Senegal Begins Planting the Great Green Wall Against Climate Change
Senegal’s capitol city Dakar sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean on a peninsula. It’s at least a thousand miles to the Sahara desert yet the air today is so thick with sand that the tops of buildings disappear in a sandy haze.
It’s the worst sand storm in a year and people here are worried that climate change will cause these events to be more common. Seasons are shifting across the region. In Senegal the rainy season used to start in July or August but now it doesn’t start until September. Decreased rain - along with over grazing of land - is causing an increase in deserts across the Sahel. Roughly 40 per cent of Africa is now affected by desertification and according to the UN, two-thirds of Africa’s arable land could be lost by 2025 if this trend continues.
Senegal is one of 11 countries in the Sahel region of Africa looking towards the same solution to the desertification problem: The Great Green Wall. The goal of the project is to plant a wall of trees, 4,300 miles long and 9 miles wide, across the African continent, from Senegal to Djibouti. African leaders hope the trees will trap the sands of the Sahara and halt the advance of the desert.
Papa Sarr is Technical Director for the Great Green Wall in Senegal: “We are convinced that once we start to plant the wall of trees dust will decrease in Dakar,” he says.
Workers water the Widu tree nursery in Senegal’s Louga region, part of the Great Green Wall, a lush 15km (10 mile) wide strip of different plant species, meant to span the 7,600km from Senegal to Djibouti to halt desertification. Photograph: Seyllou Diallo/AFP/Getty Images
While in some ways this sounds like a good plan, it’s hard to disagree with what Gray Tappan has to say:
Gray Tappan is a geographer with the United States Geological Survey. He says, “There’s been a long history of one failure after another in external projects that come in and try to plant trees.”
Tappan explains that there are many reasons these projects fail. Sometimes projects plant non-native species that can’t survive in the dry climate, or local people don’t support the project and allow their goats to eat the newly-planted trees.
That’s a huge swath of land to try and protect while the trees are growing…