Course:CONS200/2023WT2/Africa’s Great Green Wall: A Successful or Complicated Restoration?

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Land degradation shown as dry land in Africa
The impact of agricultural intensification on soils in Africa.

The cause of the land degradation in Africa is deforestation, mainly for the expansion of agriculture development.[1] In terms of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) (2018), desertification is a process where land is degrading due to human disturbance, causing an increase in unproductive land.[1] The continuation of agricultural practices led to poor resource management failure, including “overcultivation, overgrazing, and poor irrigation practices.”[1]

Because of poor land use management, there has been increased periods of droughts since the 1970s in Africa, with a loss of around 12 million hectares of land.[2] Measuring the loss in productivity, around “20 million tons of grain could have been grown.”[2] However, land use management is not the only reason for desertification; the process of climate change may have intensified the desiccation of land, resulting in land and soil degradation as well as the decrease of carbon sinks.[1]


Aerial view of the Great Green Wall
Aerial view of the Great Green Wall at the Sahel and Sahara region in Africa.

Launched in 2007 by the African Union, the Great Green Wall initiative (UNCCD) aims to improve climate resilience through stopping desertification and restoring vegetation.[3] The Wall spans from Senegal to Djibouti, involving more than 20 countries surrounding the Sahara Desert.[4] The initiative aims to restore 100 million hectares of land and generate 10 million jobs locally by 2030.

In order to tackle land degradation and desertification in Africa and increase productivity of those lands, there needs to be an improvement of climate resilience.[3] In 2007, the African Union launched the Great Green Wall initiative, which is defined as a “continuous band of planted trees stretching across single or multiple countries in dryland regions.”[3] The goal of the Great Green Wall was not only to reduce environmental impacts, but to also improve the social and economic factors of the people in the Sahel and the Sahara region.[2] Addressing the current challenges in South Africa, the initiative wants to pursue the improvement of livelihood and food security in Sahel while adapting and mitigating climate change.[5]

The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative (GGWSSI)

Map of the Great Green Wall in Africa.
Map of the Great Green Wall in Africa.

The Plan of Action for the implementation of GGWSSI outlines the overarching structure and actions of GGWSSI as advised by a Steering Committee, which composes political leaders from all participating countries for a forged effort to support the vision of GGW.[6] Regional, national, and community-level projects are mobilized by various stakeholders such as governments, international NGOs such as the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), research institutions, and local communities.[7]

International Impacts

Kew’s cross-border pilot project stands as a testament to successful multinational collaboration within the Great Green Wall region. Operating across Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, the Kew's Project emphasizes on conserving biodiversity and revitalizing traditional agroforestry systems. Through extensive community consultation and evaluation, the project has identified useful native plant species to propagate over 1 million seedlings. Impressively, thirteen of the planted species presented a survival rate of over 50%, showcasing the effectiveness of these propagations. The project has also contributed to the production of non-timber goods such as medicinal and food products which have generated substantial economic outcomes for the local villagers. To date, the Kew's GGW cross-border pilot project has successfully restored 2,235 hectares of degraded land concurrently boosting local income by 20%.[8]

In addition to Kew's initiative, the Action Against Desertification organized by the FAO (key partner of the GGWSSI) stands out as an international flagship program supporting sustainable land management across local communities in multiple countries (including Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal). This program has achieved remarkable conservation and sustainable development outcomes through land restoration, non-timber forest products, capacity development, information sharing, South-South cooperation, evaluation and monitoring. Notably, over 60,000 hectares of degraded land have been restored between 2015 and 2020, over 100,000 households have been uplifted by the program, and 40,112 individuals have received technical skills development to ensure a self-sustaining lifestyle beyond the program.[9]

The Front Local Environnemental pour une Union Verte (FLEUVE) program, developed by UNCCD and funded by the EU, exemplifies grassroots efforts and micro-projects at the local community level. Operating in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Senegal,[10] FLEUVE invests in capacity-building Sustainable Land Management activities, including reforestation, watershed management, and the construction of wind/fire breaks. By reaching 23 communities, this program has empowered thousands of women by creating land-based, long-term employment opportunities. [11]

Through these collaborative endeavors, multinational initiatives within the Great Green Wall region continue to foster sustainable development, environmental conservation, and community empowerment on an international scale.

National Impacts

In the pursuit of the Green Great Wall's objectives, participating countries have undertaken significant policy reforms, community mobilization efforts and initiatives aimed at enhancing resilience against desertification and climate change.

Ethiopia has emerged as a leader in implementing successful strategies for sustainable land management and afforestation. This program has restored a total of 1 million hectares of land, covering 236,551 hectares of Assisted Natural Regeneration of forests and 893,706 hectares watershed management and forested land. Beyond ecological restoration, Ethiopia's program has also fostered socio-economic development by creating over 200,000 jobs which are mostly highly technical jobs in energy, food security and biodiversity protection that locals were trained in.[11]

Similarly Nigeria has demonstrated remarkable success in reversing the degradation of ecosystems and promoting sustainable land management practices. Through initiatives such as agroforestry expansion, Nigeria's achievements is the construction of a 709 km windbreak, which has been shown to reduce 18.4% of plant evapotranspiration during the growing season. This innovative approach not only conserves irrigation water resources but also mitigates wind erosion and crop damage, safeguarding restored areas and village communities.[11][12]

In Senegal, governmental efforts have primarily focused on restoration and development of agroforestry initiatives, aligning closely with the objectives of the Great Green Wall. By intensively investing in pastoral activities such as breeding and agriculture, Senegal has made significant strides in restoring degraded lands and uplifting local communities. The community impacts as a result are substantial, with over 300,000 local residents directly or indirectly benefiting from improved livelihoods. Collectively, Senegal has restored 850,000 hectares of land, underscoring its commitment to environmental conservation.

Community Impacts

Community impacts are substantial. Many data suggest the environmental and socio-economic success of the GGWSSI. In Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal, household incomes increase by a great extent. There is significantly less reported food insecurity based on surveys. Land productivity has also improved. It's shown that the negative feedback loop of Climate Change is alleviated because of large-scale reforestation efforts of the GGWSSI [13]. Between 2007 - 2020, there is a mean increase of 22% of vegetation biomass across the Great Green Wall. Some are due to agricultural activities, but most are a result of reforestation efforts. Shrubs and grasslands have come back to where there used to be deserts. Observed precipitation has been going upwards but the trend is not significant.[14] Increased vegetation cover also helps reduce soil erosion and enhance water-soil-nutrient cycle health, improving overall landscape resilience in the long run. Forests are positively associated with higher livestock productivity since trees provide shade to lessen heat stress. Fruit trees provide a diverse variety of nutrition for human health as well.[15]

Community-Level Case Studies

In the Sahel region of Africa, where desertification and land degradation pose significant challenges to agriculture and food security, farmers have implemented an innovative agricultural practice known as Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR)[16]. FMNR involves nurturing naturally occurring tree regrowth alongside crops, leading to significant improvements in soil fertility, water retention and crop yields. Pioneered by farmers like Yacouba Sawadogo in Burkina Faso and Omar Guindo in Mali, FMNR leverages indigenous knowledge and simple techniques to restore degraded land and enhance agricultural productivity to increase food security. FMNR has spread rapidly across the region, driven by its low cost and tangible benefits for farmers. By allowing farmers to own and manage trees on their land, FMNR promotes community-led initiatives and empowers local communities to adapt to climate change and improve their livelihoods. Satellite imagery has revealed the widespread adoption of FMNR , with millions of trees planted and millions of acres of land rehabilitated in countries like Niger.[14] This grassroots approach to environmental conservation underscores the importance of indigenous knowledge and community empowerment in addressing complex challenges. While external support from governments and NGOs can facilitate policy changes and information sharing, the success of FMNR demonstrates that sustainable solutions to desertification and land degradation ultimately depend on empowering local African farmers to lead agricultural innovation and adaptation.

In Mali, women have played a crucial role in community-led reforestation efforts, showcasing remarkable leadership and resilience in environmental conservation. Women's groups actively participate in tree planting activities, contributing to enhanced biodiversity and improved soil health. Additionally, their involvement in the sale of forest products provides increased economic opportunities, empowering women economically and contributing to the household income generation.[15]

Youth-led organizations in Senegal have been at the forefront of promoting conservation. Through tree planting campaigns, environmental education workshops and advocacy for policy changes, young people actively contribute to the objectives of the Great Green Wall initiative. By engaging youth in such activities the GGWSSI not only harnesses their energy and creativity but also ensures the sustainability and longevity of conservation efforts by instilling a sense of relation and responsibility among the next generation of environmental stewards.[17]

Barriers to Greater Success

1. Inadequate Targeting of Vulnerable Groups

The project has been found to be inattentive to the needs of the most vulnerable groups, including pastoralists and women without husbands of which are often the poorest. They were excluded from decision-making processes, having zero ownership over properties or involvement in project design of GGWSSI initiatives. The exclusion of rights to contribute to policy change and program designs detrimentally prevents these vulnerable groups from equitably benefiting from the success of these initiatives. The lack of transparent communications is one of the causes, which is reflected through privatization by "land owners", where lands are not being protected effectively nor used in a fair and sustainable way. This leads to a further misunderstanding between various stakeholders, preventing the productive use of lands to achieve collective profit-sharing through conservation. The inability and corruption of different levels of governments are deeply rooted structural problems in many GGWSSI countries. By failing to address the unique challenges and requirements of these vulnerable groups, the project may inadvertently perpetuate existing inequalities and marginalization within the communities it aims to support.[18][19]

2. Implementing the initiative across multiple countries with diverse ecosystems

Overcoming the historical difficulties in coordinating and implementing the project has led to uneven progress and the need for adaptive management strategies. The Great Green Wall Initiative(GGWI) aims to combat desertification and land degradation in the Sahel region by creating a green barrier of trees across Africa.[3]

The outcomes in this region include a mix of ecological effects such as reduced surface wind speeds and potential soil fertility increase. However, issues might be that higher tree densities lead to increased transpiration and reduced streamflow, which may impact water and wind erosion. Monitoring efforts in this region tend to focus on short-term measures like the number of trees planted, with limited attention to broader ecological and social impacts.[3]

The Three Norths Shelterbelt Program(TNSP) is a large-scale afforestation program aimed at combating desertification and improving ecological conditions in northern China. The outcomes in this region are influenced by the temperate continental monsoon climate and diverse environments. The program faces challenges related to soil conditions, rainfall variability, and vegetation composition. [3] Additionally, the emphasis on monitoring tree planting and short-term survival metrics restricts the scope of evaluation to immediate outcomes, such as the number of trees established and their initial survival rates.[3] While these indicators are important for tracking the progress of afforestation activities, they provide only a partial picture of the overall impact of the initiative on the environment and local communities.

3. Dependence on international funding

While the GGW is described as an African-led movement, much of the funding and design come from the international community. This reliance on external support raises questions about the sustainability and ownership of the initiative.[3] When a project heavily relies on international funding, there is a risk that the initiative's long-term sustainability may be compromised. External funding sources may not be guaranteed indefinitely, which could lead to uncertainties about the continuity of the project.

If a significant portion of the funding comes from external sources, decision-making power and project priorities may be influenced by the agendas and interests of these donors rather than being driven by the needs and perspectives of African countries and local communities. This dynamic can potentially undermine the sense of ownership and agency among those directly affected by the Great Green Wall.

Continuing Direction (2023-2030)

Since the One Planet Summit which took place 2 years ago, the Great Green Wall Accelerator has facilitated the identification and alignment of funding for 150 projects spanning all the countries involved in the Great Green Wall initiative.[20] Through this, 9 out of 11 countries have also established coalitions, uniting governments, international donors, the private sector, and civil society to strategize and execute plans for implementation.[21]

US$ 2.5 billion of the funding pledged at the One Planet Summit has been disbursed so far, whereas the remaining US$17.5 billion is expected to be paid at the end of 2025.[22] These have been distributed to 11 African nations that join this initiative. The Accelerator has demonstrated remarkable proactivity and delivered expertise in its focus areas, which include governance and advocacy, monitoring and evaluation, and resource mobilization.[21]

The funding is still inadequate considering the needs of the Great Green Wall's vision (requiring approximately 33 billion USD), which aims to restore 100 million hectares of degraded lands by 2030, and generating 10 million employment opportunities in regions with high rates of unemployment and migration.[21]

To tackling these obstacles and funding shortfalls and aline with their goal in 2030, the Accelerator will monitor and promote investments based on these five pillars:[23]

  • Pillar 1: Investment in small and medium-sized farms and strengthening of value chains, local markets, organization of exports
  • Pillar 2: Land restoration and sustainable management of ecosystems
  • Pillar 3: Climate-resilient infrastructures and access to renewable energy
  • Pillar 4: Favorable economic and institutional framework for effective governance, sustainability, stability, and security
  • Pillar 5: Capacity building

The Accelerator will undertake the mapping of available funding sources, in order to monitor and evaluate the impact of the ongoing project until 2030. Additionally, the UNCCD will collaborate with the Pan African Agency of the Great Green Wall, to facilitate progress tracking, enhance the coordination between the member states of the GGW.[23]

During 2023 to 2024, the Accelerator unit will be transferred to the Pan African Agency. In 2025, the review and evaluation towards 2030 GGW ambition will be conducted, for the impact of Accelerator investments and progress.[23]


Currently, the conservation mechanism to restore the degraded land from agricultural intensification is implementing the Great Green Wall in the Sahara and Sahel region in Africa. With international support on this initiative, the GGWSSI managed to restore a relatively large amount of degraded land through reforestation, and increase household income from the job opportunities created.[8] The GGWSSI also increased food security in the local community by incorporating Indigenous practices that are agriculturally sustainable, as well as the high livestock productivity as a result of the reforestation process. However, some challenges to the GGWSSI was the exclusion of vulnerable communities in the region, the uneven management due to the vast land the project is covering, and the infeasibility of depending on long-term international funding.[3] With these challenges, it is recommended to use the five pillars of investing on the GGWSSI to continue the reforestation of Africa's degraded lands.[23]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Darkoh, M. B. K. (1998). <1::AID-LDR263>3.0.CO;2-8 "The nature, causes and consequences of desertification in the drylands of Africa". Land Degradation & Development. 9(1): 1–20 – via WILEY.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Duram, L. A. (2018). Case Studies. In Environmental Geography: People and the Environment. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. pp. 232–237. ISBN 978-1-4408-5610-5.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Turner, M. D.; Davis, D. K.; Yeh, E. T.; Hiernaux, P.; Loizeaux, E. R.; Fornof, E. M.; Rice, A. M.; Suiter, A. K. (2023). "Great green walls: Hype, myth, and science". Annual Review of Environment and Resources. 48(1): 263–287.
  4. Berrahmouni, N.; Tapsoba, F.; Berte, C. J. (2014). "The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative: building resilient landscapes in African drylands". Genetic considerations in ecosystem restoration using native tree species. 15.
  5. Gadzama, N. M. (2017). "Attenuation of the effects of desertification through sustainable development of Great Green Wall in the Sahel of Africa". World journal of science, technology and sustainable development. 14(4): 279–289 – via Emerald Insight.
  6. Republic of Senega (2009). "Plan of action for the implementation of the great green wall for the Sahara and Sahel initiative" (PDF). FAO. Retrieved March 7, 2024.
  7. "National Agency for the Great Green Wall - NAGGW".
  8. 8.0 8.1 Rivière, S. "Great Green Wall cross-border pilot project (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger)". Kew.
  9. "Action Against Desertification".
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 "UNCCD Impact".
  12. Veste, Littmann, Kunneke, Du Toit, Seifert (2020). "Windbreaks as part of climate-smart landscapes reduce evapotranspiration in vineyards, Western Cape Province, South Africa" (PDF). Plant Soil Environ. 66: 119–127. line feed character in |title= at position 54 (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. Sacande, Moctar (October 2021). "Socio-economic impacts derived from large scale restoration in three Great Green Wall countries". Journal of Rural Studies. 87: 160–168.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Giuliani, Gregory (21 Jul, 2022). "Is the African Great Green Wall greening? Some positive signs from a 20-years' time-series of satellite observations". Research Square. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  15. 15.0 15.1 Ward, Carol; Solomon, Yodit; Ballif-Spanvill, Bonnie; Furhriman, Addie (2009). "Framing development: community and NGO perspectives in Mali". Community Development Journal. 44 (4): 470–487.
  16. Francis, Rob; Weston, Peter; Birch, Julia (March 2015). "The social, environmental and economic benefits of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration" (PDF). World Vision.
  17. Jean-Louis, Arcand (September 11, 2008). "Does Community Driven Development Work? Evidence from Senegal". Elsevier SSNR.
  18. "Environmental rehabilitation and the vulnerability of the poor: The case of the Great Green Wall".
  19. "Local involvement in the Great Green Wall of Africa A systematic review of guidelines on how to involve local communities in nature conservation projects" (PDF). 2020. line feed character in |title= at position 52 (help)
  20. Bonn (March 27,2023). "". UNCCD. Check date values in: |date= (help); External link in |title= (help)
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 UNCCD. "Independent Review of the Great Green Wall Accelerator Final report". pp. 4–18.
  22. the Global Environment Facility. "The Great Green Wall Initiative: Supporting Resilient Livelihoods and Landscapes in the Sahel". pp. 9–10.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 UNCCD. "Green Wall Accelerator".

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