“Everything is possible. You just need means, will and experience ”, Demba Diallo enumerates with the recognized trace of wisdom that the elders of the place give off. Under a roof on a rainy noon in Kanel, the Senegalese town where he was born seven decades ago, says that if these three principles are fulfilled, the Great Green Wall will become a reality, a dream launched by the African Union in 2007 to fight against the desertification, land degradation and the impact of climate change in the Sahel. The project consists of building a gigantic vegetation corridor in the 8,000 kilometers that adjoin the Sahara desert to the south through 11 countries, from Senegal to Djibouti.
Until last year, some four million hectares had been restored in this area of the 100 million planned for 2030, according to the latest studies by the UN Agency against Desertification. A fact that shows the need for more support for this project in the Sahel, one of the poorest regions on the planet where droughts, erratic rains or logging erode the soil, misalign crops, cause price increases and malnutrition, and they exacerbate migrations and conflicts. The temperature in the Sahel is rising 1.5 times faster than the world average, despite the fact that the African continent is responsible for just 4% of global carbon dioxide. “We suffer what begins in western countries. Here there are not so many cars, nor pollution. If we have the green wall, our plants will be protected and the sand that comes from the Sahara will calm down ”, points out the imposing farmer Bolo on the precious rainy day in Kanel, a few kilometers from Mauritania and Mali.
In response to their demand, the climate summit held in Glasgow in the first weeks of November put the focus back on the Great Green Wall, which by 2030 also plans to remove 250 million tons of carbon from the atmosphere and create 10 million. of jobs derived from the installation of orchards, fodder, trees and nature reserves. In a meeting held at COP 26, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, promised to reinforce European aid for the African project, which amounts to 700 million euros per year; French President Emmanuel Macron announced that the 17 million euros that his Government, together with the World Bank and other donors have injected this year are already being implemented through the creation of an accelerator for financial management; and the Earth Bezos Fund has pledged another € 870 million for this initiative and others for landscape restoration in Africa.
In addition, the African Development Bank will allocate 5.6 million to the promotion of renewable energy in the region, to avoid the felling of trees, and a recent study published by the magazine Nature Sustainability concludes that for every dollar invested in halting land degradation in the project, investors can get an average return of $ 1.2, with results ranging from 1.1 to 4.4. These are data that can encourage investors and governments, such as the reports that confirm the greening of the African region after the severe droughts experienced between 1968 and 1993.
Despite this momentum, the aid is still far from what is needed: the UN estimates that to restore the 100 million hectares planned in 2030, some 38,000 million euros would be needed.
“All people, French, Spanish or American, have to know the project and help with what happens here, with this poverty,” says Diallo before approaching some branches of moringa with his cane and count its properties for the evil of stomach. “When I was younger, the rainy season lasted almost five months, now only two”, continues the honorary president in Kanel de Toulou Keur (which means ‘field in the house’, in the Wolof language), a curious intervention promoted by the Senegalese Agency for Reforestation and the Great Green Wall (ASERGMV). It is a round chicken coop in the center of a field from which concentric circles of orchards, medicinal plants and trees open to supply different communities with underground water pumps that work with solar energy. “This project is already a reality that contributes to the restoration of the soil while diversifying food, generating employment and fixing the population against the rural exodus”, details Karine Fakhoury, director of ecovillages and green areas of ASERGMV and promoter of Tolou Keur, replicated in other locations.
Toulou Keur is just one of the countless and diverse initiatives of African and foreign governments, international organizations, companies and associations that have multiplied in these years in the strip of the green wall and that, beyond reforestation, have turned towards migratory issues. and measures to stabilize peace in the Sahel, where armed conflicts have caused the displacement of more than two million people within the borders of their countries and reduced habitable land. This explains why the project is known as “the wall that unites instead of separating”, although it has also been criticized for the lack of coordination of aid and its evaluation and for the lack of local participation. “Success lies in making the population aware of the importance of the environment, which improves quality of life, generates employment and contributes to food,” explains sociologist Abdou Ka, involved in the Great Green Wall since 2009 in Louga, a from the driest areas of Senegal and where semi-nomadic and dispersed populations find it more difficult to find food for themselves and their livestock.
Ka is witness to the evolution of the wall, and although he recognizes that it could have advanced faster and better despite structural complications such as access to water or electricity or the difficulty in maintaining the initiatives independently, he appreciates what has been achieved. “It is a very good opportunity for the liberation of women. They participate in food production, sell in the market and can manage their profits ”, highlights the sociologist, who also sees training as a success. “Not only in the content that is learned, also in the skills that are acquired, for example, oral expression,” he says. Bolo, called in the town “ambassador of the environment” after living in France for 35 years and leaving her family there and undertaking agricultural projects in her town, confirms the importance of courses to deal with erratic rains or sand. “Part of what I have cultivated has died, but we can do better if we have good training,” he emphasizes.
Mahkmadou Fofana, 40, proudly displays the diploma attesting to the 80-hour workshop received on Integrated Production Systems from Toulou Keur, in Boki Diav village. “What we value the most is training. We learn a lot about how and when to farm, and we need more knowledge to spread and have more land to multiply production and hire more people ”, highlights Fofana, who decided to stay in the village after having emigrated to Congo Brazzaville for five years. “Everybody wants to develop”, he says now from his locality, that this summer he has suffered serious problems of food security, with deficiencies in food diversity and vulnerability in livelihoods. “Here the priority is everywhere, in education, in health, in schooling, in nutrition, in construction. Everything is a priority ”, he exposes next to the terrain of concentric circles that he works with his colleagues, and where the germination of tamarinds, mangoes and guavas begin to create the long-awaited vegetal cover for the restoration of soils.
“We have focused on combining the knowledge of the ancestors with the new contributions so that the plantations that allow the diversity of the species and the regeneration of the soil are maintained,” adds Fakhoury, who hopes that the Toulou Keur initiative will also serve to fight against monocultures, that surpluses can be marketed and that the population appropriates the projects launched. “We hope that a stable life model will be generated and that the activity can be diversified with shops, tourism, with professionals who work on solar panels, with intellectual stimulation, with exchanges of Europeans who come to train here, with bio-construction”, he proposes the director. “We are not always aware of our wealth. We have land, sun, unsalted water … ”, says Bolo, who is saddened by the stories of people who must leave their homes in order to survive. The farmer proudly tells, however, that an upper-class lady from her village has decided to start farming at 45 degrees after seeing her go to the fields after passing through France. “We can live properly. My goal is for us to win here ”, he concludes.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.