Green Wall for the Sahara: opportunity local regeneration initiatives?
Yesterday, the World Bank Global Environment Facility announced at a meeting of African leaders in Chad to devote 96 million Euros to the "Great Green Wall of the Sahara" initiative: a barrier of trees 7000 kilometer long and 15 kilometer wide which will be planted across 11 African countries, from Senegal to Djibouti. This Green Wall will have to slow down wind erosion and enhance rainwater infiltration. The idea for this Wall emerged five years ago. In July 2005, President Obasanjo, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, proposed to the Fifth Ordinary Summit of the African Union (AU), an initiative for the establishment of a "Green Wall for the Sahara". At the time, the Heads of State requested the African Union Commission (AUC) to facilitate its formulation and implementation. However, because of lackof funds implementation had not yet begun.
This commitment of the 11 African countries to control desertification offers opportunities to build on the many successes, which have already been achieved in several Sahel countries in the fight against desertification. For instance, soil and water conservation projects in Burkina Faso and in Niger, which used simple water harvesting techniques, have led to the rehabilitation of about 0.5 million hectares of barren, degraded land. With, but also without support of African governments, civil society organisations and community organisations. Farmers across the Sahel have invested in the protection and management of spontaneous regeneration of trees and bushes on their cultivated land. This has helped farmers to adapt to climate change, to improve soil fertility, to increase biodiversity, to improve food security and last, but not least, reduce rural poverty.
For example, a study carried out in Niger in 2006 analyzed long-term trends in agriculture and environment as well as impacts of investments in natural resource management. One of the most surprising findings was that farmers in several densely populated parts of Niger have protected and managed on-farm trees since the middle of the 1980s. The scale at which this re-greening happened, five million hectares, is unique for the Sahel And it possibly is the largest environmental transformation in Africa. This has never been achieved by any tree planting project in Africa. Five million hectares at an average of 40 trees/ha means 200 million new trees. If each tree produces an average annual value of one Euro per tree (firewood, fodder, fruits, medicinal products, improved soil fertility, increased crop yields, etc.) this means an annual production value of Euro 200 million. This does not yet include the value of the carbon sequestered by the standing tree stock.If 4 million individuals are concerned by re-greening, this means an average annual benefit of 50 Euro per capita, whereas average annual per capita income in Niger is in the order of 280 US $.
Research in the Maradi region of Niger shows increases in the number of tree species from a handful in 1985 to 35 species in 2006. Farmers in this region also report that early in the rainy season, the current high tree densities protect their crops better against the impact of strong winds. During the food shortages of 2005, infant mortality in villages which had protected and managed natural regeneration was close to nil, but much higher in villages, which had not done so. This can be explained easily. Trees are productive capital assets. They produce fodder for livestock, fruit, soil fertility, etc. During drought years, many farmers literally survive on their trees.
We fully agree with the 11 governments planning to plant a Green Wall across the Sahara that it is vitally important to increase the number of trees to stop desertification, but we urge them to explore possibilities for expanding the scale of existing small-scale and large-scale successes. Increasing the number of on-farm trees produces multiple benefits at minimum costs and it fights desertification effectively.
In the current context of food crisis, climate change and rapid demographic growth, the challenge is to quickly develop substantive action to improve and expand tree-based production systems. Planting trees is definitively an important option, and sometimes necessary to help boost regeneration processes. Tree planting under harsh climatic conditions is difficult and survival rates are often low (20% or less). The Green Wall initiative offers a window of opportunities to help promote re-greening initiatives in Africa based on farmers protecting and managing natural (tree) regeneration, as a low cost and effective way to keep the desert at bay.
Chris Reij from VU University Amsterdam, a good partner of Both ENDS, told the story at the Dutch radio programme Met het oog op morgen.
For more information contact Paul Wolvekamp.
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