The Great Green Wall project was a great big idea. African countries aimed to plant trees across the entire continent starting in 2007. The nearly 5,000-mile line was supposed to hold back the Sahara Desert. But it turns out that smaller projects might work better.
The goal was for the trees to cross the vast Sahel region by 2030. (Read about the Sahel in Central Sahel Breaks Down.) But millions of the planted trees died due to lack of water.
Only 4% of the original goal has been met—and it would cost $43 billion to finish. So the plan has shifted. Instead of a huge wall of trees, people are trying smaller “patchwork” projects which help communities as well as the land.
Desertification is the process that changes fertile land into desert. Drought, overgrazing, deforestation, rapid population growth, and fire are causes of desertification. Notice a pattern? Plants are important for keeping topsoil in place. If one or more of those events removes vegetation, the soil can wash or blow away. That’s why planting new trees and other plants can help—as long as they survive.
Ibrahima Fall is the chief of a village in Senegal. He planted a citrus orchard near a water source on his land in 2016. It is one of 800 small orchards around a town called Kebemer.
“This orchard brings income that allows me to take care of my family,” he says. The peanuts he planted before weren’t as profitable. But the trees have made the soil richer. He can grow tomatoes and onions as well.
The village used money from the orchard to build homes with concrete bricks instead of straw. It also upgraded a well. People bought more livestock.
The newest desert-restraining projects in Senegal are 20 circular gardens. Trees are planted so that larger ones protect weaker ones. Curving rows hold moringa, sage, papaya, and mango trees, all of which do well in dry climates. They are planted so that their roots grow inward, which helps keep water in the garden. The gardens are thriving so far.
Another success: Land managers saw areas where lots of vegetation was growing in Niger. But that mostly stopped at the border with Nigeria. That seemed strange. Nigeria gets more rain. Smithsonian Magazine reports that the difference was in tree management. Niger farmers protected useful trees and let them grow.
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus. — Isaiah 35:1
Why? If an idea fails, some perseverance and rethinking might help produce a new plan. Galatians 6:9 tells us, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
Pray: For those who lack fertile ground and water for survival, especially in the Sahel region, and for those studying ways to improve those areas.