“The targets will be good for nothing if the people remain poor”

New Great Green Wall programme seeks to boost economically- and socially-viable restoration
Samba Seyk, a farmer from Ndiawara in the commune of Diockoul Mbelbouck, Senegal demonstrates farmer managed natural regeneration (FMNR), an important technique within Great Green Wall efforts. Photo by Kelvin Trautman/Regreening Africa

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In the past few decades, the Sahel – the region immediately south of the Sahara Desert and the Horn of Africa – has changed.

Droughts have become more severe and food insecurity has gotten worse, with millions of people in the region becoming increasingly dependent on food aid. Lake Chad has shrunk by 90 percent over the past half-century, and the highlands of Ethiopia are increasingly turning into drylands. 

These changes are caused by climate change, population pressure, and unsustainable use of natural resources. 

As a response to the challenges of desertification in the Sahel, the African Union launched the Africa-led Great Green Wall (GGW) initiative – an ambitious plan to stop the southward advance of the Sahara Desert – in 2007. 

The initiative initially focused on planting a ‘wall’ of trees spanning the girth of the continent from Senegal to Djibouti, which would be nearly 8000 kilometres long and 15 kilometres wide. The Pan-African Agency of the Great Green Wall (PAGGW) was established in 2010, and GGW Agencies or focal points were formalized in the 11 Sahel countries: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Senegal.

Whilst the symbolism of this goal was commendable, its initial failure to address broader livelihood elements came under criticism. Despite the presence of massive tree planting activities in Africa, there is a dearth of monitoring on whether the right trees are planted in the right places, whether they are beneficial to people, and whether they are ecologically adaptable and sustainable.

At the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, during the ‘Week on the GGW’ event, a new Knowledge for Great Green Wall Action (K4GGWA) regional programme was launched on 6 November 2023, with the aim to empower key GGW stakeholders to enhance their knowledge management and sharing mechanisms, develop national GGW data platforms, foster dialogue at national and regional levels, and strengthen institutions and enhance the capacity of national and regional GGW agencies.

Participants in the Knowledge for Great Green Wall Action (K4GGWA) programme launch at the African Union Headquarter in Addis Ababa. Photo by Eyob Getahun/CIFOR-ICRAF 

“We need to look at restoration that is economically and socially viable,” said Centre for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF)’s director for Africa, Peter Minang, at the programme’s launch, after sharing successes and key learnings from CIFOR-ICRAF’s Regreening Africa programme. “The targets will be good for nothing if the people remain poor.”

Responding to an evaluation in 2020, the GGW has since evolved from its initial focus on tree planting towards a comprehensive rural development initiative that aims to transform the lives of those in the Sahel by creating a mosaic of green and productive landscapes across the 11 countries. Its main objectives are now to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land, create 10 million jobs in rural areas, and sequester 250 million tons of carbon by 2030.

In 2021, during the One Planet Summit, world leaders responded to the renewed vision for the GGW with significant pledges, and the Great Green Wall Accelerator was launched to support the PAGGW through the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Global Mechanism. The accelerator aims to facilitate collaboration among donors and stakeholders and help all actors to better coordinate, monitor, and measure the impact of their actions.

At the launch, Thomas Huyghebaert, head of cooperation of the EU Delegation to the AU Commission, said the K4GGWA should markedly increase the GGW knowledge base, support broader resource mobilization from local, regional, and international sources, and create synergy and increase efficiency. “We must not be complacent,” he said. “We need to win the hearts and minds of the communities.”

Kebede Yimam, the general director of Ethiopian Forestry Development (EFD), described the country’s steps to realize its ambitious plan to restore more than 22 million hectares of degraded forest landscapes by the end of 2030, including through activities such as the Climate Resilient Green Economy Strategy, the Green Legacy Initiative, and the National Dryland Restoration Strategy.

“We have many limitations and gaps,” said Kebede.These are mainly related to coordination, capacity, and knowledge gaps to effectively plan, implement, and monitor the interventions and activities of the GGW initiative so as to bring long-lasting solution and impact. We are hopeful that this new initiative will help  to fill these gaps and steer us collectively towards our targets.”  

During the week of meetings, a number of participants visited the Dima Tree Seed Center in Ethiopia’s Oromia region to learn about tree seed procurement, storage, and distribution, and the establishment of breeding seed orchards. Photos by Abrham Abiyu/CIFOR-ICRAF


K4GGWA is funded by European Union (EU) and implemented by CIFOR-ICRAF and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It seeks to enable sustainable land management for improved livelihoods and to accelerate progress towards GGW objectives. The programme will focus primarily on the 11 countries that are members of the Pan-African Agency of GGW. Where possible and appropriate, it will also offer support to an additional seven countries implementing GGW-related activities with EU support: Cameroon, Ghana, Benin, Cape Verde, The Gambia, South Sudan, and Somalia.

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