The greatest challenge to the Great Green Wall initiative is the communication of the narrative surrounding it. This was the submission of Dr Elvis Paul Tangem, African Union Coordinator of the Great Green Wall Initiative on Wednesday, while speaking with EJN trainers at the daily briefings of the 15th session of the Conference of the Parties at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire from May 9 to 20.
The Great Green Wall Initiative began in 2007. It was launched by the African Union with the aim to restore the continent’s degraded landscapes and transform millions of lives in the Sahel.
However, according to Tangem, “When the Great Green Wall project started many of the media reporting it said it was another white elephant project. They said it was never going to work; these Africans are crazy!"
“So the narrative was very bad. The narrative around it was that it was all about planting trees. How can you plant trees in the desert? How can you do that? No! But over the years, we have worked at cleaning up the narrative and making it more understandable.
"When you say you are planting a tree, for it to grow you have to take care of the water issues around the trees, especially in drylands. You have to take care of the other activities like agriculture and pastoralism around the tree; you have to make sure that the tree is protected," he said.
“That is why we are talking about trees – it is a metaphor for the multifaceted sustainable land management and restoration activities that are taking place around the Great Wall or the drylands...Now we are looking at humanitarian interventions because if people are hungry they won’t go and plant trees or protect them.”
The UNCCD notes that the Great Green Wall project is being implemented across 22 African countries and is geared towards revitalizing thousands of communities across the continent.
The project brings together African countries and international partners under the leadership of the African Union Commission and the Pan-African Agency of the Great Green Wall (PAGGW).
Nigeria assumed the presidency of the PAGGW in December 2021 and President Buhari is the President of the Great Green Wall Initiative in Africa.
This story was produced as part of the 2022 UNCCD Virtual Reporting Fellowship, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Robert Bosch Stiftung. It was originally published in the Nigerian Tribune on 11 May 2022. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Banner image: Trees in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya / Credit: David Clode Unsplash.