What is the long green belt initiative?

Have you heard about the Great Green Wall? The African-led initiative aims at restoring the continent’s degraded landscapes by creating an 8000-km-long belt of greenery across the Sahel, the region bordering the Sahara desert. Read on to find out interesting details about the project.

Regenerating the Sahel

The Sahara, the world’s largest hot desert located in North Africa, has expanded 10 per cent southwards into the Sahel since 1920.

The Sahel is a vast semi-arid region separating the Sahara from the tropical savanna grasslands to the south. It is mostly barren, with sandy, rock-strewn and degraded landscapes. It stretches from Senegal in the west to Eritrea in the east, and cuts through more than a dozen countries in between. It is also one of the world’s poorest regions.

The people who live in the Sahel are regularly beset by drought and famine. Overgrazing, increasing population and poor farming techniques have added to the problems.

Great Green Wall

In 2007, the African Union, made up of all 54 countries in the continent, decided to do something about regenerating the Sahel. It launched an ambitious project called the Great Green Wall, an 8000-km-long belt of greenery that would encircle the waist of Africa! The plan was to plant millions of trees across the Sahel to hold back the Sahara.

The Wall aimed to revitalise 100 million hectares (247 million acres) of degraded land, sequester 250 million tons of carbon, and create 10 million jobs in rural areas by 2030. Completed, it would be Earth’s most massive living structure. It was also expected to benefit the communities living in the Sahel and reduce conflict over land and migration due to drought.

It began with 11 countries, which later increased to 20, and then 26. In some countries, many of the planted trees died, either because they were not the suitable species for that region or because they were attacked by pests. Trees planted in remote, sparsely inhabited areas also perished. In many cases, the locals were not motivated enough and lost interest in looking after the trees. It turned out that constructing a wall of trees was not child’s play.

Indigenous methods of land use

The project leaders decided that each country would work according to its own plan and adapt indigenous methods of land use, such as soil conservation and rainwater harvesting that were already being followed by farmers and landowners. In some places, grasses and not trees were planted. In others, it was a mix of both. Hardy native species that were resistant to insects were chosen. For instance, the Sahel’s acacia trees became one of the staple plants. Its sap, called gum arabic, is used in a range of products, from paints and cosmetics to candies and sodas. The export of gum arabic became a steady source of income for the locals.

The project has had patchy success, depending on the country, its capacity to invest money and the enthusiasm of its farmers. Ethiopia began reforestation early and has so far planted more than 5 billion seedlings on 150,000 hectares of land. Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal and Chad have also reforested large swathes of degraded land, planting trees numbering in the millions. Countries like Cameroon and Ghana were slower off the blocks.

Roughly 49 million acres were restored between 2007 and 2018 at a cost of more than $200 million. More than 20 million acres of land need to be restored every year and over $4 billion invested annually, if the Wall is to be finished by 2030.

However, the project has created more than 350,000 agroforestry jobs and generated $90 million in revenue in the countries where it has been implemented, giving them an incentive to soldier on.


Africa’s Great Green Wall has inspired our own government to create a 1,400-km-long and 5-km-wide ‘green belt’ from Gujarat to the Delhi Haryana border, from Porbandar to Panipat. The plan hopes to reforest degraded land along the Aravalli Hills that will also act as a barrier to the shifting sands of the Thar Desert.


* In 1996, 197 nations came together to ratify the United Nation’s Convention to Combat Desertification.

* More than 24 billion tons of fertile soil is still lost yearly to desertification, while 40 per cent of the Earth’s land surface is now considered degraded. Dry land degradation affects the economies of developing countries. The UN estimates that desertification impacts 3 billion people on Earth.

*Desertification cannot be blamed only on deserts! Similar to climate change, human activities are often the main cause of land degradation. Intensive agriculture, overgrazing by livestock, industries set up in remote areas, an exploding population and increasing urbanisation-all have led to desertification.

Picture Credit : Google

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