June 17: World Day to Combat Desertification – Africa’s Great Green Wall

“… the Great Green Wall a means to bring together many of the nations of Africa in a single transformative continental enterprise, one capable of uniting not only the Governments but the peoples of Africa in a common endeavour.” 
– President of Ireland, H.E. Michael D. Higgins

The Society of African Missions (SMA) has chosen to champion Africa’s Great Green Wall. Our Laudato Tree Project aims to encourage the growing of biodiversity through the planting of native and appropriate trees in Ireland while also supporting the planting of trees across this immense ribbon of hope the Great Green Wall represents.

On March 26, 2018, President Michael D. Higgins inaugurated the SMA initiative. Recently he recalled that memorable evening:

President Michael D. Higgins and Mrs Sabina Higgins welcome Madam Monique Barbut to Aras an Uachtaráin for the inauguration of the SMA Laudato Tree Project

“… Two months ago, I had the opportunity of hosting the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, Ms Monique Barbut. The Convention has demonstrated that land degradation can be combatted through new land management practices, equitable land tenure arrangements, and re-afforestation programmes, and the objective of combatting desertification has now been fully integrated into the Sustainable Development Goals.

It is in Africa that such a goal has found an initiative equal in its ambition, in the proposed establishment of the Great Green Wall, a zone of land restoration stretching 8,000 kilometres from Dakar to Djibouti. In its breadth of vision, it is so characteristic of its progenitor, Thomas Sankara, the former President of Burkina Faso, who saw in the Great Green Wall a means to bring together many of the nations of Africa in a single transformative continental enterprise, one capable of uniting not only the Governments but the peoples of Africa in a common endeavour.”

The full speech of President Michael D. Higgins can be accessed by clicking here.

To mark World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought (17 June), the Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency, has published an article by the respected African journalist, Issa Sikiti da Silva, which opens with the following paragraphs:

Woman working on the Great Green Wall

DAKAR, Senegal, Jun 11 2018 (IPS) – Hope, smiles and new vitality seem to be returning slowly but surely in various parts of the Sahel region, where the mighty Sahara Desert has all but ‘eaten’ and degraded huge parts of landscapes, destroying livelihoods and subjecting many communities to extreme poverty.

The unexpected relief has come from the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative (GGWSSI), an eight-billion-dollar project launched by the African Union (AU) with the blessing of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and the backing of organizations such as the World Bank, the European Union and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The article concludes with the thoughts of Marine Gauthier, an environmental expert for the Rights and Resources’ Initiative (RRI), who believes a participatory approach was needed if the project was to be implemented successfully. It is a view the Society of African Missions agrees with.

“In a conflictual region,” says Gauthier, “where people depend on the land for their survival and where there are numerous transhumance activities from herders peoples (Peuls) potentially impacted by the project, a careful participatory approach is needed.”

“Conflicts have already arisen a couple of years ago with Peuls (herders practicing transhumance, whose travels were to be restrained by the project). Just like any other environmental protection project, its capacity to engage with local communities, to make them first beneficiaries of the project, is the key to its success on the long term.
“Participatory mapping is a very successful tool that has been used within other projects and that could be of great help in defining and establishing the Great Green Wall,” Gauthier said.

GGW virtual reality headset

Furthermore, Gauthier said empowering communities would be very interesting at the scale of the Great Green Wall. “It would take a lot of efforts, consultations, financial and human resources. It is however the only way to ensure that this project, which people are talking about for more than 10 years now, reaches its goal.

“Because when the communities are empowered and when their rights on the land are secured, it benefits directly the environment and to preserving this land from more damage.”

You may read da Silva’s full article by clicking here.