The living wall of Africa: Why is it unique?

Environment 22 Apr 2021 Contributor
living wall

“Africa and desert are interweaved. Do you agree?” Mahfuz asked while I was busy tucking in delicious beef sandwiches. Man, he can cook better beef than me!

“What? Well no, Africa is rich in forests also. And the great rivers full of crocodiles. Mysterious insects and deadly animals. Why are you talking about desert only?” I replied promptly.

“I was reading about a living wall which will divide the African continent north and south. But this wall is beneficial, and very much related to the desert. And the wall is ALIVE!”

“How come?” I became curious now.

“For that, you have to visit Paga. Which is on the very edge of northern Ghana.” He replied.

The invasion of desert in Africa

The uniqueness of Paga is the friendly terms with the crocodiles. It is said that the people of Paga consider these deadly reptiles sacred. But Paga, along with other African regions is facing an encroaching threat from the Sahel region around it.

Let us take the example of Paga. It is located on the southern edge of semi-arid Sahel region covers the total African continent. And the surrounding area is covered with sand and sandy soil. Some desert trees and shrubs help to hold the soil together.

But the rapid urbanization of Paga and other villages of Ghana led to cutting off the trees to get fuel and building materials. Moreover, increasing population demanded farmlands, so the trees were cleared to make cultivable lands.

As a consequence, the soil is degrading heavily. The topsoil is getting heavily eroded by wind and heavy rainstorms leaving nothing for the trees and shrubs to put roots into. Hence, the land is turning into a desert. Sand is eating up the greens.

Over the past century, the Sahara desert has been expanding by more than 7600 km a year. It is now almost 10% larger than it was in 1920. Desertification has particularly occurred in the southern part of Africa. It has spread into the Sahel by more than 556000 sq km.

The great green living wall to hold back the desert

The project was launched in 2007 by the African Union. “The Great Green Wall” is a collective attempt to slow and even reverse the spread of Sahara. It is supported by UNCCD. More than 20 countries across the Sahel are now planting trees to build the world’s largest living wall.

The plan is to build an 8000 km green barrier across the entire width of Africa. To plant a lot of trees to fight with the desert. Thus, the wall got its name… the living wall. The Initiative brings together more than 20 countries, including Algeria, Burkina Faso, Benin, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mali, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia.

In Burkina Faso, In Senegal, Mali, and parts of Ghana, villagers are planting elephant grass. Senegal alone has planted more than 13 million drought-resistant trees in just over 10 years since the project was initiated. In Burkina Faso, cowpea plants and acacia trees with different types of bacteria and fungi to check if those can be more resistant to drought.

The result? About 30 million hectares of degraded land have been restored across 20 countries. Now the target is to restore 100 million hectares of land in Africa by 2030.

“So my dear, not all walls are bad? Right?” Asked Mahfuz after this marathon trivia episode.

“Nope. Not always.” I replied, still thinking about the vast mystery of Africa and the fighting spirit of the people living there.