• Gordon MacLellan

The Great Green Wall

Growing a new hope across Africa

"You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain degree of madness... The courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future."

- Thomas Sankara, president Burkina Faso 1985

The deserts of northern Africa are spreading. A dry tide steadily swallowing the lands on the edges of the Sahara and Sahel. This is not a new phenomenon. We know that centuries ago those now sandy expanses were green and growing. but a shift in the Earth’s axis about 5000 years ago seems to have started the desertification process. in recent years human activity on local and global scales have speeded up the spread of the sand.

Now, with a quiet, graceful determination, communities across the southern edge of that growing desert are fighting back. Not with concrete and modern technologies but with spades and seeds and hope.

The Great Green Wall is an African-led movement with an epic ambition to grow an 8,000km natural wonder of the world across the entire width of Africa.*

A decade in and roughly 15% underway, the initiative is already bringing life back to Africa’s degraded landscapes at an unprecedented scale, providing food security, jobs and a reason to stay for the millions who live along its path.

The Wall promises to be a compelling solution to the many urgent threats not only facing the African Continent, but the global community as a whole – notably climate change, drought, famine, conflict and migration.

Once complete, the Great Green Wall will be the largest living structure on the planet, 3 times the size of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Green Wall is taking root in Africa's Sahel region, at the southern edge of the Sahara desert - one of the poorest places on the planet.

More than anywhere else on Earth, the Sahel is on the frontline of climate change and millions of locals are already facing its devastating impact. Persistent droughts, lack of food, conflicts over dwindling natural resources, and mass migration to Europe are just some of the many consequences.

Yet, communities from Senegal in the West to Djibouti in the East are fighting back.

Since the birth of the initiative in 2007, life has started coming back to the land, bringing improved food security, jobs and stability to people’s lives.

From the original 11 countries that signed up to the initiative, today there is an ever expanding group of more than 20 countries across Africa who have joined this truly Pan-African movement."

This is not just a tree planting project. It is bigger, more dramatic, more dynamic and subtler than that. Slowly, the idea of the Great Green Wall has changed into a program centred around indigenous land use techniques, not planting a thin strip of forest on the edge of a desert but creating a living belt of renewed land: part woodland, part grassland savannah, part farmland

Films: there are lots of films you could watch to find out more or to share this project. Try this one by Inna Modja on BBC newsnight

The effective nature of the GGW grew out of local people’s knowledge of land and agriculture. Foreign experts thought the whole thing wouldn’t work, couldn’t work but quietly, gently, determinedly, villages started greening their own land. There is still a long way to go, a lot of trees to seed but the Great Green Wall is a promising line on the horizon of tomorrow.


* extract from The Great Green Wall website: please visit them and find out more! https://www.greatgreenwall.org/about-great-green-wall

This article about the international reluctance to accept the GGW initiative and its evolution into its current form is very interesting and inspiring: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/great-green-wall-stop-desertification-not-so-much-180960171/

Thanks to our friends at the Faith for the Earth initiative for reminding us of the Great Green Wall and for supporting projects like this around the world.

Photos: images come from the GGW press pack

CelebrationEarth! tends to concentrate on groups, people and projects based in UK. Like an albatross cruising across the Southern Ocean, to celebrate the world around us, of course, knows no boundaries so we are sharing information about other projects that we hope will inspire people here in UK

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