African Countries Get $119M to Hold Back the Sahara With a Wall of Trees

By Andrew Moseman | June 18, 2010 12:12 pm

sahara-dunesThe Sahara is the world largest desert, and getting larger. It threatens to creep ever further to the south and turn arable land in desert wasteland. The nations in its path have an idea, though: We’ll build a fence. Of trees.

The “Great Green Wall” would be a tree band that spans the breadth of northern Africa, 9 miles wide and nearly 5,000 miles long, from Senegal at the western edge near the Atlantic to Djibouti on the eastern edge near the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden. It may sound too dreamy or crazy to ever go forward, but this week at a meeting in Chad about desertification, the Global Environment Facility backed the belt idea with $119 million. Chad’s minister of environment, Hassan Térap, says it can be achieved:

When asked if the long-discussed but yet-to-be funded Green Wall initiative was too ambitious, Térap told IRIN: “We have to attack the problem, long ignored, through vision, ambition – and trees. What is wrong with ambition?” [IRIN Africa].

To bridge the east-west expanse of Africa, the wall would pass through Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan. But while those nations have discussed such a huge project before, little has been done. Now, though, with the $119 million divided between the constituent countries, perhaps the planting will go on.

Older people in N’Djamena – where the conference is being held – talk anecdotally about how the capital city has become a dustbowl over the last 20 years as the Sahara Desert has encroached southwards. The country has made efforts to plant a green belt of trees around the capital, and tens of thousands of young trees are being grown in nurseries on the outskirts of the city, she says [BBC News].

It’ll take more than money to get the wall going. Project leaders must now decide which trees to plant—preferably native, drought resistant ones. They’re considering 37 species.

Red tape may hold back the green wall, but the idea itself is no crazier than others proposed to counter Saharan sprawl. Here at 80beats we’ve covered proposals to set up vast irrigation and desalination plants to turn the desert green, and using a bacterium to bind the sand grains together as a rather different kind of “wall.”

Related Content:
80beats: To Save the Planet from Global Warming, Turn the Sahara Green
80beats: Can Bacteria Create a Cement Wall To Hold Back the Sahara
80beats: Happy News: Indonesia Won’t Slash-And-Burn Forests for  Next 2 Years
DISCOVER: How To Make a Desert

Image: flickr / kashmir

  • eLiSsA jOnEs

    This plays like a contemporary eco-action/fantasy movie. Trees fighting sand? Bring it.

  • George Anderson

    While I wish them luck, I really cant’ see this working too well. I mean are the farming practices or overpopulation in the region being taken care of at all? If not then it’s at best a stopgap, at worst a waste of money.

  • Brian Too

    Terrific idea, I’d back this 100%.

    Decades ago China realized that the deserts of central and northern Asia, some in their territory and some not, were causing problems. I believe they were expanding, but I know they were responsible for large dust storms in Beijing.

    Therefore they embarked upon a large tree planting campaign, with the result that the dust storms were markedly reduced.

    This same concept was employed in the American and Canadian west after the dustbowl of the 30’s. Farmers planted rows of trees at the edges of their fields. This cut down on wind speed, soil migration, increased humidity, and decreased temperatures wherever deployed. Large scale tree groves can change local climate, and the trees themselves are an asset independent of their physical utility.

    There’s one thing that will need to be addressed. Those African countries will need to try to minimize the destruction of the forest by subsistence farmers and citizens. Sustainable harvesting is one thing, but many of those countries have no control or mechanism from preventing desperate people destroying every single tree planted. Indeed, deforestation by this mechanism is one reason the Sahara is growing.

    The ideal response, indeed the only viable long-term solution, is to improve the lives of those citizens so that they are no longer living subsistence lifestyles, and destroying the very ecosystems that keep them alive.

    Trees are a decent place to start, regardless. Even if some significant fraction of them are completely destroyed, by climate or people, the remaining trees can still do a world of good.

  • Ayman Fadel

    Right on, Brian Too.

    It’s much better than selling these countries weapons …

    Is there a similar effort on the northern edge of the Sahara, from Morocco to Egypt?

  • m

    oh god!

    i hope it is not MY tax dollars going to this!!!

    Stop the Sahara? Continental drift, Earth’s tilt/orbit and Sun activity are what drives this expansion.

    They need to better manage the forests they have.

  • Peter Bahnsen

    I really agree on this, Brian. You nailed it :-)


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