The Great Green Wall: A World Wonder in the Making

The initiative for the Great Green Wall (GGW) started in 2007, with the African Union’s approval, in response to the devastating impacts of climate change in one of the world’s poorest regions: the Sahel in Africa. The initiative aims to grow a new world wonder in the form of an 8,000km wall of trees and plants spanning the width of the African continent.


The GGW aims to create green and productive landscapes across 11 countries (Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti). Much progress has already been achieved with 18 million hectares of previously degraded lands now restored, with the additional benefit of 350,000 new jobs created. Although this is valuable and welcomed progress, the aims of the initiative run further with the ambition of restoring 100 million hectares of degraded land, creating 10 million green jobs in rural areas and sequestering 250 million tons of carbon by 2030.


In order to follow and monitor the progress of the GGW, the Great Green Wall Accelerator was introduced in 2021, which seeks to facilitate and coordinate donors and stakeholders to collaborate on the GGW initiative. The necessity of the Accelerator arises from the challenges the GGW has faced. These challenges were flagged by the Landmark Report which found that there was an insufficient prioritisation of the natural environment, weak organisational structure, poor coordination on regional and national levels as well as a lack of focus on environmental change in the implementation of policies, action plans and sector strategies. Furthermore, many initiatives have been halted as soon as they have been introduced by NGOs and civil society organisations because the communities did not feel like those initiatives actually addressed their needs and priorities but rather focused on financial and technological solutions.


The GGW initiative has also faced criticism for failing to balance its efforts effectively between political ambitions and actual progress on the ground. Different goals set by different bodies require different timescales of progress. The ambition of completing the GGW by 2030 (in line with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development) requires the treatment of 5 million hectares per year, while the African Union 2063 Agenda, although less ambitious, still requires the treatment of 2 million hectares per year. However, the current progress is still far off both goals, which is estimated to be around only 200,000 hectares per year.


In order to address these challenges, the GGW Accelerator has outlined its commitment to monitoring and promoting investments in small and medium-sized farms and local markets, land restoration with sustainable ecosystem management, renewable energy (which includes climate resilient infrastructure), and a more effective economic and institutional framework. The initiative received a large financial boost in January with the African Development Bank, the World Bank and France pledging $14.3bn which, alongside holistic support from all bodies and institutions, could see to the ongoing progress of the GGW. Furthermore, communities need initiatives that address their everyday needs effectively, and to ensure the positive long term effects that the GGW has the potential to bring about.


Besides the impact the GGW could have in combatting climate change, the Great Green Wall is meant to represent more than just growing flora. It is intended to also address threats communities face such as famine and drought as well as conflict and migration. These circumstances make the Great Green Wall a greater initiative as it is set to help communities secure food and water, battle poverty, create sustainable energy and provide income through green jobs that can boost the economy as a whole. As part of the initiative, a project in Senegal has created circular gardens, called Tolou Keur, that house trees and plants resistant to hot and dry climate. The shape of the gardens’ roots grow inwards and trap liquids for better water retention, among other benefits. Moussa Kamara, a garden caretaker, alongside the project managers hope that these gardens will engage local workers, increase food security and reduce desertification.


The initiative is also hopeful of contributing to peace and reducing the displacement of whole communities. However, conflict, migration and instability in some of the regions alongside the GGW perhaps has had an effect on the implementation of the initiative. Mali, Nigeria, South Sudan and Ethiopia are among the countries that have seen mass displacement due to violence, civil war and political instability. This in turn has affected economic well-being and living standards. Given the likelihood for such hardships in the area it is possible that progress of the GGW has been slower than desired.


The Great Green Wall, a world wonder in the making, is an initiative which, if effectively executed, will have a positive impact by not only helping combat the adverse effects of climate change in the Sahel region but also improving the living standards of local communities. Progress might not have been as timely as initially intended, but with the right support and effective regional and international planning and collaboration, the GGW could become a world wonder and achieve many of the necessary goals for the prosperity of the region.