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Will the Great Green Wall of Africa Stop Endless Immigration to Europe?

By the year 2020, desertification (the process by which fertile land becomes desert) in Africa is expected to displace more than 60 million people. An $8 billion project dubbed the Great Green Wall of Africa is fighting back and building a ‘green wall’ across the entire width of Africa. Can the Great Green Wall of Africa curb the effects of desertification enough to convince people to stay?

What is the Great Green Wall of Africa project?

Through the combined efforts of countries in the Sahel region of Africa, the Great Green Wall of Africa also known as the “Great Green Wall of the Sahara” and the “Sahel Initiative” was initiated to help battle increasing desertification.


Great Green Wall of Africa Sahel

Typical Vegetation in the Sahel Region with an illustration of the location of the Great Green Wall of Africa

The Sahel is a region to the south of the Sahara desert, spanning over 3,360 miles (5,400km) from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Red Sea in the east. The region is comprised mainly of grassland and sparse woodlands, acting as a transition zone from the greener equatorial climate in the south to the desert in the north.

The Great Green Wall is supported by the World Bank, the EU and other international donors and development organizations and has partnered with twenty countries in Africa.

The project aims to grow trees throughout the entire region, which will in turn provide food, employment and secure a future for the more than 230 million people living in the general area of the project’s expanse.

The inability to make a living off of the land in desert regions of Africa is a leading cause of migration to Europe says Elvis Paul Tangem, ‎the coordinator of Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative at the African Union Commission. It is “one of the biggest push factors for immigration, as I know from my home country of Cameroon”, he says. “That is what makes ambitious youth leave. Either you leave or you join the next employer – which is either the traffickers or an extremist group, the leading favorite being Boko Haram.”

Transforming desert land into fertile and income producing land is the goal of The Great Green Wall of Africa. As the website for The Great Green Wall states, “We’re growing fertile land, one of humanity’s most precious natural assets. We’re growing food security, for the millions that go hungry every day. We’re growing green jobs, giving real incomes to families across the Sahel. We’re growing a reason to stay for the millions set to migrate to Europe. We’re growing economic opportunities to boost small business and commercial enterprise.”

How will the Great Green Wall of Africa work?

The idea for the Great Green Wall of Africa was formulated in 1952 by a British forester, Richard St. Barbe Baker, who suggested a 50 km-wide barrier of trees be planted along the edge of the desert to prevent it from spreading. The plan was not adopted until 2007 when the African Union approved the project.

Massive criticism stalled the project, including mismatched ambitions and efforts throughout different countries. Critics also argued that a desert is a natural eco-system which is healthy in its own self, and should not be interfered with or thought of as a disease.

What was initially imagined to be a thick wall of trees has transformed into a jumble of various land reclamation projects, with many of the projects turning to agriculture and farming to restore the land.


In one project residents of Koyli Affa, a village in central Senegal that lies along the Great Green Wall, are now seeing benefits of the initiative. They have a lush communal garden that exhibits a beautiful sharp contrast to the surrounding dry vegetation. More than the 300 women work at the garden weekly, which serves as a source for both food and hope for the future. Amidst the happiness, the village is still unfortunately mourning the loss of young men who went missing in an attempt to illegally cross over to Europe through Libya in search of a better future.

“When we realized our sons were risking their lives in boats, we asked for this kind of program,” said one of the women. “We want the garden to yield a lot so our sons won’t go abroad.”

More than one million immigrants were reported to be trapped in Libya as they tried to cross over to Europe. Most of these individuals came from the Sahel countries and were escaping poverty and desertification, but having failed in their pilgrimage, many are now being publicly auctioned as slaves in Libya.

Progress of the Great Green Wall of Africa

Ecosia, a Berlin-based web search engine that is largely involved with environmental conservation, reported planting 3,746,777 trees in Burkina Faso alone in 2016. A report released by the BBC in September 2017 revealed Senegal to have the most progress in the project to date.

A 2017 Guardian article stated that in Ethiopia, 15m hectares of land have been restored; in Nigeria, it’s 5m, and in Sudan, 2,000. According to the article, the ultimate goal is to complete the wall by 2030 and bring with it 50m hectares of restored land, food security for 20 million people, access to climate change-resilient agricultural technologies for 10m small farms and 350,000 jobs across the continent.

Learn more about the Great Green Wall of Africa by watching their virtual reality film below. On a desktop computer just click and drag to move around the screen. On mobile, open the video in YouTube app and tilt screen. With a Google Cardboard, check Cardboard option and pop phone in viewer.

Alex Muiruri

Alex is a passionate writer born and raised in Kenya. He is professionally trained as a public health officer but loves writing more. When not writing, he enjoys reading, doing charity work and spending time with friends and family. He is also a crazy pianist!

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