Ministers from African countries North and South of the Sahara and their development partners are meeting in Dakar, Senegal, at a High-Level conference organized by the African Union to accelerate progress on the Great Green Wall - Africa's largest rural development initiative.
“A decade after the initiative started — originally amidst a lot of scepticism and even mockery — today the Great Green Wall stands as one of the most innovative and daring endeavours in human history — a real 'world wonder'.” said Dr Janet Edeme, Dr. Janet Edeme, Acting Director, Rural Economy and Agriculture Department (DREA) on behalf of Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, AU Commissioner (DREA).
The Conference follows on from the recent Global Climate Summit (COP21) in Paris, where world leaders and key development partners pledged an additional USD 4 billion to the Great Green Wall over the next 5 years.
The renewed commitments offer fresh hope that the bold ambition of the Great Green Wall — to transform the lives of the Continent's poorest people by restoring the productivity of its degraded landscapes — can now become a reality.
“We all understand that the Great Green Wall Initiative is more than just a green belt: it is a strategy for maximizing the opportunities of the Sahara and Sahel region, through real involvement of communities and local governments”, affirmed Abdoulaye Balde, Senegal Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development. “Our survival now depends on our efforts and convictions.”
“The Great Green Wall Initiative generates a great operational platform for responding to the development conundrum of African drylands”, said Jamal Saghir, Senior Regional Advisor to the Africa Vice President of the World Bank Group. “The World Bank is fast-tracking support to Africa's climate resilience through the Africa Climate Business Plan–a blueprint that prioritizes World Bank support to interventions that strengthen resilience in Africa.”
The Great Green Wall — a compelling part of the solution
With 46% of African land currently affected by land degradation, jeopardizing the livelihoods of nearly 65% of the Continent's population — the planned action along the Great Green Wall is certainly timely. In 2015, more than 20 million people in the Sahel were food insecure. Most of the poor and hungry live in rural areas and a major part of their income comes from agriculture.
Moreover, the excess unskilled labour arriving from rural areas can no longer easily be absorbed in cities already at bursting point. To address the lack of opportunities, economic migrants with the resources to do so are undertaking long journeys, frequently under desperate conditions. Many risk their lives in search of a better life on the European continent. Millions more are expected to follow imminently, as climate change amplifies the threat posed by an already declining natural resource base.
“Every day on news stations around the world, we see the impact that land degradation is having in the Sahel”, highlighted Camilla Nordheim-Larsen of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. “Flash floods in Niger, the Boko Haram massacres in the Lake Chad region, food crises in the Horn of Africa, and terrorist attacks in Mali and Burkina Faso. At their root, all of these can be traced back to a cycle of poverty and lack of opportunity that is fuelled by the declining productivity of natural resources.
Amidst these urgent challenges, the Great Green Wall promises to be a compelling part of the solution; by providing people with improved economic prospects, a cushion against climate change, a reason to stay for unemployed youth set to migrate from the region, whilst helping to restore political stability.
“Ghana is not yet part of the Great Green Wall, but we have requested to be part of it because we need to keep out an enemy — climate change. And the private sector should brought in to help create jobs for youth and women”, said Mahama Ayariga, Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation of Ghana.
"With increased challenges of climate change, the need for appropriate risk management strategies should be emphasized," stated Bukar Tijani, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa, in a message to the conference. "Youth employment and inclusive growth, including women empowerment, are critical, particularly in light of urbanization and migration and the dividend that can accrue to Africa from its growing youthful population", he added.
The way forward
Indeed, since the Initiative's launch in 2007 by African Heads of State, significant progress has already been recorded. For example in Senegal, more than 11 million trees have been planted, in Nigeria 20,000 jobs have been created in rural areas and in Ethiopia 15 million hectares of degraded land have been restored.
The Conference will take stock of the results achieved and define a way forward to help the Great Green Wall realize its full potential as a lifeline for the Continent's poorest people, not just to survive but to thrive once more on their ancestral lands.
During the Conference, partners will define a roadmap for how to implement the Paris pledges to boost livelihood opportunities for local communities and establish greater resilience against climate change, whilst sharing knowledge across the Great Green Wall and beyond. At the end of the first day of the Conference, the Ministers already affirmed their commitment to implement the conclusions of the Conference, in the Dakar Declaration.
About the Great Green Wall
The Great Green Wall is an African-led Initiative with an epic ambition: to restore the productivity of degraded lands across the Sahara and the Sahel and transform millions of lives. Its goal is to provide food, jobs and a future for the millions of people who live in a region on the frontline of climate change.
The Great Green Wall brings together African countries and international partners under the leadership of the African Union Commission, including the Permanent Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS), the European Union, The African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN-PACO), the Sahara and Sahel Observatory (OSS), and the World Bank Group (WBG).