Desertification in sub-Saharan Africa

The Sahara desert is already the largest desert in the world, stretching 3,320,000 square miles across the northern part of the continent. However, due to the effects of desertification in Africa, the Sahara desert continues to grow and consume fertile lands around it.

Made up of sand sheets and dunes, the Sahara desert spans 11 different countries, including Chad, Egypt, Morocco, Niger, Sudan and Libya. The region of Sahel forms a transitional zone between the arid desert lands in the north and the more humid savannas in the south. This area is facing the greatest risk from desertification as the Sahara desert pushes outward into the Sahel region.

What is Desertification?

Desertification is defined as the persistent degradation of dryland ecosystems by climatic variations and human activities. Simply put, desertification is the process by which fertile lands become deserts, typically because of drought, deforestation or inappropriate agriculture. Desertification affects up to 30 percent of land worldwide, and 1.5 billion people around the world depend on land at risk from desertification for their main source of food or income. Seventy-four percent of these people already live in poverty.

Desertification in sub-Saharan Africa

In sub-Saharan Africa, desertification may force up to 50 million people to flee their homes by 2020. Since 1923, the Sahara Desert has expanded by 10 percent, especially affecting people living in the Sahel region. Dryland covers 65 percent of the African continent, and 70 to 80 percent of people in Ethiopia and Kenya are threatened by desertification. However, The Great Green Wall, established in 2007, is helping to end desertification in Africa.

Great Green Wall

The Great Green Wall is an African-led movement to grow a wall of trees, 8,000 km long, across the continent of Africa. Once finished, it will be the largest living structure on the planet, three times larger than the Great Barrier Reef. Stretching across the Sahel region, which is the region most affected by desertification, the Great Green Wall initiative hopes to change the lives of millions of people.

Since 2007, the Great Green Wall has had countless success stories. In Ethiopia, 15 million hectares of land were restored from their desert-like state. In Senegal, the organization planted 11.4 million trees. In Niger, farmers were able to grow an extra 500,000 tons of grain to feed 2.5 million people, all because of 5 million hectares of land restored by the Great Green Wall.

With $8 billion pledged, the Great Green Wall is increasing food security, resilience to climate change and job availability while decreasing drought, famine and migration. By 2030, its goal is to restore 100 million hectares of land and create a minimum of 350,000 jobs for rural workers.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is one organization supporting The Great Green Wall.  They have launched a public awareness campaign called ‘Growing a World Wonder,’ and implemented the FLEUVE project, which strengthens local communities in their effort to help the Great Green Wall initiative.

With help from supporters and local communities, the Great Green Wall is working to combat desertification in sub-Saharan Africa and restore land, jobs and food for millions of people in the sub-Saharan region.

– Natalie Dell
Photo: Flickr