Revitalisation of the Sahara

Written by: Lim Junheng, Jovan (20-O5)

Designed by:  Jervis Ch’ng Yun Ping (21-U5)


Picture this: a rise in global temperatures, shrinking ice sheets, droughts that shrivel up all flora, and floods that sink the lands we treasure. Such is the unending phenomenon of climate change — one that has constantly chipped away at the elegance of our environment. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns, “Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal”, declaring the irrefutable proof for rapid climate change. In light of the emphatic proof that spells doom for the future of our environment and humanity, it is vital to take immediate action to mitigate this phenomenon, in an effort to hold back the inevitable. 

Introducing: The Great Green Wall 

By 2030, as estimated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Africa will lose two-thirds of its arable land if the march of desertification is not stopped. With the onset of desertification already proving to be a major threat to sustainable development, one endeavour to combat this is the Great Green Wall. Africa’s flagship initiative started in 2007, the Great Green Wall aims to “grow an 8,000 km natural wonder of the world across the entire width of Africa”, stretching from Senegal in the West, to Djibouti in the East. In fact, it aspires to provide food and job security, as well as be a solution to the greatest threats facing Africa, like climate change, drought, famine, conflict and migration.

The Great Green Wall aims to restore 100 million hectares of currently degraded land as a result of desertification, sequester 250 million tonnes of carbon, and create 10 million jobs in rural areas. As a matter of fact, it is in line with 15 of the 17 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals, which were adopted by world leaders to end poverty, promote prosperity and well-being of all, all while tackling climate change.

Benefits of the Great Green Wall

The Great Green Wall is a hopeful step toward a more sustainable future. Firstly, it is targeted to tackle the devastating food crisis. In the semi-arid Sahel region just under the Sahara, 18 million people have been facing the risk of food insecurity. This can be seen through poor vegetation growth, higher food prices, poor crop yields, and regional violence — a worrying sight. For example, in Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa, there has been a 32,000-ton rice shortage along with destroyed farmland and reduced rainfall due to the encroaching Sahara. With the Wall, farmers will be provided with a more stable source of food, rather than one that has been constantly destroyed due to the unpredictable weather patterns. A case in point is Senegal, where Acacia nilotica are being planted in vast numbers, producing fruit for animal feed and components of certain medicines, as well as combating malnutrition in the country. 

Other than providing a source of subsistence, the Great Green Wall also facilitates land-restoration efforts, as part of its major goals. In Senegal, more than 12 million drought-resistant trees have been planted. More than 15 million hectares of land have been restored in Ethiopia, 5 million hectares in Nigeria, and another 5 million in Niger. In Burkina Faso, local communities have used traditional practices to restore 3 million hectares of land. 

Despite the varying economic and political conditions of the countries in the region, the united effort of these countries in making the project a success is extremely commendable. This ties in nicely with another one of the major goals of the Great Green Wall, that is to bring the continent together in this cooperative effort to prevent the continual attrition of our land. As seen here, unity is a crucial objective that can bring stronger progress through mutual partnerships in the future.

A Closer Look at the Great Green Wall

The Great Green Wall claims to be “one of the most inspirational and urgent movements of our times”, with an aim to “transform the lives of millions living on the frontline of climate change”. However, does it truly live up to its noble purpose? 

Some are sceptical of the success of the project, as some issues have been brought up regarding its viability. The African region which faces desertification is extremely diverse, with varying ecosystems and communities. Even with the commendable achievements of the Great Green Wall in regions in Senegal, for instance, it is not certain that this can be an effective model for the entire targeted region. Some even believe that a better model is to be sought, and they look to Niger’s success story. In the 1980s, farmers in Niger began to allow the natural vegetation to grow, and planted food crops around it. This provided a surplus of food and 12 million acres of trees, an area the size of Costa Rica. Areas once deprived of greenery were replaced by medium to high densities of tree cover in southern regions of Niger. With such a possibility to be explored, this calls for a re-analysis of the feasibility of the Great Green Wall.

Furthermore, while areas in Senegal have seen the most progress, the differing geographical climates and a lack of political commitment have led to vastly different results from country to country. For example, the front runner, Ethiopia, reportedly planted 5.5 billion seedlings, which completely dwarfs the 16.6 million seedlings planted in Burkina Faso or the 1.1 million in Chad. This disparity in achievement is telling of the limitations of organisational support, be it on the national or on the regional level.

Another problem is the lack of a proper monitoring and evaluation system for the project. Similar to the point mentioned above, the differing systems in the various countries have led to improper monitoring of the Great Green Wall as a whole. There is an inherent ambiguity about the use of the funds allocated, leading to an air of uncertainty towards the success of the project. Therefore, as the Great Green Wall has overlooked the actual monitoring of the results, it signifies a significant hindrance to its pursuit of a more sustainable future.

Scaling the Wall

Progress is slow across the region. One decade in, and the project is merely 4% underway, while being halfway towards its 2030 completion date. Yet, many countries are still looking forward to the day this project comes to fruition, so that we are a step closer to solving the greatest challenge the continent is facing. 

With such massively ambitious goals, the Great Green Wall clearly deserves the attention of the international community. Climate change has been plaguing the planet for decades, yet something with such actionable consequences has only been spotlighted in recent years. While we cannot deny that small adjustments in our daily habits will amount to remarkable change, it is imperative that we find better solutions that are effective on a wider scale. Before we continue in our path of ignorance and disregard, take a moment to think. Is this truly the kind of future we want for posterity, for them to live in the ruins of our neglect every passing day?

Considering that all we can do is to prevent what has already been done, we must band together and face our biggest adversary in this race against time. Ultimately, while the Great Green Wall is indeed a magnificent and promising project put into our care, we cannot merely hold the triumph of this venture. Most significantly, what we require instead is a concerted effort, lest its potential be wasted. 

Hence, one possible solution that was recently unveiled at the One Planet Summit 2021 was the Great Green Wall Accelerator, aiming to better track financial commitments and implementation progress, as well as providing technical advice and supporting resource mobilisation. All these efforts have been put in place in order to ensure a smoother gateway to success as key obstacles are managed. 

And while the current efforts have just gained traction, the extensiveness of climate change has only necessitated quicker and finer solutions. It is time for us to take a step back, review our efforts, and work hard on what can be improved. After all, we must persist, for vigilance is what keeps us fighting for a better tomorrow.


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