The Great Green Wall – By Hiwot Shiferaw

By Hiwot Shiferaw.

The Great Green Wall: Long-term solutions to the pressing challenges of desertification, land degradation and drought

“China built its famous Great Wall to keep out marauders. Now, millennia later, a “Great Green Wall” may rise in Africa to deter another, equally relentless invader: sand.” National Geographic News. The Great Green Wall is a project adapted by the African Union in 2007. The partner and stakeholder countries on this project are Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and South and North Sudan South.

Great Green Wall

The objective is simple, to tackle desertification and land degradation south of the Sahara desert and create an ecological buffer zone.

So what is desertification? Desertification is not the loss of land to desert. It is “the development of desert-like conditions in regions resulting form factors such as human pressure on fragile eco-system, poor agricultural methods, deforestation and climate change.” Desertification and land degradation have a strong impact on the livelihood and food and water security of the local community. Right now the United Nations Conversion to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the only legally binding agreement that links environmental and developmental issues to the land agenda.

In 2007, the governments and head of state of these countries created Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative to oversee the completion of this project. The initiative purposes to support local “communities in the sustainable management and use of forests, rangelands and other natural resources in dry lands”, which will teach the appropriate use of land to the locals. This wall of trees is proposed to be 15 kilometer wide and 7,775 kilometer of land, covering the 11 countries from Senegal to Djibouti. In 2011, AU launched the first phase of the project with a budget $2.29 and so far 525 kilometer (in Senegal) of this project has been completed.

Moreover, the countries involved have agreed to finance this project themselves and have actively been promoting this widely. On September 24, 2009, former Chad president Abdoulaye Wade called for the UN Support when he addressed the UN General Assembling stating that this project will contribute “to the protection of the environment” and “help in the battle against climate change and would mobilize thousands of people”. The advisor of Senegalese Environment Minster stated that “one thing the president had insisted is … we have to begin the work now, right now”. Although, the success of this project is mostly only visible in Senegal, this project sheds light on the greater issue of desertification in Africa. Furthermore, this February the National Summit of World Food program has approved the project and will be investing $3 billion, which (hopefully) should give it enough momentum to start up the program and keep it going in other counties.

Will It Work? Will this project save our lands? For now the answer is only time can tell.

This project is a credit to Thomas Sankara, Burkina Faso’s president (1983-1987) who implemented programs to fight desertification in his country, Wangari Maathal, as we call her The Tree Mother of Africa, who made it her life goal to plant trees and remediate out natural environment, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo who first proposed the idea of a desert-blocking wall in 2005 and many more leaders that left their legacy in this environmental sustainability movement.

Hiwot grew up surrounded by the sound of censers, smell of incense, street markets, tea, smell of freshly roasted coffee, community gatherings and celebrations, where braids told history and outfits echo African self expression, prayer calls from mosques and churches, more languages spoken than one can understand, and soccer games on every street corner, Addis Abeba. Hiwot believes in an economic growth that support this life style, a truly African economy, that is sustainable and nurturing of the peoples culture, traditions, and the environment. Hiwot tweets from @hiwotsh and can be reached via e-mail at

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