Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Africa's Great Green Wall: renewed interest in project to combat encroaching desert

Centuries ago there was the Great Wall of China, built to thwart marauding invaders. Recently, the United States talks of a wall along its southern border to resist illegal immigrants. And then there is the Great Green Wall of Africa, literally a wall of trees stretching across the African continent, designed to fight the encroaching Sahara Desert, which is consuming vital farmland.

An effect of climate change and the reduction in rainfall throughout central Africa, the Sahara Desert has been slowly expanding southward for decades. This desertification process reduces usable farmland critical for feeding developing African nations. While some research has
indicated that desertification can actually provide some relief from climate change by reflecting the sun's heat outward - much like what the polar ice caps do - the agricultural impact is considered a more pressing issue.

The Great Green Wall of Africa was first proposed over five years ago and supported by the African Union but the project has languished due to lack of funds. A conference involving ten African nations is taking place in Chad in the hopes of revitalizing the project. The Global Environment Facility (GEF), an independent financial organization consisting of governments and international groups committed to addressing worldwide environmental issues, has proposed funding support of as much as $119 million dollars USD.

For the Great Green Wall of Africa to succeed, it will need that kind of support. Trees have been shown to be proven barriers against wind, sand, and erosion. For Africa, the proposed wall would consist of drought-resistant trees indigenous to each region and would need to be approximately 9 miles wide and over 4,800 miles long.
Not only is it an ambitious project but there are concerns as to whether it can be properly maintained. But with the Sahara's relentless drive southward, it may be the best defense against loss of farmland and the risk of widespread starvation.

Read BBC News article.
Yahoo News article on GEF support.
Treehugger article of desertification research.


Daniel Bassett said...

If it works its a brilliant idea. But thats if they can fund it and continue to fund it. I hope so.

RTSea said...

Five years ago, it was originally projected to cost under $5 million. If GEF can come through on its much larger commitment, then perhaps it will succeed.