The Great Green Wall

 

Everyone with minimal intellectual abilities knows that global warming and climate change are not made up. The only question remaining in this field concerns the future. Can we still change something or have we passed the point of no return? As an optimist, I think that there might still be hope. Why? Because to every problem there is a solution; and concerning ecology, there may be many problems, but also many solutions. That being said, we westerners cannot complain much. Our water is clean and our lands are still fertile. But that is not the case everywhere. It is no secret that many countries on the African continent suffer from malnutrition that is often due to bad harvests. This is often the result of the disappearance of farmland because of its desertification. It is difficult to give exact numbers, but since 1900, the Sahara has almost advanced 250 km towards the south, destroying a lot of much-needed soil. But here too, there is a solution. A solution called the ‘Great Green Wall’.

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The Great Green Wall (source: www.cnn.com)

So what is this ‘Great Green Wall’? The name doesn’t leave much room for interpretation. It is a 15 km wide and 7.715 km long wall of trees that will cross 11 countries. From Senegal to Djibouti. Composed of 37 different tree species, its goal is to stop the expansion of the Sahara towards the South and restore a natural balance. The idea is simple and genius at the same moment. The desertification is mostly due to the deterioration of the soil. With the absence of water, the topsoil disappears, which makes it nearly impossible for plants to grow naturally. If the ground is prepared and the trees planted manually, the vegetation slowly comes back and stops the further development of the desert. The idea is clear, it just has to be put into practice.

Since the project has been decided by the African Union in 2007, almost 15% of the goal has been reached. Senegal and Chad have, until now, made the biggest effort, but people in Burkina Faso are slowly but surely catching up. Other, poorer countries, like Soudan are still preparing for it. Mainly because they have other, far more important and resource consuming, issues to take care of. The investment of 4 billion$ that has been agreed on at the Cop21 in 2016 is therefore a very welcome boost. Especially for those countries that are leaping behind. It just shouldn’t disappear in some corrupt official or warlords pockets.

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Someone planting a tree (source: www.cnn.com)

The fear of the project’s failure due to corruption is just one of the many reasons why some people are reluctant to the project. Another one is the unsustainability of the project. There have indeed been cases where the trees die after a few months of a lack of water and other care. It is nice to plant all those trees, but someone has to take care of them. But, for another problem, there is another solution. This time the solution is called ‘gum Arabic’. What is that and why is it a solution? This ‘gum Arabic’ is a natural additive that is taken from the Acacia tree’s bark. Most of the trees in the Great Green wall are Acacias. Do you see where this is going? The farmers of those regions will receive some farmland with trees and can easily harvest the trees for the valuable substance. This, together with an awareness campaign, motivates the local populations to help preserve the trees and manage the newly created ecosystem.

Because that’s what it is, a new ecosystem. Many animals that were getting extinct are benefitting from the return of vegetation. The result is so enormous that Senegal is actually thinking about creating parks and develop ecotourism in those regions. This would create new jobs in a region that very much needs them. But there are many more benefits coming from the ‘Great Green Wall. It is also going to absorb a large amount of carbon emissions and therefore globally helping the ecology. For the first time in history, the African continent is helping all of us, without being exploited. The people there feel this. Some of those involved in the project said that the African dimension of it made them feel much more connected to the continent and the other people they share it with. All of this creates a society that is much healthier.

That is very important in those regions. Niger, Nigeria and Mali, which are important hubs for radical Islamic terrorism in Africa. An important growth of jobs and a stable society is an excellent way to fight terrorism. “When you have no money and no job and the terrorists come and pay, people say yes,” says Kouloutan Coulibaly, Mali’s Director of Forestry in 2013. More jobs therefore means, fewer terrorists. It’s as easy as that.

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People preparing the soil for trees to be planted (source: www.cnn.com)

The “Great Green Wall” is a fabulous idea. It has many benefits and could help the participating regions in Africa to grow and develop as a society. It is one of the first real projects of the African Union and is a symbol of hope. But the wall isn’t completed yet. It is not even hallway done. That is why it is so important to persist and really not give up. It is a fight that the people of the African continent have to lead themselves. We can help them with resources, but they have to keep it up and make sure the project doesn’t die. It is an opportunity to solve many problems, why not take it?

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