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Understanding The Concept Of Great Green Wall Initiative



Contrary to popular perception or what the name may suggest, the Great Green Wall for Sahel and Sahara Initiative (GGWSSI) is not about creating a wall of trees stretching from Senegal in West Africa to Djibouti in East Africa, but a metaphor to depict a mosaic of integrated interventions tackling the multiple challenges affecting the lives of people in the Sahel and Sahara areas.

Sahelian African countries have been facing several environmental challenges related to climate change and desertification. Populations in this region are among the poorest and depend heavily on the ecosystems for rainfed agriculture, fisheries and livestock management to sustain their livelihoods. These constitute the primary sectors of employment in the region and they generate at least 40% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in most of the countries.

Since the severe droughts of the 1970s and 1980s, which caused the loss of thousands of lives and forced hundreds of thousands to migrate, much knowledge has been gained by communities and nations on strategies to cope with and mitigate environmental degradation and climate change. Although climate vulnerability is exacerbating land degradation trends, there is growing evidence across the region of successful sustainable land management innovations that protect fragile soils, improve productivity, and create income opportunities for the vast rural population.

The challenge facing Sahelian and West African countries now is to harness these modest successes by working together to expand opportunities for the rural population in the context of sustainable development and food security. By linking national level efforts across borders, countries will tackle policy, investment, and institutional barriers that exacerbate the effects of climate change and variability, leading to desertification and deterioration of environment and natural resources and the risks of conflicts between communities. This informed the decision for the development and adoption of the Great Green Wall Initiative as an integrated rural development programme to address the problem of environmental degradation in the Sahel-Saharan areas and improve the livelihoods of the affected communities. The expectation is that collaborative efforts would enhance the achievement of the common goals of arresting further degradation of soils and land resources within the affected region.

Defining GGW

The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative was launched in 2005 as a strong political response to serious challenges posed by desertification, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, Climate Change and drought. All of these factors combine their impacts to increase food insecurity and deepen poverty and the challenges of achieving Sustainable Development. From the initial idea of a wall of trees from West Africa to East Africa, the concept of the Great Green Wall transformed into integrated rural development programme addressing the challenges of climate change, desertification and improving the livelihoods of the affected people in the drylands. The Great Green Wall Initiative therefore according to the Harmonised Regional Strategy is a set of integrated actions addressing the multisectoral problems affecting the lives of people in African Sahel – Saharan areas. These actions which are multisectoral and multidimensional,  transversally address a wide range of concerns, including natural resource management, sustainability of rural production systems (agriculture, forestry, pastoral development etc.), the development of rural production and trade infrastructures, diversifying economic activities and wealth creation as well as gender and youth mainstreaming into development.

Since GGW is a comprehensive and long-term response to issues of desertification, land degradation and drought, it offers a unique opportunity to bring significant changes towards the intensification of investments and efforts aimed at promoting food security and combating poverty through simultaneously, a strong political commitment by decision makers and  innovative local interventions that strengthen good practices in local governance, agriculture, livestock farming, forestry, water resources, rural infrastructures, and rural safety nets, among others.

Objective, Scope and Expected Benefits

The overall objective of the GGW as the Harmonised Regional Strategy indicates is to improve the resilience of human and natural systems in Sahel and Saharan areas faced with climate change through healthy ecosystem management and sustainable development of natural resources (water, soil, vegetation, fauna, flora), protection of tangible and intangible rural heritage, the development of rural production and sustainable development hubs, improvement of living conditions and livelihoods of people living in these areas.
The geographic scope of focus of the programme is the vulnerable areas in the Sahel and Sahara. Priority has been agreed to be given to the belt defined by isohyets lines below 400mm. In other words, interventions should focus more on areas with rainfall of below 400mm.  However, countries may wish to operate outside of this zone with a view to combat land degradation and improve livelihood for poverty alleviation. The GGW core area of intervention is about 780million hectares and home to 232 million people. Therefore, if Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15.3 is to be achieved by 2030, some 10 million hectares will need to be restored each year across the GGW core area. When fully developed, the GGW according to Global Mechanism of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is expected to achieve the following:

•Contribute to Land Degradation Neutrality (SDG Target 15.3) as a result of sustainable land management and restoration of degraded land;

•Increase climate resilience of local population in a region where temperatures are expected to rise by 2-50C by 2050

•Mitigate the effects of climate change through carbon sequestration in soils

•Ensure food security for 20 million people in the Sahel who suffer from hunger each year;

•Create “Green jobs”, rural jobs that protect natural capital and restore degraded land through the implementation of sustainable land management best practices and that build sustainable livelihoods for local people, especially women and young people;

•Provide a response to the migration crisis, bearing in mind that the International Organization for Migration estimates that 60 million people could migrate from Sub-Saharan Africa towards North Africa and Europe by 2020;

• Be a symbol of peace;

• Cultivate the Great Green Wall as the 8th wonder of the World.

Nigerian Great Green Wall Programme

As signatory to GGW Convention, Nigeria is committed to the implementation of the Initiative and already established the National Agency for the Great Green Wall to coordinate the implementation. Also a Strategic Action Plan has been developed to serve as the programme implementation framework.

The Strategic Action Plan is a five-year Plan with the goal of improving the well being of the affected people and reducing their vulnerability to the impact of desertification orchestrated by climate change through improved use of land and other natural resources for sustainable development and support to climate infrastructure. The development objective is to combat land degradation and desertification in Nigeria in order to protect and restore ecosystems and essential ecosystem services that are key to reducing poverty, enhancing food security, and promoting sustainable livelihoods. The key objectives of the Plan include the following:

•Developing and implementing integrated approach to Sustainable Land Management (SLM) that is crucial to minimizing land degradation, rehabilitating degraded areas and ensuring the optimal use of land resources for the benefit of present and future generations;

•Developing and promoting sustainable agricultural and water management practices;

•Ecological restoration of degraded ecosystems, using appropriate techniques and technologies;

•Improving information sharing and cooperation among stakeholders;

•Strengthening systemic and institutional capacity for enhanced desertification governance and resource mobilization;

•Improving scientific knowledge on desertification and drought;

•Effective monitoring and evaluation for impact.

Furthermore, the Plan has identified eight main strategic pillars of intervention and these are:

•Improvement of the management of land resources and their sustainable use;

•Enabling policy, legal and institutional framework for sustainable land management and desertification control;

•Improvement of critical infrastructure for enhanced and sustainable socio-economic development and environmental sustainability;

•Enhancement of private sector investment in sustainable land management;

•Sustainable financing for desertification control;

•Effective communication for improved land management;

•Monitoring and evaluation system; and

•Eco-regional approach for improved trans-boundary sustainable land management.

Within the framework of the GGW Programme, it has been envisaged that about 22,500sqkm of degraded land in the dry region of the country will be rehabilitated for agricultural production and the livelihoods of over 25 million people will be improved by the year 2030. The Nigerian GGW programme is also expected to contribute greatly to the following:

•Environmental rehabilitation /restoration of the Northeast Region of Nigeria;

•Environmental rehabilitation/restoration of the Lake Chad Basin;

•Rehabilitation of the Internally Displaced People by creating job opportunities, income generation activities and rehabilitation of degraded farm lands;

•Reducing Farmers – Herders Conflicts by creating grazing reserves and fodder farms in the dryland areas.


The Great Green Wall Initiative holds the key to the future of African drylands. It is a bold initiative that has the propensity to bring back to the continent food and water security, create jobs and new economic opportunities, help in fighting climate change and allow people not to only survive but thrive. In Nigeria, the GGW programme remains the major mechanism that can be used to ensure the sustainable development of the drylands, combat rural poverty and create hope for the affected people. 

– Katsina is a public affairs analyst wrote in from Abuja



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