Observations of an ex pat: A Friendly Wall

Walls are generally built to keep people out. Trump’s big beautiful wall, Hungary’s anti-refugee wall, the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall and every castle wall built before, during and after the medieval period.

There are exceptions to this rule.  The Berlin Wall was built to keep people in, as is every prison wall ever constructed.

But in Africa a wall with a difference is literally sprouting. It has been dubbed “The Great Green Wall of Africa.” It is neither holding people in or keeping them out. It is holding at bay the sands of the Sahara desert and helping people to stay in Africa.

They started planting the Great Green Wall of Africa ten years ago. The wall is in fact a six mile wide strip of millions of Acacia trees which will eventually stretch 4,800 miles across the southern edge of the Sahara and through 11 countries from Senegal on the West coast to Djibouti on the Red Sea.  That is about half the length of Trump’s proposed wall along the US-Mexican border and about 600 miles short of the length of the Great Wall of China.

Its purpose is to battle the effects of climate Change in Africa. Over the last half century 60 acres a minute have been lost to desertification as the Sahara marches south.

This means that if you are an African farmer in Somalia, the Sudan, Chad, Senegal or many other African countries, there is a good chance that you have,  or will lose your livelihood to the shifting sands of climate change.   With no livelihood your either  starve, join Boko Haram or its like, flee to overcrowded cities such as Nairobi and Mombasa or risk your life trying to illegally immigrate to Europe or America.

By 2020, if nothing is done, it is estimated that desertification will be the primary cause of 60 million people attempting to migrate out of Africa.

Monique Barbut, the executive secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, said: “There is an emergency, and I have a feeling that people do not really get it. Most of the people who talk about migration – the press, the TV and all that – they always either say it’s because there’s a war or because they are so poor they are migrating. But why do you have wars? Why do you have economic distress which makes you migrate? It’s rare that people unearth the real roots of that question.”

So far 4.5million acres of sturdy acacia trees have been planted in Ethiopia, 12.5 million in Algeria and 6,000 in Sudan. Altogether an estimated 11.4 million acacia trees have been planted since 2007. The Great Green Wall is planned to be completed by 2030 and is projected to provide food security for 25 million people and create 10 million small farms.

The cost is estimated at $8 billion. The project is being funded primarily by the European Union, UN agencies and the World Bank and coordinated by theAfrican Union.

The acacia trees are not only holding back the sand but are actually helping to reclaim the desert.   They produce a lovely flower  and the Australian aborigines grind the seeds for an edible—if not very tasty—paste.  But the reason they are being planted across Africa is that they grow fast and deep.

In doing so they prevent the wind from blowing away the top soil. They have been so effective at this task that in Senegal farmers have pushed back the sand and planted vegetable crops under and behind the trees.  The green border along the Sahara’s southern edge is becoming visible from space.

The concept for the Great Green Wall has taken years to come to fruition. It was first mooted in 1952 by the British colonial forester Richard St. Barbe Baker. It lay dormant until 2002 when it was pulled out of the archives at a Conference to Combat Desertification and Drought.  It took, however, another ten years for the first tree to be planted.

But since then the wall has sprouted like a fast-growing weed. And it is already helping hundreds of thousands of Africans to stay close to their roots.

* Tom Arms is a Wandsworth Lib Dem and produces and presents the podcast www.lookaheadnews.com

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