Any ecological rehabilitation of a territory must consider several factors, not the least of which is access to land. Farmers and shepherds, totaling some 232 million people living in the area surrounding the Sahara, are an integral part of the Green Wall, which aims to enhance community gardens, grazing areas, fruit groves, income trees, and beekeeping.
The GGW translated into practice consists of a series of integrated multi-sector activities that help increase local people’s incomes. In Ethiopia, the World Bank wanted to make some rural areas attractive to combat depopulation. Niger has adopted agroforestry systems that combine high stem plants and annual yields. FAO has introduced techniques and technologies to develop local capacities and skills, including a focus on native plants, useful for communities, as they provide timber, food, fodder and other commercial activities. In particular, FAO encouraged the cultivation of Arabic gum, fodder, seeds and oils from local species. FAO projects focused on agroforestry systems that enhance the supply of food, income and markets. “The main beneficiaries are women who engage in processing and selling plant-based products”, said Nora Berrahmouni, FAO’s Regional Head of action against Desertification projects in Africa.
The Pan-African agency’s motto ‘For the People and from the People’, reflecting its choice of a multi-sector, inclusive ecosystem approach that engages populations in an active, conscious and voluntary way. These are community farms that start in a village or group of villages. To date there are six active projects that need to be replicated. Horticulture, beekeeping and breeding of small animals are developed in the farms, each measuring about 3000 hectares. The sites are identified on the basis of such criteria as geography, social and cultural homogeneity of the population, rainfall parameters and the adaptability of the species to be included. In addition, the Agency’s territorial projects are largely aimed at women, whereas the actual reforestation programs involve the areas between villages. They provide for the cultivation of plants considered strategic, such as gum Arabica, moringa and spirulina, commonly called ‘algae spirulina’, which is a cyan bacterium rich in protein. Water management occurs through the conservation of rainwater and the construction of large wells.
In some cases, the projects introduce technologies such as the Vallerani System, a mechanical tool consisting of plough and tractor that allows for the processing and rehabilitation of arid and semi-arid soils. This technology also optimizes rainwater storage and usage. New technologies are not always embraced; many fear losing their jobs and being replaced by mechanical tools.
In other cases, The GGW has borrowed techniques used by farmers and shepherds. In Burkina Faso, for example, the GGW adopted and exported the Zai’s system, which involves making small holes in the soil enriched with manure where water is collected, thus making the soil more fertile. It is a traditional technique and the famous Burkinabe farmer Yacouba Sawadogo made it famous. The Project has also adopted naturally assisted reforestation. It provides for the protection of native tree species that are normally cut or burned to fertilize land intended for agricultural production.
The main actors involved in the GGW have mentioned some difficulties in the pursuit of their targets. There has been insecurity in some parts of the Sahel, where conflicts have occurred in areas where water resources are scarce and the countryside has been neglected through abandonment. In order to avoid the conflicts within the communities affected by the projects, the pan-African agency has adopted the criteria of both sociocultural and geographical homogeneity. A system that risks excluding instead of including.
Those who challenged the first version of the GGW raised the issue of the right to access land. Nobody has offered an adequate answer. Mélanie Requier-Desjardins, a researcher specializing in the economic and social aspects of soil degradation, and who participated in drafting of the 2011 document ‘What suggestions might scientists have for the African Great Green Wall project?’, compiled by the French Scientific Committee on Desertification states: “In cases where the aspect of land has not been taken into account, the project has failed”. According to the Dr. Requier-Desjardins, it must also be clear that the ecological rehabilitation of a territory must correspond to the social one. “If some lands change from free to restricted access, inequalities are generated. For example, when the rehabilitated areas are allocated to farmers, who own many heads, shepherds who own merely a few animals lose out”.
In Senegal, the only country to have started reforestation along the 15 Km. wide belt, it was necessary to change course, said Youssef Brahimi, a former member of the UNCCD global mechanism. He added: “they started reforestation only to realize that the chosen path encompassed villages and communities. At that point they also included gardens, with the contribution of women”. The involvement of the populations became essential to ensure the project’s sustainability.
In fact, the harmonized strategy paper, issued in 2012, explicitly mentioned that all populations living in arid areas should be assured fair access to land resources for all populations living in arid areas. Brahimi participated in the drafting of the harmonized strategy: “Land security was promoted not only at the individual level but as a common good, through community management. We have felt pressure from institutions to develop national land legislation that would allow individuals to have a right to land. But we know that where there is a right of individual property, it encouraged some farmers to put the land up for sale. And, therefore, most projects focus on community resource management, and the establishment of management committees. Action against Desertification projects, for example, are implemented in community lands and in agreement with the municipalities and mayors. Local populations and administrations participate in identifying the land. “The presence of a management committee is important because it allows for the identification of land and formally register its utilization”, said FAO’s Regional Coordinator, Nora Berrhamouni.
A Model to Export
As for the inflow of private capital not all GGW partners have the same ideas. The Pan-African agency believes that private individuals should not be involved because “they would grab most of the hectares”. The FAO, however, has a different view sharing it in a document specifically intended for private individuals, who want to invest in land redevelopment activities. The African Union and the World Bank have also called for private capital. Nevertheless, in most countries, land belongs to the state, and it is the state that determines how it is to be used. The Agency’s scientific director explains what this means: “if oil is found in a reforested area, it is unlikely that the trees will stay there”.
The engagement of nomadic land users is another point that raised criticism at the launch of the project. “We often aim to shut down dedicated use areas, but without attempting to reconcile the different activities”, said Mélanie Requier-Desjardins, according to which the initial project did not take into account the logic of transhumance, while focusing on agricultural communities.
Abakar Zougoulou, scientific director of the pan-African agency, offers a simpler solution to engage nomadic populations: “Shepherds can use the undergrowth pasture and harvest forest products. They can produce straw and fodder to be stored and used in the dry season”. The FAO has focused on plants that are useful for pastoralists, integrating the interests of each productive activity, to avoid conflicts. In some cases, the solution, as noted by the Agency, has been to fence off spaces to discourage animals from entering.
Zougoulou added: “In some areas the nomadic pastoralists have started to practice agriculture and begun to settle. A part of the livestock continues the transhumance, because only pastoral mobility allows for proper management of the lands”. The Great Green Wall has become a symbol. So much so that, despite the many transformations, even now, the officially presented image is that of a green line that crosses the continent from side to side. The many protagonists agree in describing it as a model that can be exported. In its Action Against Desertification project, the FAO has already extended the approach for adoption in Caribbean and Pacific countries. And recently, the United Nations, along with FAO, C40 City Network and the Kew Royal Botanic Garden (in Britain), have sponsored the ‘Great Green Wall of Cities’, a plan to create urban forests from Africa to Asia covering half a million hectares by 2030. About 90 cities in 30 countries will be supported to create green areas.