Reducing desertification in the Sahel


Fotovergleich Wüstenbildung Sahelzone

150 years of landscape change in Tigrai/Ethiopia (repeat fotographs 1868-2018) ©DIE

Dr. Michael Brüntrup, researcher at the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), was invited for a hearing of the Committee for economic cooperation and development on March 3 about the “Great Green Wall” to contain desertification in Africa’s Sahel. In 2005, the Great Green Wall Initiative (GGWI) had adopted an older idea of creating a wall of trees against the progression of the Sahara desert and has converted it into an integrated agro-ecosystem management approach. Through improvements and linkages of land use and production systems, the initiative aims at restoring and rehabilitating 100 Mio. ha of land, binding 250 Mio. tons of carbon in soils, and create 10 Mio. jobs. 11 countries have signed, the African Union (AU) has declared the GGWI a lighthouse project, and in Southern Africa a similar initiative has been launched. France recently has announced to massively support the GGWI, the United Nation Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has taken over coordination functions, and the AU tries to motivate Germany to join.

In the hearing, for which he had prepared himself in collaboration with Dr. Alisher Mirzabaev from the Center for Development Research (ZEF) of the University of Bonn, Dr. Brüntrup confirmed the high potential developmental benefit of the initiative. However, he also pointed to some still existing weaknesses, in particular the obvious lack of harmonisation of implementation and monitoring. Notably, the manifold existing activities of Germany in the region with the same objectives as GGWI are not accounted for and acknowledged, obviously simply because they do not carry a GGWI label. This indicates that the initiative is still segmented and not harmonised and coordinated at national and regional levels, which does not bode well for the realisation of the vision. The ambitious initiative can only succeed if planning, implementation, monitoring and learning are aligned territorially and intersectorally (agriculture, landscape planning, water, economy, environment, etc.). In this case, Germany should be part of the initiative, not only for developmental but also for selfish reasons, because the sustainable development of the Sahel is an important, almost indispensable contribution to the appeasement of this fragile region of strategic importance for Europe.