29 July 2014

Reforestation to take back the desert: Green Wall in Africa?

Years ago I heard about an effort in China to plant a forest belt along the length of the Gobi desert in China. Apparently, this project, China's Great Green Wall, is scheduled for completion by 2050. A colleague turned me onto a similar effort in Africa against the advance of the Sahara desert. The effort to establish a Great Green Wall in Africa is covered in this recent article in Science Alert. The direct and indirect advantage of such an effort is an inspiration and an example of how things are changing on the continent.

Greenbelts or greenways are a great effort with potential to revitalize and retain soils, change local climate and temperatures, refresh and store water resources, provide an economic possibility for local communities, provide habitat, allow species migrations, allow human recreation spaces; in all, a positive engineered change of the landscape with water as the key piece.

In journalist Howard French's recent novel release - China's Second Continent - he highlights the incredible economic growth numbers of 8% to 11% in many African countries. Change in economics, climate, and development all over the continent bode well for future opportunities. I am excited about these positive changes and what comes next!

Africa builds 'Great Green Wall' of trees to improve farmlands
BECKY CREW   
THURSDAY, 24 JULY 2014
Twenty African nations have banded together to build a monumental Great Green Wall of Africa - a forest of drought-resistant trees stretching across the edge of the Sahara Desert.
Stretching over a space of 9,400,00 square kilometres and covering most of North Africa, the Sahara is the largest non-polar desert in the world. And it’s getting bigger. 
According to the US’s Public Education Center website, the effects of climate change are causing the Sahara to creep into bordering countries such as Senegal, Mauritania, and Nigeria, which poses a serious threat to their farmlands and agricultural productivity. The Guardianreports that by 2025, two-thirds of Africa's arable land could be lost to the desert if nothing is done to stem its expansion. 
To mitigate this and other environmental issues affecting Africa such as land degradation, the effects of climate change, and a loss of biodiversity, Senegal is leading a 20-nation initiative known as the Great Green Wall. Most notably, this initiative involves erecting a wall of trees across the southern edge of the Sahara desert, which will be 14 km wide and 7,600 km long. When completed, it will be the largest horticultural feature in history. The initiative will also focus on establishing sustainable farming and livestock cultivation, and improving food security.
The initiative will be ongoing, and has garnered the support of several international organisations including the UK's Royal Botanic Gardens, the World Bank, the African Union, and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. Together they have pledged $3 billion and the expertise of their botanists for its advancement.
"Examples of success [so far] include more than 50,000 acres of trees planted in Senegal,”says Ryan Schleeter at National Geographic. "Most of these are the acacia speciesSenegalia senegal, which has economic value for the commodity it produces, gum arabic. (Gum arabic is primarily used as a food additive.) A small portion of the trees are also fruit-bearing, which, when mature, will help combat the high levels of malnutrition in the country’s rural interior.”
Even more dramatic is the project’s potential social impact, says Schleeter. By providing better quality land and more opportunities to earn an income from cultivating it, the Great Green Wall will open up thousands of job opportunities to the local population.