The Great Green Wall is a long-held African dream, currently taking root on the edge of the world’s largest hot desert: the Sahara. Dubbed the "next wonder of the world", the ongoing project will eventually see the growth of an 8,000km ‘green wall’ made from trees and plants across the entire African continent, from Senegal in the West to Djibouti in the East. The aim? To transform the lives of some of the planet’s poorest people.
A fantastical and almost impossible-sounding initiative, it was first conceived in 2005 by the former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, as a way to create an ecological barrier against the expanding Sahara desert – ultimately, to contain it. It has since evolved into a more ambitious pan-African movement, which aims to provide food, agriculture jobs and security for millions of people across the region. Once complete, the Great Green Wall will be the largest living structure on the planet, three times the length of the Great Barrier Reef.
The Sahel region of Africa, which spans the southern edge of the Sahara desert, is home to more than 100 million of the world's poorest people. The region is on the frontline of climate change and millions of locals are already facing its devastating impact through persistent droughts, lack of food, and conflicts over dwindling natural resources. For these reasons, it is estimated that as many as 60 million people could be set to migrate to Europe from degraded parts of Africa by 2020.
Amidst these challenges, the Great Green Wall offers a key part of the solution. By 2030, with the support of the international community, countries in the region hope to restore 50 million hectares of land and create 350,000 jobs. A new round of funding at the recent Global Climate Summit in Paris, to the tune of US $4 billion over the next five years, raises hopes that this grand ambition can now be realised.
A key partner in the initiative, the Head of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), Monique Barbut, says, ‘The Great Green Wall is a symbol of hope not just for Africa, but for the whole world. It shows us that, by working with rather than against our natural environment, we can grow solutions to humanity’s greatest challenges, like climate change and migration.’
James Withers, Creative Director of Film at the global brand agency, venturethree, was in Koyly Alpha, Senegal, late last year, on behalf of the UNCCD to document the filming of their VR film about the GGW, called Growing A World Wonder. Told from the perspective of an eight-year-old girl called Binta, the film shows the way in which the project is already transforming the lives of those living on, and indeed growing, the wall.
One of these people is Binta’s own grandfather, Moussa, a village elder who remembers a time when the land could sustain a decent living for the people of his village: “The Great Green Wall will make our lives better again. For a long time, there were no jobs here and young people were leaving for Dakar; now people have things to do and there is hope for the future.”
Click through to see how this modern wonder of the world is taking shape and helping to change lives right across the Sahel.