The Great Green Wall is one of the world’s most ambitious environmental initiatives: to create a continent-spanning band of green across the Sahel, regreening the region and preventing the Sahara desert from spreading south.
Environmental projects don’t come much bigger than this. It involves cooperation across 11 different countries over a 8,000 kilometre stretch, restoring 100 million hectares of land and creating 10 million jobs in the process – for a budget of $33 billion in total.
This week the project took a big step forwards with some major funding announcements at the One Planet Summit, hosted by Emmanuel Macron in France. Pledges from France, the World Bank and the African Development Bank, among others, will secure approximately a third of the required funds, and marks a big step forward. Mohamed Cheikh El-Ghazouani, President of Mauritania, has suggested that a further funding option could be for countries to ring-fence the savings from cancelled debts, and called for Western governments to support the idea.
I’m a big fan of the Great Green Wall. It’s a natural solution, and a restorative one – a true exercise in planetary repair. It has all kinds of overlapping benefits for development, for biodiversity, food security and for climate change. The organisers claim that it helps to meet 15 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, sustainable cities and life in the oceans being the two that don’t get a look in.
Another reason to support the idea is that although it will draw on international funding, it’s not another White saviour aid project with a hatful of Western economists and politicians behind it. It’s an African idea, dating back fifty years and popularised by Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary leader of Burkina Faso, in the 1980s.
Officially launched in 2007, there has been considerable progress on what will ultimately be a decades-long project. 15 million hectares of Ethiopia have been restored, and 12 million trees have been planted in Senegal. Restored agricultural land in Niger is now delivering enough food to feed. 2.5 million people.
The ‘wall’, which is in reality a ‘mosaic’ of restored forests, wetlands and sustainable agriculture, is now approximately 18% complete. I wonder if this blog will still be around to report on its conclusion.