Senegal - The Great Green Wall: a major African project to combat desertification
Forests & Climate – Committed to a beneficial environment for humans
To fight desertification, the African Union has launched a wide-reaching project called the Great Green Wall. The main focus of this major undertaking is the reforestation of an immense area of over 7,600 km in central Africa. In Senegal, the International Humanity & Nature Observatory (OHMI) has been set up to manage the project. It is headed up by Aliou Guissé, a passionate ecologist, with a contagious enthusiasm.
Pan-African efforts to fight desertification
Aliou Guissé witnessed the birth of the Great Green Wall. He knows it like the back of his hand. The co-director of the OHMI, who is also an ecologist and ecology professor, works tirelessly to ensure the success of this project whose importance is clear. “You don’t need to be an expert to see that the Sahel is becoming more and more desertified. This phenomenon has led to an increase in poverty and created particularly difficult survival conditions for local populations,” he deplores. Stopping the spread of the desert was the goal in 2005 that convened heads of state in the African Union to launch the iconic Great Green Wall project. Their plan was to encourage vegetation to reclaim its former place by reintroducing several plant species in an area of around 7,600 km, crossing 11 countries, from Senegal to Djibouti. “It’s truly a pan-African initiative!” explains Guissé. “In Senegal, the Observatory was created by the CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research), together with the Cheikh Anta Diop University, to enhance research related to the project. The National Great Green Wall Agency also helps us implement reforesting initiatives. Total Foundation joined the project in 2018.”
Local populations at the heart of the project
One of the key factors in this project’s success is identifying the plant species with the highest chance of surviving in the region’s harsh climate, which is characterized by very low levels of rainfall. “Our choices are based on two criteria: first, adaptability, since the species we select need to withstand water scarcity, and second, the societal aspects. We have conducted surveys of the local populations to determine which species would be the most useful to them in terms of food, medicineand hygiene products,” the ecologist continues. The species chosen include Acacia Senegal, or gum acacia, and Balanites aegyptiaca or Egyptian balsam.
It’s truly a pan-African initiative!
They are ideally suited for lasting reforestation and also offer new opportunities to the region’s inhabitants. One of the subprojects funded by the Total Foundation is the creation of vegetable gardens tended by women in the Ferlo region. “The inhabitants are livestock farmers. When we suggested creating vegetable gardens, they weren’t immediately on board. That isn’t part of their culture. There were also some fears in terms of how water was to be allocated between the livestock and the gardens. Much awareness-raising work had to be done,” adds Aliou Guissé. In the eight multipurpose gardens in the region, training sessions are organized for women. And to make their work easier, a drip irrigation system has been installed in each garden plot. The set-up Widou Thiengoly village involves 250 women, who have together earned FCFA 13,400,0001 since 2011 by selling their fruit and vegetables at local markets.
Tests, progress and long-term vision
Although Aliou Guissé is very proud of these results, he is well aware that much work remains to be done. “There are times when we get discouraged, for example when the rain hasn’t fallen in a long time or funding is late,” he explains. “We don’t have all the resources we need, which makes the funds2 donated by the Total Foundation especially crucial.” These financial contributions have made it possible to launch a new series of studies: “Previously, we were planting species across the region somewhat randomly. We now try to categorize the soil types more accurately so we can plant the species in the areas where they will have the best chances of survival.” Annual surveys carried out by various researchers associated with the projects make it possible to share progress made and identify any obstacles. What’s the next goal? As Aliou Guissé sees it, “It can’t be measured. We just have to have a very long-term vision.” He does however share that his team has set itself the objective of planting dozens of millions of hectares in Senegal before 2030.
The goal can’t be measured. We just have to have a very long-term vision.
KEY FIGURES THE GREAT GREEN WALL
- 45,816 hectares reforested between 2008 and 2018
- 11 countries crossed, over more than 7,600 km
- 8 multipurpose vegetable gardens tended by women in the Ferlo region