The Great Green Wall began in 2007. The project was ambitious. African countries aimed to plant trees in a nearly 5,000-mile line spanning the entire continent, creating a natural barrier to hold back the Sahara Desert as climate change swept the sands south, a vision for the trees to extend like a belt across the vast Sahel region, from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, by 2030.
But as temperatures rose and rainfall diminished, millions of the planted trees died. Only 4% of the Great Green Wall’s original goal has been met, and an estimated $43 billion would be needed to achieve the rest. African Development Bank President Akinwumi A. Adesina spoke about the importance of stopping desertification in the Sahel during the COP26 global climate conference. He announced a commitment from the bank to mobilize $6.5 billion toward the Great Green Wall by 2025.
With prospects for completing the barrier fade, organizers have shifted their focus from planting a wall of trees to trying smaller, more durable projects to stop desertification, including community-based efforts designed to improve lives and help the most vulnerable agriculture. The programs focus on restoring the environment and reviving economic activity in Sahel villages, projects that are likely to rebuild the environment, fix the dunes and also help protect the vegetable-growing areas.
The newest projects in Senegal are circular gardens known in the Wolof language as “tolou keur.” They feature a variety of trees that are planted strategically so that the larger ones protect the more vulnerable. The gardens’ curving rows hold moringa, sage, papaya and mango trees that are resistant to dry climates. They are planted so their roots grow inward to improve water retention in the plot. Solar energy helps provide electricity for irrigation.