The Great Green Wall is helping African countries to mitigate climate change

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Stronger partnerships, sound national policies, more funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation, research, community involvement and sensitization are key to realizing the goals of the Great Green Wall initiative in Africa.

The initiative, a pan-African proposal to “green” the continent from West to East intends to fight desertification. The project, which began five years ago, aims to tackle poverty and degradation of soils in the Sahel-Saharan region, on the 8,000-kilometre-long strip of land stretching from Dakar to Djibouti.  

Speakers at COP21during the debate on the initiative noted that urgent measures must be put in place to reverse desertification and save human life as those living in the Saharan-Sahelian region are among the poorest and most vulnerable to climatic variability and land degradation.

“The livelihoods of 100 million people are in danger. We are aware that due to heat and drought, 40 million Africans from this region migrate to North Africa and later to Europe. Some die during the long journeys. We should solve this problem,” said African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina.

Adesina singled out agriculture as a key component of changing the livelihoods of millions in the region together with other initiatives.

“There is a correlation between the effects of climate change – like the shrinking of Lake Chad, which was 25,000 square kilometres in 1967 but is now less than 2,500 – and the loss of livelihoods, radicalization, terrorism, forced migration, insecurity, poverty and deaths,” Adesina said.

He announced that AfDB has released US $12 billion and will mobilise an additional US $50 billion to provide clean energy in Africa including in the Sahara-Sahel region.

“We are providing an additional $4 billion and leveraging an extra $40 billion to provide water in the affected areas. The problem has forced girls to drop out of school to look for water. If we don’t provide alternatives to the problems, people will still cut down the trees we are planting. This is because 75 per cent of deforestation is due to charcoal burning,” Adesina said.

Ministers for Environment and Agriculture from Africa attended the function and emphasized the need for political goodwill, good governance and transparency to ensure the Great Green Wall project succeeds.

Kenya’s Environment Minister Judi Wakhungu concurred with her colleagues, calling on individual member countries to do their part so that the project does not fail.

The Ministers revealed that their countries have embarked on projects to plant millions of trees in addition to implementing other related projects to avert the crisis.

“In Kenya, we are using the water from the El Niño rains we are getting now to plant trees not only in drylands, but across the nation to realize the 10 per cent UN ceiling for forest cover and to secure our future,” Wakhungu said.

Amedi Camara, Mauritania’s Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development, noted that youth and women, who are hardest hit by degraded lands, are migrating to cities where they wind up doing menial jobs and living in slums.

“We need rapid innovation and adaptation skills to reverse the effects of forced migration, malnutrition due to competition for resources,” he said.

François Lompo, Minister of Agriculture, Water Resources, Sanitation and Food Security in Burkina Faso, said the Great Green Wall project has helped end social unrest in his country.

Mustafa Ali Alifei, Chad’s Minister of Environment and Fishing, said the Sahara-Sahel deserts hosts 50 per cent of the country’s population, but the project has given hope to a majority of them who had previously lost hope for a better future.

Laura Tuck, Vice-President of Sustainable Development at the World Bank, said that 300 million people in East and West Africa live in drylands. The World Bank, she said, will continue financing the initiative.

“The project is doing wonders. Most land is being rehabilitated and used for farming. We have already bumped $4.4 billion into the project and pledge more $1.9 billion. This successful project is the best African and global answer to climate change and we will replicate it worldwide,” she said.

Representatives from the European Union (EU), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Global Environment Fund (GEF) all pledged more funding for the project and called for innovation, knowledge-sharing to make the project succeed and increase resilience to climate change.

The project has adopted the rural development approach where community members are sensitized to plant trees, manage them and practice agriculture on rehabilitated lands to secure their livelihoods.

The residents of the region rely heavily on healthy ecosystems for rain-fed agriculture, fisheries and livestock management to sustain their livelihoods.

The economic activities which employ 90 per cent of the locals constitute the primary sectors of employment in the region and generate at least 40 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in most of the countries.

Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan are members of the Great Green Wall initiative, whose integrated ecosystem management approach was adopted by the African Union Commission (AUC) in 2007. Ghana has applied to join.