Cool things

The Great Green Wall

The Great Green Wall is a long term project in Africa that involves planting a huge ‘wall’ or trees along the Southern edge of the Sahara desert. The picture below is a bit blurry in terms of the key, but you can clearly see the sandy colour representing the desert region and the emerald green line symbolizing the proposed wall.

The wall of trees would be 4,300 miles long and 9 miles thick, so it would essentially be a long thin forest. Encouragingly, Senegal is really keen on the project and has already planted 50,000 trees (The Guardian, 2012). However the Great Green Wall would need to touch 11 countries so co-operation on a massive scale is necessary here, which can pose a challenge when tensions are high due to a lack of resources.

What’s really cool though is the African governments and the local groups involved are really psyched for this to be a multi-faceted project. Not only will the trees hold the top soil in place with their roots, mulch it with their leaves and physically block encroaching sand, they’ll have other productive benefits as well. Native trees of different species are going to be used, with many of them producing food and medicines that the people of the Sehal region can benefit from. As the trees mature into a resilient forest ecosystem, animals and other plants will be supported and the biodiversity of the region will be increased. The trees will also, when they’re mature, help to recharge the water table and stabilize weird weather patterns. Due to all of this, it’s being talked about as a huge poverty-alleviating developmental scheme as well as a tactic for holding back desertification.

Just for clarification, the Great Green Wall is planned for the border between the Sahara desert in the North of Africa and the Sehal region below it. The Sehal is the huge savannah and semi-arid shrubland that spans many countries and is above the tropical region in the South of Africa, which is over the Equator. I’m only saying this because I wasn’t too clear on the geography before I researched it for a new essay.

There are people from many different tribes and nations living in the Sehal region, and the population has been on the rise in recent years. The fertile land in this area is rapidly turning into desert, sometimes due to overgrazing and sometimes due to drought. This is understandably escalating poverty, hunger, the further degrading of land and conflicts over land and resources.

The Great Green Wall is an ambitious but well thought-out strategy for dealing with many different issues at once. This is the kind of systems thinking we need! The main challenge is the great deal of international co-operation that is needed. I first heard about it at least a year ago and it seems to be getting under way now, but as trees take ages to grow and people take ages to sort things out, this will be a very long term achievement. The World Bank have allegedly put 1.8 billion dollars towards this so it seems on the way to success. I just hope all the nations involved can see how brilliant it is!

Go trees!


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8 thoughts on “The Great Green Wall

  1. This is great news thank you for sharing this. I have a sister who upon buying a home had every tree cut down on her property simply because she doesn’t like fallen leaves on her lawn. Crazy. Now she complains because she needs air conditioning because the house is too hot. More countries need to do this, as I understand it the desert is only 100 miles from the capital of China, displacing so many people who are now separated from their families and not able to have the foods they used to eat. Planting a green wall might help them to stave off the spread of their deserts as well.

    • Oh my gosh, no offense but I agree its crazy of your sister to do that! Trees are amazing and if more people understood all the ecosystem services they effortlessly carry out for us, we’d all be a lot better off. And sure, I think this sort of project could be implemented in other places too. I’ll be keeping me eye on this and keeping my fingers cross for success!

      • No offense taken, I told her what I thought of her cutting down her mature trees. She had the most gorgeous maple out front that had to have been close to 150 years old. Gone within weeks of moving in. To make matters worse she lives in the city, it may not be large like New York but there is still much more air pollution in the city than where I live, so cutting down all the trees was a dumb move.

        I’m keeping my fingers crossed as well on the Green Wall. So many places can learn from this example.


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