Africa’s Great Green Wall: Viable return on investments, says FAO study

GGW programme aims to restore 100 million hectares of degraded ecosystems across 11 countries in the region

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Monday 29 November 2021

Africa’s Great Green Wall (GGW) programme to combat desertification in the Sahel region is an important contribution towards combating climate change, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said in a study.

The study showed that for every dollar invested into land restoration yields across the African continent from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, investors can expect an average return of $1.20, with outcomes ranging between $1.10 and $4.40.

The study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability November 15, 201, also showed how violent conflicts can threaten the success of the programme.

The Sahel extends south of the Sahara from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east of Africa. Vast areas of the formerly fertile region are now virtually uncultivated due to droughts, poor agricultural cultivation methods as well as land overuse due to the growing demand for food and firewood.

[Read more: Great Green Wall: How funding can help Sahel fight desertification again .]

The GGW programme aims to restore 100 million hectares of degraded ecosystems across 11 countries in the region. It started in 2007 to promote sustainable development and climate change mitigation.

The 11 countries selected as intervention zones for the Great Green Wall are Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan. 

The GGW offers multiple (environmental, social and economic) benefits on an epic scale, touching on 15 of the 17 United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goals.

But this ambitious goal is far from being achieved partly because of the lack of financial resources. The study analysis used field and satellite data to track the land degradation from 2001-2018.

The researchers divided the Sahel region into 40 million plots of 25 hectares each. They analysed what land restoration measures would be possible and how much they would cost for every plot. They compared this calculation with economic benefits that could be achieved.

The study results showed that building the Green Wall was economically worthwhile.

An investment of $44 billion, according to the study, is needed to fund all proposed land restoration activities. This can help restore 28 million hectares of land. 

According to the study, the total area the Great Green Wall (GGW) programme encompasses remains limited, with only 4 million hectares out of a targeted 100 million.

The study highlighted activities and locations where land restoration is both economically attractive and ecologically sustainable, even after accounting for lower survival rates of planted trees and grasses, the persistence of land degradation drivers and the growing number of violent conflicts hindering land restoration in the Sahel.

The GGW countries, according to a UN report released September 2020, need to speed up the current pace of land restoration to an average of 8.2 million hectares every year. France has rushed to help: President Emmanuel Macron January 11, 2021, announced $14 billion to scale up work. 

The project aims to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land by 2030; only four million hectares had been restored between 2007 and 2019.

By 2030, the GGW aims to sequester 250 million tonnes of carbon, restore 100 million hectares of currently degraded land and create 10 million jobs for the world’s poorest people. 

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