By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 8 2023 – Less than a decade ago, Africa was home to 60-65% of the world’s uncultivated arable land and 10% of renewable freshwater resources, as reported by the African Union in 2016, while concluding that African farmers could feed the world.
Is it still the case?
Now that seven long years have elapsed, the second largest continent on Earth –after Asia– has been facing too many extraneous pressures and hazards.
A major consequence is that that very percentage (60-65%) of the world’s uncultivated and arable land is now affected by degradation, with nearly three million hectares of forest lost… every single year.
The steadily advancing degradation and desertification of major African regions have led the continent to build great green walls.
One of them – the Great Green Wall, is the largest living structure on the Planet, one that stretches over 8.000 kilometres across Africa, aiming at restoring the continent’s degraded landscapes and transforming millions of lives in the Sahel, and ushering in a new era of sustainability and economic growth.
Launched in 2007 by the African Union, this African-led Great Green Wall Initiative. The project is being implemented across 22 African countries and is expected to revitalise thousands of communities across the continent.
It is about “helping people and nature cope with the growing impact of the climate emergency and the degradation of vital ecosystems, and to keep the Sahara desert from spreading deeper into one of the world’s poorest regions,” according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Vast tracts of land along the Great Green Wall have already been restored by local communities. And so far, 80% of the 19 billion US dollars have been pledged, as reported by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
But not enough…
The extraneous factors that have been pushing Africa towards the abyss of extremely severe droughts, unprecedented floods, the advancing degradation of its land and water resources, have led this continent on Earth to rush to build more and longer and larger walls.
For instance, the Southern Africa region is currently busy preparing a similar programme, with all 16 countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) committed to accelerating multi-sectoral transformation through a regional initiative inspired by the Great Green Wall in the Sahel, or SADC Great Green Wall Initiative (GGWI).
The SADC member countries are: Angola, Botswana, Comoros, DR Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
A wall for Southern Africa
Their Initiative aims to create productive landscapes in the Southern Africa region that contribute to regional socially inclusive economic prosperity and environmental sustainability.
Together with member countries and key partners the goal is to initiate multi sectoral partnerships and to acquire pledges of an indicative 27 billion US dollars by 2025.
10 Million square kilometres at risk of desertification
Covering a total land area of 10 million square kilometres, Southern Africa faces immediate effects of desertification, land degradation and drought, as well as challenges driven by climate change, biodiversity loss, and unsustainable development practices in agriculture, energy and infrastructure sectors, reports the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
“The Great Green Wall is part of a broader economic and development plan – if we restore land but are not able to reap the benefits of that healthy and restored land due to lack of access to renewable energy and infrastructure, hindering access to markets and livelihoods, then we are only halfway there with our vision,” on this said UNCCD’s Louise Baker.
And a great wall for the Middle East
In addition to the above two new natural wonders, there is another one: the Middle East Green Initiative, a regional effort led by Saudi Arabia to mitigate the impact of climate change on the region and to collaborate to meet global climate targets.
50 billion trees
It aims at planting 50 billion trees across the Middle East, equivalent to 5% of the global afforestation target, and to restore 200 million hectares of degraded land.
A fifth (10 billion) trees will be planted within Saudi Arabia’s borders, with the remaining 40 billion set to be planted across the region in the coming decades.
The trees will also provide numerous other benefits, including stabilising soils, protecting against floods and dust storms and helping reduce CO2 emissions by up to 2.5% of global levels.
Across the Middle East and North Africa, extreme weather events including droughts and heavy rains will become more common in the region if global temperatures continue to increase, according to the Saudi-led project.
A green corridor for East Africa… and elsewhere
In addition to developing an Eastern Africa corridor soon, other similar initiatives under the umbrella of the African Union’s NEPAD are ongoing, such as the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100).
In 2015, AFR100 was founded in Durban by a group of 10 African countries, each committing to restore a certain number of hectares of degraded landscapes within their borders.
Twenty-eight African countries have now committed to restoring 113 million hectares, which, if achieved, will exceed the initiative’s namesake goal of 100 million hectares across the continent under restoration by 2030.
Not only trees
Forest landscape restoration is more than just planting trees,” said Mamadou Diakhite, leader of the AFR100 Secretariat.
On a continent that is expected to account for half the global population growth by 2050, reducing and sequestering greenhouse gas emissions is a welcome byproduct of returning those natural landscapes to health and profitability; but it’s not the first focus, reported Gabrielle Lipton, Landscape News Editor-in-Chief.
“Restoring landscapes that have been degraded by the effects of climate change and human development through planting trees and encouraging sustainable farming and herding must first and foremost provide food, jobs and homes for people, as well as preserve their cultures that are based on the products of their lands.”
Moreover, as more than 1 in 5 people in Africa are undernourished, and forced migration across country borders increases due to climate change and conflict, African economies continue to struggle hard to create jobs for young people.
Any chance that Africa recovers soon from the impacts of so much extraneous damage, which this continent of nearly 1.4 billion humans continues to struggle to reverse?