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!