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EU and Africa to build a ‘Green Wall’ across the Sahara
At the second EU-Africa Summit held in Lisbon this weekend, the European Union and African states have agreed to implement an ambitious project of an almost ‘geoengineering’ scale: to build a ‘green wall’ of trees across the vast Sahara to push back desertification and to secure agriculture and livelihoods in the sahelo-saharan zone. The massive afforestation project will create a buffer that must protect populations from the effects of climate change and that will help countries achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.
The idea of a ‘Green Wall for the Sahara’ was first developed by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo and presented to the African Union (AU) in 2005. After informal consultative meetings and brainstorming sessions, the AU Commission wrote a draft concept paper outlining the plan. In it, the greening concept is conceived of less as a mere afforestation effort by states and more as an integrated project based on a clear societal and cultural vision, aimed at promoting sustainable development managed by the communities of the sahelo-saharan region themselves. Key objectives are the conservation and recovery of existing vegetation; the introduction of new plantations; the promotion of modern bioenergy instead of unsustainable biomass use; improved range and water resources management.
There have been precedents to such a project, but they have been limited in scope: the ‘Green Belt of Northern African Countries’ which was launched in 1978 drawing on Algeria’s experience with a 3 million hectare stretch of land 1500 km long and 10-20 km wide. Similarly, the ‘Green Belt for Nigeria’ initiative that was formulated in response to the threats of desertification and deforestation that was detected using satellite imagery taken between 1976/78 and 1993/95, which in fact led to declaration of these threats as emergency issues. It had an objective of planting about 300 million trees on 240,000 thousand hectares. The most successful example on which the Green Wall Initiative will draw is China’s vast reforestation programme initiated in 2000, which is known as ‘The Great Green Wall’ with a view to increasing the extent of planted forest network by 5 million hectares until 2010.
Some of the defining characteristics of past efforts in Africa are that they have had an initial conceptual bias or fault or had a limited area of coverage, were isolated, not coordinated, and therefore their impact on the fight of desertification could not be commensurate with the needs. The Green Wall Initiative is a much larger, integrated transboundary project that will stretch from West to East and comprise the combined capacities of more than a dozen countries (Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cape verde, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Erithrea, Guinea Bissau, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Saharawi Arab Republic, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, The Gambia, and Tunisia).
The AU asked the EU for help with further designing and implementing the plan, which was consequently taken up in the Joint EU-Africa Strategy‘s Action Plan 2008-2010. It ranks as the second priority in the Africa-EU Partnership on Climate Change that will be endorsed today and enscribed in the Lisbon Declaration.
In the EU’s Action Plan, the ‘Green Wall for the Sahara Initiative’ is described as having the following objectives and outcomes:
- to combat desertification and improve the livelihoods of the inhabitants of the countries of the Sahara and Sahel zones of Africa by achieving the reversal of desert encroachment and soil degradation
- the improvement of micro-climatic conditions and reduction of land degradation
- to identify the relevant activities in the ‘Green Wall Initiative’ adapted to the national and regional context
- to enhance environmental sustainability within the framework of regional and international environmental agreements
- to advance the implementation of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and to improve the knowledge on land degradation and desertification
- to control land degradation, promote sustainable land management with a view to integrate land management issues in national development strategies, including poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSPs), and increase land productivity and food production
- to promote integrated natural resource management and conserve biological diversity
- to address the problems of land degradation and increasing aridity at all relevant levels to respond to local needs and build on local and individual efforts and successes
- to create awareness and promote wider public involvement in arresting desertification in a sustainable manner
- to identify and promote alternative livelihoods and productive systems for the populations affected by desertification
A large list of actors and institutional frameworks will participate in the project. Amongst them are: