Actions are multiplying for the Great Green Wall initiative

"Cornucopia of stiff challenges remain" to realise ambitions
Landscape in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso. Photo by Daniel Tiveau/CIFOR-ICRAF

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For those who have been following the Great Green Wall (GGW) initiative, it may seem actors have struggled to realise the breath-taking ambitions agreed by the African Union back in 2007. 

Depending on the calculation, just four to 10 percent of the planned 100 million hectares of land have been restored in the past 17 years across the 11 GGW countries. That’s hardly surprising, considering the cornucopia of stiff challenges that stand in the way — from logistical difficulties to rising insecurity to agricultural expansion and land degradation, which seems an inescapable consequence of the rapid demographic growth across the GGW countries. 

Nevertheless, as those who participated in the third residential seminar of the Great Green Wall – held from 4-8 March in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso – found, progress has not only been made, but it is significant and appears to be speeding up. 

Growing pains 

In terms of restored hectares or number of prosperous rural families, the figures for GGW may not yet reach the heights its promoters are aiming for, but signs of progress are everywhere. 

For example, there have been a significant number of national innovations, such as Ethiopia’s Green Legacy initiative and Burkina Faso’s Rainwater Catchment Basins. There has also been a multiplication of new and effective data harvesting, analysis and monitoring systems, such as the upcoming GGW data platform, which is shepherded by the United Nation Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD’s) GGW Accelerator, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO’s) Collect Earth, the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF)’s Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF) and even the International Research Center of Big Data for Sustainable Development Goals (CBAS-China). 

Renewable energy projects, especially decentralized photovoltaic ones, are also multiplying, as are the so-called integrated community agricultural farms, now found in six GGW countries, that combine the management and sustainable cultivation and use of trees, crops and livestock with community teaching functions. 

Stakeholders are also working together to increase the agency of rural communities by providing them with technical assistance, regulatory relief, and direct aid to access new markets.

Innovation is a constant theme across these diverse activities in land restoration, rural job creation, renewable energy, and markets, with countries trying different approaches to achieve common objectives.

Birth of the annual Residential Seminars

To facilitate this cross-pollination of knowledge, procedures, and social capital from these different innovations, the Pan-African Agency of the GGW – an institution that has been coordinating the GGW effort since 2010 from its headquarters in Nouakchott, Mauritania – decided to convene annual Residential Seminars on GGW implementation. 

More flexible than the initiative’s statutory meetings and open to a wider range of participants (including researchers, donors, private-sector players, farmer representatives, ministers, officials, and members of civil society), these seminars offer a welcome opportunity to informally explore the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, float trial balloons for new ideas, and develop new solutions to long-standing problems. 

Third Residential Seminar on implementing the GGW

In Ouagadougou, the interlinked issues of collaboration, knowledge sharing and funding dominated the discussions. 

The GGW is supposed to be implemented under the watchful eye of national GGW agencies, but these agencies are sometimes not even aware of projects happening in their intervention areas, nor are the projects active. When individual actors aren’t aware of each other and operate without the knowledge of the relevant GGW agency, coordination is obviously impossible. The lack of coordination costs money and efficiency, as much-needed synergies are not pursued, let alone achieved.

Better coordination at the onset of the GGW project could also have helped reduce the number of duplicate data and mapping tools and platforms being developed and launched by organizations such as the FAO, the UNCCD, the Pan African agency and more.

Many of the recommendations coming out of the seminar dealt with these issues, including calls to harmonize various data platforms around the GGW platform, to create a platform for GGW research, and to develop a unified financial reporting framework.

Beyond that, the discussions focused on the development and strengthening of new tools that could help stakeholders implement their projects. 

For example, the seminar recommended the creation of a Regional Centre for Forest Seeds to help stakeholders access a wide genetic diversity of the key species needed for companion planting in Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) areas, the planting of woodlots and windbreaks, and the supply of commercially valuable timber and nontimber forest products. This is an effort CIFOR-ICRAF would be ideally placed to support, as its gene bank contains the world’s largest collection of African tree seeds. 

Participants also called for a beefing-up of the Green Youth Caravan, an initiative that encourages young people from GGW regions to engage with their peers in other GGW countries, and it suggested more efforts should be made to increase women’s participation in the entire GGW effort. Notably, the seminar established the Women’s Green Platform of the GGW and discussed how women could be equitably represented in its decision-making processes.

The seminar was the brainchild of Adama Doulom, who headed the Burkinabé GGW agency for many years, and reached his pensionable age during the event. Known by his staff and students as ‘Le Baobab’ for his sheltering ways as much as for the solidity and poise of his work, he was honoured by one of his former students with a golden baobab tree. The student? Roger Baro, Minister of Environment, Water and Sanitation, and a specialist in mercury pollution.

Attendees mingle between presentations at the Third Residential Seminar of the Great Green Wall (GGW) initiative. Photo by Patrick Worms/CIFOR-ICRAF


CIFOR-ICRAF has been involved with the GGW since 2013 through the Drylands Develpment (DRYDEV) program, and the Regreening Africa project since its inception in 2017, Amongst the highlights of Regreening Africa were its effective use of CIFOR-ICRAF’s LDSF, innovative approaches to understanding the social and economic impacts of land-use decisions, and a relentless focus on gender-inclusion issues. These efforts were crowned by the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration as one of seven World Restoration Flagships in February 2024.

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