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Africa: The World’s Biggest Ecosystem Restoration Project

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

Cat Cunningham reveals more about 'The Great Green Wall' - a collaboration between 21 African nations to boost forests across the continent.

Photo by Aiokr Chen

The Great Green Wall is an African-led initiative which aims to create a 4,750 mile network of forests and woodlands across the entire width of Africa in a dry region known as the Sahel. Initially launched by 11 counties in 2007, there are now 21 countries committed to building and maintaining the wall. 

Upon its completion, the Wall will stretch from Senegal to Djibouti and will tackle many of the challenges faced not only by the African continent, but the entire global community. It is hoped that the initiative will be a partial solution to climate change, drought, famine, conflict and migration issues. 

An Uncertain Future

The Sahel is on the front line of climate change, and millions of locals face an uncertain future as their livelihoods are threatened. The region has faced recurrent periods of drought since the 1970s, resulting in the disappearance of livestock and the destruction of crops. A Great famine in the 1980s affected millions of citizens,and ever since, the pressure to access food and natural resources has been intensified by high population growth and the subsequent demand for food. 

The statistics illustrate the alarming nature of the difficulties the Sahel faces. In 2017, 20 million people living in the Horn of Africa were declared to be on the verge of starvation due to food crises and drought. 46% of African land is degraded, jeopardising the livelihoods of two-thirds of the continent’s population.Added to the lack of resources and pressure on food supplies is the rapid growth of the population which is expected to increase from 100 million to 340 million by 2050.

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How Will the Wall Help?

The Wall of trees will act as a barrier to prevent further spread of the Sahara Desert which has been progressing southwards for millennia, encroaching on and disrupting the livelihoods of locals. By 2030, it is anticipated that the Wall will have reclaimed 247 million acres of land from being overtaken by sand which can then be used for livestock and agriculture, making the land more economically productive.

The new trees will capture 250 metric million tons of carbon every year, the equivalent of keeping all of California’s car’s parked for three and a half years. The increase in trees will also allow for more rainfall to be diverted back into the land, making it available to communities and ecosystems.

As well as restoring the land, the Wall supports 15 out of 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals set out by world leaders in 2015. These goals should be met by 2030 and are intended to inspire positive change such as improving health and wellbeing, fighting poverty and hunger, creating jobs, fighting inequality and preventing climate change.

What’s Next?

Although the project won’t be complete until 2030, progress is already starting to be made. In Senegal, 12 million drought-proof trees have been planted over the course of a decade. Over 5 million hectares of degraded land have been restored in Nigeria, and in Niger, 5 million hectares of land have been restored, delivering an additional 500,000 tonnes of grain which is enough to feed 2.5 million people. 

Once complete, the Wall will be considered a natural wonder of the world, measuring three times the size of the Great Barrier Reef. This will make it the largest living structure in the world.

Despite the successes to date, so far only 15% of the proposed area has been restored. A lack of funding has caused delays as other emergencies take precedence and poorer nations struggle to afford their contribution.

Despite these delays, the Wall is a global symbol for humanity overcoming the rapidly degrading environment. If 21 African nations can work together with nature, even in a challenging environment such as the Sahel, then globally we can overcome adversity and build a better world for generations to come. 


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