The Great Green Wall: Africa’s loud thunder but little rain path to Ecological Nirvana?

Great Green Wall - Climateaction

The Great Green Wall: Africa’s loud thunder but little rain path to Ecological Nirvana?

The Great Green Wall was initially envisioned as a green barrier spanning the Sahel region in northern sub-Saharan Africa. It comprises twelve African nations. The original proposal called for a 15-kilometre-wide forest wall spanning 7,000 kilometres from Senegal to Djibouti.


The goal of the Great Green Wall initiative is to mitigate the effects of land degradation and desertification in the Sahelian region. The Great Green Wall was established in 2007 due to the pressing need to address the issue of desertification.


Moreover, the Sahel region is vulnerable to cyclical climate fluctuations and land degradation. Due to overgrazing, deforestation, and reoccurring droughts, the region’s once verdant landscape progressively became a desert.


According to projections, the Sahel’s population will increase from 83,7 million in 2019 to 196 million in 2050, thereby exacerbating the existing tension. The strategic objective of the GGW initiative is to restore 100 million hectares of agriculturally degraded land by 2030.


Additional goals include the creation of 10 million jobs and the sequestration of 250 million tons of carbon. Additionally, the initiative intends to share the most effective local practices with producers. The goal is to increase the region’s social and economic resilience to the effects of climate change by increasing crop yield, efficiency, and employment opportunities.


Implementation Progress


Despite its commendable goal, the Great Green Wall (GGW) is worrisomely behind on numerous fronts. According to an evaluation conducted in 2020, 4% of the Great Green Wall has been constructed as of 2020, lagging behind the 2030 completion date.


More than USD 8 billion has been raised and pledged to support this game-changing initiative. Regrettably, it was anticipated that by 2020, 18 million hectares of land would have been restored, and approximately 350 thousand new employments would have been created, but only an estimated $90 million in revenue have been generated.


Despite investments exceeding $200 million to date, losses have exceeded profits. Despite some progress, the situation remains fragmented and dispersed. In addition, there is a lack of a systematic approach that synergistically integrates the various national policies. Regardless, the GGW is a permanent fixture, but whether it will achieve the continent’s objective is an entirely different question. This is the justification.


The Obstacles


The Great Green Wall was based on the mistaken premise that reforestation efforts would lead to an ideal ecological state. The initial emphasis on droughts and the expansion of the Sahara desert led to this result. Despite its implementation, it was determined that this strategy was ineffective in confronting the threat, as land management remains the greatest obstacle.


Following the principles of reforestation, a large number of trees were planted in low-population areas, making their maintenance difficult. The majority of the trees perished from lack of water and attention.


Several additional factors prevented the Great Green Wall initiative from materializing. Notable among these is the dearth of funds. Some have argued that the inadequate budget allocated for the undertaking is responsible for the missed deadline.


In addition, there is a lack of capacity, inadequate surveillance and evaluation capabilities, and an improper allocation of technical support.


Several factors, such as insufficient implementation processes and organizational structures, failure to integrate environmental change and action into sector strategies, policies, and action plans, and insufficient information exchange and coordination at the regional and national levels, impede the achievement of the Great Green Wall’s objectives. Due to inconsistent levels of commitment to combating desertification, the capacity to monitor implementation is limited.


Land tenure remains a persistent problem. The current land possession system, in which the state possesses all trees, is a colonial holdover.


The colonial logic in Africa placed complete resource control by the colonizing state above ecological and cultural values, leading to their abandonment. This results in the irreversible depletion of natural resources because local communities lack the incentive to preserve them in their natural state.


The existing legal framework impedes the viability of autonomous adaptation practices. The country’s colonial past has a substantial effect on the laws regulating agriculture and forestry in nations such as Niger. In this instance, a law intended to conserve timber for use as fuel in key cities resulted in the acquisition of all trees by the state.


Consequently, the inhabitants were penalized for exploiting their forest resources. Under these conditions, the population may lack the motivation to protect these natural resources.


The countries involved in the GGW initiative have not effectively integrated or incorporated climate change considerations into their activities and initiatives, despite an increase in land ownership participation. Due to the varying levels of expertise among collaborators, reporting, monitoring, and evaluation have a substantial effect on the African Union’s climate and restoration goal.


The establishment of alliances, effective coordination among all stakeholders, and optimal utilization of all available resources are necessary for the successful implementation of GGW. In order for the process to be exhaustive, all parties must fulfil their respective responsibilities and resources must be mobilized.


The path ahead


There is no one solution for accomplishing transformational change, nor is there a single instrument that can transform the environmental values of the Sahelian states. However, there is one certainty. In Africa, traditional values are of considerable importance.


Therefore, strategies that work in the air-conditioned offices of the World Bank may not necessarily work in Africa. Consequently, the likelihood of attaining the GGW target by 2030 decreases if we pursue a one-size-fits-all strategy.


Despite this, there remains a place for optimism. To expand restoration efforts, it is necessary to include the local communities in mitigation strategies that increase the water supply and produce electricity. This can be accomplished by utilizing the Sahel region’s latent power generation capacity and abundant subterranean water sources.


The world’s largest known sedimentary water aquifer system, the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System (NSAS), can be exploited to produce biodiesel. It is buried at the eastern extremity of the Sahara desert and traverses the political borders of four countries in northeastern Africa. The use of jatropha and other plants as biofuel feedstocks can help local communities earn additional income.


The GGW initiative has substantial bioenergy potential. Without the participation of the local community, however, it becomes a dead end that leads nowhere or a bridge to nowhere.


The Great Green Wall project has recently witnessed a positive transformation, shifting its focus from a simple regreening initiative to a more comprehensive network of locally derived sustainable land management practices.


The focus of the Great Green Wall’s Pan-African partners has shifted from reforestation to land management policies. These policies now include indigenous participation in the administration of the GGW.


Despite the progress made, there remains a substantial quantity of work to be completed. Water harvesting, agroforestry, and regenerative agriculture are viable options with the potential to dramatically alter the landscape.




The lack of available funds constitutes a barrier that prevents entry into the ecological utopia. The continental initiative’s reforestation project relies on benefactors with differing ecological values and goals, as the project is unable to generate funds locally. It is therefore not surprising that their commitment to the GGW is lacking.


The predicted enormous sums of money have not yet been delivered at a sufficient rate to have a significant impact on the environment. Creating a milieu of environmental awareness and activity is regarded as the greatest accomplishment.


In actuality, it is ineffective in promoting climate action in Africa or mitigating climate uncertainty. Thus, GGW has no effect on climate risk. Indeed, this is the circumstance. Some host countries’ reluctance to assume complete responsibility for the initiative is arguably the initiative’s most significant shortcoming. It is ironic that a project of enormous importance to the national reforestation program has been reduced to a trivial spectacle by nations that frequently rely on international donors for funding.


Even though the Great Green Wall (GGW) confronts numerous obstacles, reforestation is still achievable. However, it may not be possible to complete this task within the available timeframe. Local stakeholders must exert considerable effort to ensure that their diverse focuses are synergistically integrated. It is encouraging to see that African nation-to-nation cooperation is gaining momentum.


However, without adequate financial resources, the integration objective will remain elusive. To accomplish sustainability, ownership must be established at all levels, from the individual and the local community to institutions and national entities. By promoting resilience-enhancing skills consistent with Africa’s bio-communitarian ideals, which hold that people and natural resources are harmoniously interconnected, ownership will assist pan-African governments in reorienting toward a genuinely low-carbon, climate-resilient economy.


Without this, the GGW aspiration is nothing but empty words, a squandered opportunity that will leave us destitute. It is comparable to constructing a castle in the air or chasing a rainbow without finding a pot of gold at the end.


Sadiq Okoh (PhD) is Chief Executive Officer, CarbonFree Africa Network.
He s a Consultant, Researcher, Climate Policy Analyst, and Green Political Economist.

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