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Newly seeded with $14 billion, Africa’s Great Green Wall to see quicker growth

Funds for the Sahel’s barrier against desertification renew hope for its completion

The Great Green Wall, which began in 2007, is envisioned as a band of vegetation running from Senegal to Djibouti. Courtesy of UNCCD
28 January 2021
28 January 2021

The Great Green Wall for the Sahel and the Sahara Initiative, which seeks to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land and create 10 million green jobs by 2030, has entered a new phase with partners pledging more than USD 14 billion in international finance for the Wall’s 11 involved countries over the next five years. To date, 4 percent of the Wall is estimated to be complete, bumped to 18 percent when taking into account associated improvements outside the direct intervention areas.

The funding, which makes up more than 30 percent of USD 33 billion needed to reach the end line, seeks to bring rural development initiatives to scale in a region ravaged by the combined effects of drought, poverty and food insecurity. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) will facilitate discussions on resource allocation and follow up on commitments by donors including the African Development Bank (USD 6.5 billion), the World Bank (USD 5 billion) and the European Commission (USD 2.5 billion).

The Great Green Wall was launched in 2007 by the African Union as a 7,000-kilometer barrier stretching from Senegal to Djibouti. The objective was to stop creeping desertification through a trans-continental mosaic of green, productive landscapes that would fight land degradation and loss of biodiversity. A status report published in 2020, though, concluded that more funds, technical support and monitoring were needed to realize this vision. The initiative had, as of then, only received around USD 1 billion.

The initiative is designed to massively improve land fertility, economic growth, food security and resiliency to climate change across the Sahel. Courtesy of UNCCD
The initiative is designed to massively improve land fertility, economic growth, food security and resiliency to climate change across the Sahel. Courtesy of UNCCD

“The timing of this [new] funding is absolutely vital,” says the managing director of the Global Mechanism of UNCCD, Louise Baker. “It signals a ‘build back better’ plan from COVID-19 in a region where a lot of people live off the land and temperatures are rising faster than anywhere else on earth.”

According to the UNCCD, 80 percent of the region’s population heavily relies on rain-fed agriculture for work, but 65 percent of the land has been degraded due to climate change, over-farming and unsustainable land management practices. In the past 30 years, this has intensified food insecurity and hopelessness among millions of jobless rural youth, triggering dangerous migrations and growing the ranks of radical groups such as Boko Haram. “That’s why, if we get this right, we can tip the whole future of the region,” says Baker.

The new funding will provide an opportunity to enhance coordination among donors, improve monitoring and evaluation of projects in the various countries, and build the capacities of the Pan African Agency for the Great Green Wall, established by the African Union in 2010. The Agency might have been well placed to coordinate efforts and oversee progress, but it lacked the adequate skills and resources.

“In the next couple of years, we will focus on building the capacity of the Pan African Agency, making sure the technical, IT, project planning and resource-tracking capacities are there so that [the Agency] can do its job,” says Baker.

The 11 core countries of the Great Green Wall are Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sudan. Courtesy of UNCCD
The 11 core countries of the Great Green Wall are Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sudan. Courtesy of UNCCD

“We will also facilitate political and funding discussions to help respond to needs on the ground and try to bring in the private sector,” explains Camilla Nordheim-Larsen, UNCCD’s coordinator of private sector partnerships. For example, companies could source sustainably-produced commodities such as regional shea-butter, but Nordheim-Larsen underscores the need to de-risk investments in order to attract more private finance.

The Great Green Wall is the first initiative to be targeted for completion during the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which launches in June and will run through 2030 with a mission to restore degraded landscapes. “The objective is to provide a package of interventions so that the whole area can flourish, boosting food security and reducing poverty in an ecologically sustainable manner,” says Maria Sarraf, a World Bank practice manager for the environment, natural resources and the blue economy in West Africa.

The more than USD 5 billion in financing from the World Bank – some of which is already committed to ongoing projects – will support issues such as agricultural productivity, resilient infrastructure, financial inclusion, rural mobility and access to renewable energy in the drylands of the Sahel, Lake Chad and Horn of Africa. The funding will go toward 60 projects that range from community climate action in Burkina Faso to youth skill development in Chad, agriculture and livestock in Mauritania, water security in Niger and electricity in Ethiopia.

The projects, says Sarraf, will benefit from the lessons learned over the course of previous investments in the region. These include the need to improve land tenure security, expand low-cost practices such as farmer-managed natural regeneration and georeference projects to better track the Wall’s progress. Sarraf sees the latter as being particularly important.

“Given the current momentum for scaling-up, it is essential to reach an agreement on progress indicators each funding agency reports back on. That will make it easier to aggregate results in 2025,” she said.


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