africa satellite

Africa's Great Green Wall

An ambitious project, aimed at giving new life to a vast territory and guaranteeing a better future for its inhabitants.

by Maria Pia Rossignaud
28 June 2021
6 min read
by Maria Pia Rossignaud
28 June 2021
6 min read

Africa has one dream: to complete the Great Green Wall by 2030 – ten years to halt desertification and prove that the UN’s 17 sustainable goals can be achieved. This is the challenge that Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti have taken on. The aim is to restore 100 million hectares of arable land, capture 250 million tonnes of carbon and create 10 million green jobs.

Great benefits

Thanks to the increase of arable land, one of the most precious natural assets for humanity, the communities living along the wall will be able to access new means of subsistence. In turn, this will translate into new economic opportunities for the world’s youngest population and the acquisition of tangible tools necessary to tackle the problem of hunger, which in Africa still afflicts millions of people. However, the Great Green Wall also has another purpose: slow down global warming, and do so precisely in a region where temperatures are rising faster than anywhere else on the planet. This “new wonder of the world”, as the Green Wall is also called, stretches 8,000 km across Africa, from Senegal to Djibouti. According to what Inna Modja (UNCCD Land Ambassador) reported in a video broadcast on the UN YouTube channel, Big Data represents a strategic resource for the initiative, as it allows to make connections and take decisions based on the analysis of accurate information. “Governments are the protagonists in this process of change”, tells Inna Modja, “as they are the main stakeholders: their involvement makes it possible for this wonder of the world to grow.”

Putting the environment at the heart of the economy

At the last One Planet Summit for Biodiversity, held in Paris on 11 January, about 14,326 billion dollars were earmarked to accelerate efforts to restore degraded land, save biological diversity, create green jobs and build resilience in the Sahelian people. This additional amount of funding aims to speed up the efforts to achieve the sustainability goals set for 2030, and includes the restoration of 100 million hectares of degraded land, as well as the concomitant creation of 10 million jobs. As stated by António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, “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.” 

The history of this ambitious project takes us back to 1952, when biologist Richard St. Barbe Baker mentioned, for the first time, the need to build a green barrier that would prevent the expansion of the Sahara Desert. In 2007, the idea became reality, in the shape of a flagship programme led by the great continent that illustrates how natural resources can be harnessed to provide political solutions to multiple, complex environmental threats. An increasing number of African countries are drawing inspiration from the initiative, including those not directly included in the project. Mediterranean scrublands in the northern part of the continent, which overlooks the Mediterranean Sea, are disappearing because the desertification advancing from the south is a real threat, has reiterated several times António Guterres, UN Secretary-General: “If we compare Earth’s history to a calendar year, we have used one third of its natural resources in the last 0.2 seconds.”

The Mediterranean too needs the Great Green Wall

It is now a well-known fact that temperatures are reaching record levels: indeed, the year 2020 ended the warmest decade in history. According to the analyses by the World Meteorological Organization, the six years that followed the Paris agreement have been the warmest ever recorded in our part of the world. The gravity of this situation has also been emphasised by ambassador Sergio Piazzi, PAM (Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean) Secretary-General, at the Climate and Environmental Change conference organised by the Club Atlantico Naples on 27 April, when he declared, “Today, the subject of climate change is at the heart of political agendas around the world. A green recovery is particularly urgent and imperative for the Euro-Mediterranean and Gulf region, identified by scientists as one of the world’s most vulnerable climate hotspots.” In these region, prolonged periods of droughts lead to a decrease in the availability of fresh water, with all the consequences this entails. “The figures say it all: the 1.5 °C threshold identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been breached long ago,” continued Piazzi, “with temperatures rising 20% faster than the global average, by the end of the century the Mediterranean could become 5 °C warmer than in pre-industrial times.” This is why we need the Great Green Wall and all its related interventions: such as rural development, which aims to transform the life of people in the deserts of the Sahel and the Sahara and create a mosaic of green and productive landscapes. To date, thanks to this project, almost 18 million hectares of degraded land have been restored, and 350,000 jobs established.

The author: Maria Pia Rossignaud

Journalist and expert on digital media writing,  she is one of the twenty-five digital experts of the European Commission Representation in Italy, director of the first Italian digital culture magazine "Media Duemila" and Vice President of the TuttiMedia Observatory.