‘Green wall’ project gathers pace in Senegal

Workers watering the seedlings on one of the sites in Senegal Copyright: Emeka Johnkingsley

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[DAKAR] Senegal is planting its latest batch of seedlings for Africa’s ‘wall of trees’ initiative this week — the first planting since a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the project was signed in May.

The Great Green Wall project involves planting a living wall of trees and bushes more than 7,000 kilometres long and 15 kilometres wide, from Dakar, Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, to protect the semi-arid Sahel region from desertification.

The project is in its fourth year in Senegal, with planting taking place in Labgar, Mbar Toubab, Tessekere and Widou. The 1,500-strong workforce began planting this week (8 August) and hopes to plant 1.65 million seedlings by 15 September. Since 2008, Senegal has planted nearly eight million seedlings for the wall.

Pape Sarr, technical director for the Senegalese project, told SciDev.Net that the species selected for planting are economically viable and drought resistant. They are also protected by law in Senegal and cannot be felled without government permission, he said.

The wall was initiated by the African Union (AU) in 2007, through its New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). In June last year, the AU created the Pan African Agency of the Great Green Wall to monitor and coordinate the project in the different countries, and provide and share information.

An MoU was signed between the agency and NEPAD in May, which will involve the sharing and dissemination of strategies in the different countries involved in the project.

Marcel Nwalozie, director of NEPAD’s West Africa Mission, told SciDev.Net: "One of the things we are trying to do [through the MoU] is [create] a scientific advisory panel, because the Great Green Wall is not going to just be a wall of trees."

The project could also help improve livelihoods of the communities around the wall, he said.

His office, Nwalozie added, is currently looking into different initiatives to improve the soil, which would also help improve livelihoods of local communities.

"The hot wind alone affects the top layer of the soil, making it unusable for cropping. What we want to do with this project is to stop the Sahara desert, control it and limit its advancement so that we sort of build a wind break that would reduce the speed of this wind, the velocity of this wind, and help us to control its movement and conserve this side of the forest."

A number of international organisations — such as the Global Environment Facility — which confirmed in February around US$115 million to support the project, are supporting it because it could also act as a "huge carbon sink", he said.

Matar Cisse, director-general of the Senegalese Great Green Wall Agency, said efforts were in place to maintain the plants after harvesting.

"The World Food Programme provides food for work to the communities that are hosting the programmes where the walls are being planted. These communities were given the responsibility to maintain these trees that are being planted. We have small irrigation systems that these communities use to water the plants and [they will also] protect them from animals."

See below for a Global Environment Facility video about the project: