Land Degradation : Planting Trees, Reclaiming Land & Learning Lessons
The answer to land degradation for 11 countries in the Sahel, the semi-arid region of north-west Africa, is straightforward, but by no means easy. The goal is to plant a green belt of trees 8,000km long and 15km wide from Senegal to Djibouti, bring life back to the soil and create a better future for those living off the land. Known as the Great Green Wall, this ambitious initiative has been receiving increased attention worldwide since it began in 2001, and is proving to be an important learning curve for the African Union and its environmental projects.
Despite success at a localised level, limited political influence, coordination and funding have inhibited the project’s overall success. This project has become a learning opportunity for the people of the region. With international involvement, local communities have been marginalized from important decision-making at a challenging time when they have to adapt their traditional agricultural lifestyles to tree monocultures. Without the inclusion and contribution of affected communities, assessing the successes and limitations of the project is difficult and does little in the way of empowering the people at the grassroots level. For the project to be successful, the link between participating government bodies, local communities, scientists and funders needs to be strengthened. Although Senegal has made significant advances, other participating nations have struggled to fulfil the aims of the project. Additionally, planting trees in uninhabited areas of the region has proved a difficult geographical barrier to surmount.
Furthermore, increased interest in the project at a research level means there is a better understanding of how to overcome barriers to adaptation and to rethink the type of plants used in developing the wall. A study on the effectiveness of the wall argues that the Acacia species currently being planted are slow growing and commonly cut down for cooking fuel, undermining the long-term sustainability of the project. As early colonizers, shrubs reach maturity at faster rates, thereby proving more effective in keeping pace with climate change projections. This would help address the slow moving pace of the project, one of its major criticisms. Furthermore, shrubs are more resilient in areas of lower precipitation than woody tree species, ideal for the Sahel. As a knock-on effect, the faster growth rates would result in greater support from local communities, particularly if the chosen shrub species are fruit bearing and have the potential for honey production, providing a secondary means of income and the overall economic momentum to keep the project going long-term.
It is clear that while there is room for improvement, the project has become a trailblazer, elevating environmentally conscious land management techniques on the agendas of negatively affected nations in the Sahel and paving the way for future projects across the African continent. The lessons being learned from the Great Green Wall mean there is potential for similar projects to be spear-headed in Southern and Eastern Africa and has set an example for these regions to prioritise environmental solutions to land degradation. Although only one of many possible solutions, the Great Green Wall is a symbol of hope of a better life for people living in the most vulnerable climatic regions of the world. For me, personally, it’s a symbol of hope for the struggling Zimbabwean farmer I met over a year ago. With the right governmental wherewithal, scientific research and community inclusion, people like him, no matter where in the world, can find protection in the simple act of planting a tree, a shrub or a flower.
For this year’s Women’s Day in South Africa, we want to introduce a woman in sustainability who inspires us daily. After earning a Master’s degree in Development Studies, she joined Greenpop in 2014. When she is not heading up programmes across Sub-Saharan Africa, you can find her spending time with her family, tending to her garden, practising Italian, and searching for the best pizza in the Mother City. Get to know Zoë Gauld-Angelucci!
World Environment Day is organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and has been held annually since 1974. The goal of the day of action is to promote environmental awareness and draw attention to crucial concerns around our planet’s survival, that require active engagement and commitment. Today, the day represents one of the largest global platforms for environmental action, with millions of participants from around the world. Each World Environment Day focuses on a specific issue that reflects urgent problems and challenges of our time, such as climate change, biodiversity loss or pollution.
Composting is surprisingly easy with these 4 steps – you can even do it at home, and don’t need a lot of space.
Greenpop Foundation NPC is a registered non-profit organisation. Registration Number (NPO): 151-411 NPO.