The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative as an opportunity to enhance resilience in Sahelian landscapes and livelihoods

The spatial evolution of the GGW path. The original (light green; adapted from Agence France-Presse) and updated (dark green) approximate paths for the 11 founding countries are illustrated. The updated path was simulated based on the individual GGW National Action Plans of each of the 11 founding GGW countries located at the pan-African Green Wall website ( The GGW has progressively expanded to include 21 countries across the African continent (the additional countries in light gray). The “Green Wall” is now used as an umbrella term, encompassing other multinational projects (Action Against Desertification, BRICKS, and FLEUVE) with highly overlapping objectives and geographic scope throughout Africa
Deborah Goffner
Hanna Sinare & 
Line J. Gordon 
Regional Environmental Change volume 19, pages1417–1428(2019) –

The article which was recently published contained a minor error in Fig. 1. The error lies in the updated version of the Great Green Wall path in Burkina Faso (shown in dark green). The correct, updated version of the GGW path in Burkina Faso is as illustrated in the current figure herein and not as originally published.


Over the past 50 years, a large number of development initiatives have addressed the diverse social and ecological challenges in the Sahel, often focusing on a single entry point or action, resulting in only a limited degree of success. Within the last decade, the international development discourse has evolved to incorporate resilience thinking as a way to address more complex challenges. However, concrete examples as to how to operationalize resilience thinking are lacking. The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative (GGW), a pan-African program with a strong reforestation focus, is the latest and most ambitious of these development programs to date. The GGW represents an ideal opportunity to apply resilience thinking at a large scale, but in order to do so, it must intelligently gather and centralize pre-existing interdisciplinary knowledge, generate new knowledge, and integrate knowledge systems to appropriately navigate future uncertainties of the diverse social-ecological systems along its path. Herein, after a brief description of large-scale reforestation history in the Sahara and Sahel and the conceptual evolution of the GGW, we propose a transdisciplinary research framework with resilience thinking at its core. It includes analysis of complex social-ecological systems, their temporal and spatial cross-scale interactions, and outcomes focused on the supply of abundant, diverse, equitable, and durable ecosystem services to support livelihoods in the region. If the research areas that comprise the framework were to be properly addressed, they could conceivably guide GGW actions in a way that would contribute to desirable future pathways.

An example of a mosaic landscape created by GGW actions in Northern Senegal (its position is shown on the map of Senegal in the upper right-hand corner). Although reforestation remains a central action for the GGW, a diversity of actions is also being implemented. Fodder plots are those in which local populations have access rights to harvest pasture grass for use or sale (they may be reforested or not). As for reforestation plots, their sole function is tree planting/regreening. Gum arabic plots are those that have been reforested, at least partially, with Acacia senegal with the aim of gum harvest and sale
A transdisciplinary research framework for GGW resilience building. The multiscale framework highlights research needed to better understand present SES along the GGW, their past-to-present dynamics, and to identify desirable futures and how GGW actions can contribute to pathways towards them. In the central panel, the contribution of different landscape units within a given SES to the total bundle of ecosystem services (ES) is illustrated. The benefits from ES bundles are distributed more or less equally among the people living in the SES (depicted as equal or unequal-sized people respectively). The three research areas are described in detail in the text.


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Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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