Can we really grow a ‘wall of trees’ across the Sahel to break the creeping malice of desertification?
From the moment I first read about this initiative about 18 months ago I was intrigued by the concept and astounded at the sheer scale of it. I have to admit that at first I thought it might just be a great big hoax, but no it is real.
The project started in 2008 in northern Senegal and it has a long, long way to go as the vision is for a 15-kilometre-wide swathe of mainly drought-resistant acacia trees to wander across 7 750 kilometres of sere African landscape from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east. The manmade forest will do more than stop the sands – it has already brought thousands of jobs to some of the poorest regions of the continent and has transformed marginal lands into gardens and tree nurseries. You can read about the full extent of the vision here.
In December 2013 an international forum to forge new partnerships was held in Rome. This followed on from an earlier commitment from the World Bank, which signed a US$4.6-million grant agreement to establish a regional innovation hub to support the Great Green Wall.
It is a hugely visionary project that could help the battle against climate change, but the challenges are just as huge. One will be to maintain momentum across some of Africa’s least politically stable countries; another will be to overcome the sort of short-termism that could see desperate communities hacking the trees as fast as they are planted for much-needed fuel. But it is a grand dream that I hope will come to fruition as one of the greatest triumphs of modern-day Africa.