The Sahel continues to suffer from widespread drought, villages have been deserted and the ecosystem is threatened. To fight desertification, which has beset the Sahel, and its impact on the local population, 11 African countries ( Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Soudan) came together in 2004 to launch a solution to this major ecological challenge: the “Great Green Wall”. The goal is to create a multi-species belt of vegetation which will cross the African continent from Dakar to Djibouti, over 7,000 kilometres in length and 15 kilometres in width. A number of native species such as the desert date tree (Balanites aegyptiaca L. Delile) and other native species such as Acacia (Acacia senegal, Acacia seyal) or Jujube (Ziziphus mauritiana) have been selected as they are suited to the semi-arid climate and will fill in this Green Wall. These species provide a vegetation-based cover and a sustainable source of food and income for local populations.
Farming has started up again in the villages and local communities are now trained on land maintenance. In parallel to the construction of the “Green Wall”, many educational programs have been implemented.
In schools, children are taught the importance of the environment and its protection through hands-on exercises. Nurseries and vegetable gardens have been created in Widou Thiengoli (Senegal) to increase date tree planting and to encourage the production of local food crops. Scholarships have been granted to PhD students for research on desert date tree properties. Finally, summer schools have been established to involve local communities while improving their access to healthcare services available there.
"The Great Green Wall project was an incredible human experience. It is a sustainable ecosystem that is taking place around men and women who are building their futures and those of their children. I love human stories, stories that are individual but also universal through which I like to draw on the contrasts of this world. In Senegal, a window is opening on an extraordinary project that mobilizes an entire continent in the making, that is a contrast to the world in which we live and shows us the way."