The Great Green Wall: A mission to build a wall of vegetation that spans the width of Africa

Updated 7:21 AM ET, Fri March 19, 2021
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To hold back the Sahara Desert, the Great Green Wall initiative hopes to restore 100 million hectares of land in the north of Africa by 2030. Jane Hahn/Redux
Launched in 2007, the project spans 11 countries in the Sahel region, an area that sits just below the Sahara Desert -- making it very vulnerable to desertification. Not only does the initiative hope to combat decades of land degradation and climate change-related droughts, but it also aims to educate and employ those who are hardest hit. In Koyly Alpha, Senegal, women are paid to care for tens of thousands of seedlings planted as part of the Great Green Wall project. Jane Hahn/Redux
A variety of conservation techniques will be implemented, from reforestation to water management. The goal is to create a 9-mile-wide and 5,000-mile-long mosaic of trees, vegetation, grasslands and plants. Jane Hahn/Redux
In addition to the Great Green Wall's target for land restoration, there is also the goal to create 10 million jobs in rural areas. So far, 335,000 have been created, and growing fruit and forest products has earned $90 million, according to the UN. Jane Hahn/Redux
Restoring the land and increasing fertility will create economic opportunities for local communities. Here in Senegal, members of the Women's Association of Koyly pull weeds from seedlings as part of their work. Jane Hahn/Redux
Across the African continent, more than half of the 375 million young people entering the job market in the next 15 years will be living in rural areas. The Great Green Wall initiative could help to prevent mass migration from the region and restore political stability in countries that have experienced conflict. Jane Hahn/Redux
Nine years away from its deadline, the Great Green Wall still has a long way to go. So far, 4 million hectares of land has been restored, though this rises to almost 20 million hectares when counting areas outside of the official Great Green Wall zones. Jane Hahn/Redux
Recent funding of more than $14 billion from France, the World Bank and other donors is expected to accelerate the project -- contributing nearly half of the $33 billion the UN estimates is needed to achieve the 2030 goal. Jane Hahn/Redux
Countries such as Senegal (pictured) have introduced their own restoration and community projects, with varying levels of success. So far, Ethiopia is the frontrunner, having produced more than 5 billion plants and seedlings. Jane Hahn/Redux
In Senegal, Penda Diery Ba, 13, and Hawa Ka, 12, water a community garden as part of the "Nanandiral Antent Koyly" (Women's Association of Koyly). Jane Hahn/Redux
Another project in Mbar Toubab, Senegal, has planted 150,000 variations of acacia seedlings as part of the Great Green Wall. Jane Hahn/Redux
Ibarhima Diawara, 36, director of the Elementary School of Mbar Toubab, walks through the school's garden, which has been grown to educate students about the importance of the environment and vegetation in the Sahel. Once they harvest the fruits and vegetables, the goods are sold at the market, which also teaches the children about math and commerce. Jane Hahn/Redux
El Haji Gouebiaby, a base chief for the Great Green Wall in Senegal, stands beside a growing lemon tree -- a running experiment to see if the fruit will survive in the arid conditions. Jane Hahn/Redux
The region's environment has changed dramatically as a result of climate change. Moussa Sy, a 71-year-old resident of Kliaf Dack village in Senegal, spoke of the deterioration of the land since his youth and the need for trees to grow to bring more rain -- enabling his animals to be well fed and allowing him to make more money to provide for his family. Jane Hahn/Redux
Sy's family cuts bark from a baobab tree to feed their animals in August 2019. Baobab bark retains moisture and can be used for hydration when water is scarce. Jane Hahn/Redux