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VIDEO: African Countries Are Joining Together to Build a 4,750-Mile Wall of Trees

By Maggie Fuller and Claudia Cardia

05.13.20

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Illustration by Claudia Cardia

World of Good is a video series featuring feel-good stories that often get buried in our newsfeeds. In this episode, we look at a tree-planting project that has become a movement.

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Video transcript

In the fight against climate change, a group of 21 African countries is on the frontlines. Over the past 50 years, their lands have become desert, so they’ve banded together to reclaim the area by planting a wall of trees from one side of the continent to the other.
And get this—it’s working.

The region, called the Sahel, sits just below the Sahara Desert.
Once full of grasslands and woodlands, it is now one of the most environmentally degraded places on Earth. The Sahara itself is slowly expanding into the area, but it’s drought and poor land management that have really decimated the Sahel. Faced with a lack of work and growing conflict, millions have migrated.

The idea for the project, called the Great Green Wall, was simple: Grow a barrier against the Sahara to save both landscapes and livelihoods and give people a reason to stay. The African-led initiative launched in 2007, supported by 11 countries. Since then, 10 more countries have joined, including many from outside the region.
What started as a tree-planting venture has now become a movement—a patchwork of different sustainable land-use projects in different countries.

But the goal remains the same: Reclaim 100 million hectares (247 million acres) of land by the year 2030 and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

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Currently, the Great Green Wall is only about 15 percent complete—but the change is visible: Planted with drought-resistant trees, the new forests slow soil erosion, protect against the Saharan winds, and help filter rainwater back into the ground. Equally important is the return to indigenous farming practices. Village vegetable gardens have been planted in the regenerated areas. Patches of seedlings can become emergency food for cattle when the rains are late, trees can be cut for firewood, and tree fruit can be harvested and sold.

And then of course there are all the jobs that have been created to plant, nurture, and maintain these new green spaces.

If completed, the Great Green Wall will stretch 4,750 miles from Senegal to Djibouti, be three times the size of the Great Barrier Reef, and sequester 250 million tons of carbon.

It would be a new world wonder—but just the fact that there’s so much more green here today than before is pretty wonderful right now.

Further reading

A film about the Great Green Wall is set to be released this year. Produced by Fernando Meirelles, the Academy Award–nominated director of City of God and The Constant Gardener, the film follows Malian musician and activist Inna Modja as she traverses Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, Niger, and Ethiopia. It depicts the very real consequences of climate change that locals are still facing, but also highlights the characters and stories driving the project forward. Learn more about it on the Great Green Wall website, and keep an eye out for screenings this year. 

>>Next: The Future of Africa’s Wild Places—and Why Safaris Matter