A map of the proposed Great Green Wall across Africa south of the Sahara Desert. 7775 kilometers equals 4831 miles and 11,662,500 hectares equals 42,000 square miles (this is almost the size of Pennsylvania). The wall will average 15 kilometers (almost 10 miles) in width.

Video update from the Friends Women’s Association: FWA in Burundi has just produced a 3 minute update video on their work. You can access this at



If you kept up with African issues in the 1970s and 1980s, you will remember the problem of “desertification,” the process by which fertile land becomes desert, typically as a result of drought, deforestation, or inappropriate agriculture. The Sahara Desert continued to expand south increasing the size of the desert. It seems that this was one of the initial signs of climate change and global warming.

This is a picture of a rock painting in the Manda Guéli Cave in the Ennedi Mountains, northeastern Chad. Currently this is right in the middle of the Sahara Desert.

Ten thousand years ago, the Sahara Desert was green. The thousands of example of rock paintings in the Sahara Desert confirms that people lived and thrived in the now desert. One theory of how this green land became a desert is that the destruction of the environment was due to the over-grazing by cows, goats, camels, and sheep. In the place of pasture, drought, wind, and sand turned the fertile land into a desert. In short the human induced environmental destruction of the world began a long, long time ago. Note that this is just one possible explanation.

A wall of trees in Senegal, the country which has made the greatest progress of the eleven countries involved in this massive project.

While the idea of a tree buffer across the southern boundary of the Sahara desert was first suggested in 1954, it was not until 2002, that the idea was resurrected at a special summit in Chad on World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. By 2007 the concept was endorsed by the African Union and called the “Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative” (GGWSSI). To date $4 billion has been pledged for the effort $8 billion effort.


Old trees in Niger that grew from ancient roots.

In Niger it was found that the roots of old trees that once existed are still alive. Each rainy season the trees would sprout, but the farmers, following the advice of the agricultural extension workers, would cut down the shoots to plant their crops in a mono-culture as was done in Europe. This picture above shows the effects of natural re-greening. This old, but forgotten strategy of letting the trees grow, was reintroduced in the 1980s. The farmers continued to plant their crops between the trees and found that their yields increased. So far over 5 million hectares (12 million acres, about twice the size of New Jersey) have been reforested in Niger.

So far 15% of the wall has been completed. Senegal has planted 12 million trees on the green wall, Ethiopia has restored 15 million hectares (37 million acres), Burkina Faso 3 million hectares (7.5 million acres), Nigeria 5 million hectares (12.4 million  acres), and Niger 5 million hectares (12.4 million  acres). There is still a long way to go. How effective this Great Green Wall is going to be in the long term is still unclear.

Tree planting in Ethiopia.

On a related topic, on July 29, Ethiopians planted 353,633,660 trees, a world record for one day of tree planting. The country has a goal of planting 4 billion trees by October this year. They have already reached 2.6 billion trees. The long term goal is to increase the land covered by trees from only 4% to 30% of the land.

China has its own Great Green Wall to fence off the expanding Gobi Desert. The 4,500 kilometres (2,800 mi) long wall began in 1979 and is slated to be finished by 2050. India also has massive efforts at reforestation. On August 9 in the state of Uttar Pradesh with a population of 200 million, one million of those people planted 220 million trees on that day.

How many trees has the United States planted this year? How many have been cut down? How many were destroyed by wild fires? What is largest number of trees planted in the US in one day this year? In so many ways, the United States has become, not the world’s leader, but the world’s laggard.


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David Zarembka

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