Space & Innovation

Stopping Desertification in Africa With a 'Great Green Wall'

To halt encroaching desertification, a group of African nations wants to plant a "Great Green Wall" of trees extending from Senegal to Ethiopia.

The Sahara Desert is slowly extending its reach across northern Africa. To counter increasing desertification, a group of African nations wants to plant a continuous line of trees across the continent.

The "Great Green Wall" involves constructing a tree belt 15 kilometers (9 miles) wide and 7,775 kilometers (4,831 miles) long across the southern edge of the Sahara, from Senegal in the west to Djibouti, Ethiopia and the Indian Ocean in the east.

Scientists hope the tree belt will counter soil erosion, slow wind speeds, and stop the encroaching desert. It is important that the countries plant drought-resistant native trees that will not further disrupt indigenous environments.

Desertification in tandem with human-induced factors, such as mono-cropping and overgrazing, have substantially degraded agricultural lands across northern Africa. When crops fail, rural towns and villages often follow, as residents flee to urban areas in search of better lives.

To break this cycle, all eleven African nations participating need to be resolute in their support of the initiative. Planting the trees is the easy, first step. Following up with diligent protection and maintenance of the tree-line is the difficult part.

So far, only Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has pledged his absolute support in addition to $2 million.

Representatives of all eleven countries are currently meeting in Chad to discuss the project and the rising problem of desertification.

Whether the leaders decide to adopt the bold tree-line program or not, they must find a way to beat back the advancing desert. Their peoples' well-being may very well depend on it.

Image: wonker, Flickr; Great Green Wall Initiative, via BBC