that sounds weird, but bear with me.

Women in underdeveloped countries often suffer the most from the personal and economic effects of climate change. So it was with no small relish that I learned how successful (and cheap!) the Great Green Wall of Africa has been so far.

A decade in and roughly 15% underway, the initiative is already bringing life back to Africa's degraded landscapes at an unprecedented scale, providing food security, jobs and a reason to stay for the millions who live along its path,” says “The Wall promises to be a compelling solution to the many urgent threats not only facing the African Continent, but the global community as a whole – notably climate change, drought, famine, conflict and migration.

The cradle of humanity, Africa has struggled with desertification for millennia. But the Sahara has grown 10% in just the last 100 years. This acceleration driven by climate change threatens African communities and the entire world.

Soil contains ten times as much carbon dioxide as all plant and animal life, and even the fossil fuel industry. Desertification leeches this Co2 into the atmosphere and could be devastating to world climate if the 40% of dry landmass we have now is not looked after.

This mammoth project was spearheaded by President of Senegal Abdoulaye Wade. His original concept was simple, but the practical undertaking turned out to be difficult. According to Smithsonian Magazine in 2016, “Planting trees across the Sahel, the arid savanna on the south border of the Sahara Desert, had no chance to succeed. There was little funding. There was no science suggesting it would work. Moreover, the desert was not actually moving south; instead, overuse was denuding the land. Large chunks of the proposed “wall” were uninhabited, meaning no one would be there to care for the saplings.

Scientists were moved by the idea, however, and stepped in to help the project along. Dennis Garrity, a senior research fellow at the World Agroforestry Centre who had once called the project “a stupid way of restoring land,” and other scientists knew that farmers had already begun using better irrigation techniques, and nurturing any resulting trees.

Green Wall Dot Org Africa Map

A representation of the Great Green Wall

Smithsonian continues, ““We moved the vision of the Great Green Wall from one that was impractical to one that was practical,” says Mohamed Bakarr, the lead environmental specialist for Global Environment Facility, the organization that examines the environmental benefit of World Bank projects.” And the whole thing is projected to only cost $8 billion, dirt-cheap on the global scale.

What swelled my heart and brought a tear to my eye is so many people working together. The Wall is almost 5,000 miles long, reaching across 11 countries. It is a massive undertaking, requiring human cooperation and stubbornness to work in harmony. The fact that so many people, in such a disadvantaged part of the world, have come together to form the Panafrican Agency of the Great Green Wall is one of the most hopeful things I have learned about in a long time.

And maybe I’m late to the party, but I’m happy to learn it’s a decade strong. I live very far from central Africa, but I’m ecstatic to hear of their success. Despite centuries of pilfering and abuse, Africa continues to be a beacon of humanity.


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