The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative:  – What it is and what FAO has being doing to catalyse its implementation
(Foday Bojang, Senior Forestry Officer, FAO Regional Office for Africa)
The idea of a ‘Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative’ (GGWSSI) was first proposed in June 2005 by former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo, to the Summit of the Leader and Heads of State of CEN-SAD, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. In July of the same year he made the same proposal to the African Union (AU) Summit in Sirte, Libya, where he called for action at continental level. The Regional programme of Implementation of the GGWSSI, having been adopted by the Summit of Heads of State of the African Union (AU) in January 2009, became a Pan-African Initiative which seeks to improve the lives and livelihood of the communities in the Sahara and Sahel zone, from Dakar to Djibouti and including North Africa.
The Republic of Senegal was already, like many other West African countries in the Sahel, engaged in activities that answer to the objectives of the GGWSSI.  Consequent on the call from President Obasanjo, the Commission of the African Union (AUC), CEN-SAD Secretariat and Senegal developed independent concepts and programmes plans for implementation. On the initiative of the AUC, the three plans were harmonized into one, which was adopted by the AU Summit in January 2009 and submitted for the consideration of the CEN-SAD Summit of June 2009. The adapted Regional Programme became the ‘blue print’ for the implementation of the Initiative at country and sub-regional levels.
What is the Great Green wall for the Sahara and the Sahel
The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative was conceived as an integrated land management programme based on a clear societal and cultural vision. It aims at promoting sustainable development in the Sahelo-Saharan landscapes through the empowerment of communities and governments of the region to implement sustainable land management and restoration measures that would slow and reverse desertification process and its negative impacts while improving production and productivity in the region. The Initiative further aims to improve the lives and livelihoods of the inhabitants of the  region themselves through, in addition to increased sustainable agricultural production, creation of decent employment amongst the rural communities and providing access to markets for their products.
The landscape approach that underline the GGWSSI programme consequently encompasses crop and livestock production, forestry and agro-forestry and rangeland management, soil and water conservation, rural infrastructure development, market access, and the promotion of  renewable energy, modern bioenergy use. It must be emphasized that while forestry constitutes an important aspect of its implementation, the GGWSSI should NOT be perceived as a purely afforestation or tree planting programme which aims to establish a ‘wall of trees’ to counter the encroachment of the Sahara desert.
The Pan African Agency for the Green Wall, which was established under the leadership of the then President of Senegal, President  Abdoulaye Wade, has decided to focus its implementation within a 15 Km wide  and 7000km long belt from Dakar to Djibouti, focusing on about 11 countries. The original concept of the African Union however has a more amorphous approach, covering about 22 countries, with the possibility of other countries joining in. The AU concept had a 30 years initial implementation phase. It is desired that the GGWSSI should, as much as possible, form a contiguous mosaic of improved landscapes. Achieving this will undoubtedly pose a serious challenge for the poor economies of the region and more so for the even poorer communities who are expected to play an important role in its implementation. However, with sufficient political commitment (as demonstrated by decisions adopted by the Heads of State of the African Union), coupled with strong international support for the affected countries and technical, financial and managerial support for the local communities spread along the length and breadth of the target areas, the ambitious GGWSSI can make a positive impact, albeit the need for patience and tenacity during implementation.  The governments that are involved are the primary implementers and it is expected that there will be strong community and individual involvement, including the private sector.
FAO involvement up to date
FAO was closely involved in the development of the Concept Paper and Regional programme of action of the GGWSSI. In addition to making inputs into these two documents, FAO also participated in the various inter-agency meetings held in Addis Ababa in 2005 and 2006 to advice on the way forward for the Commission of the African Union regarding the Initiative.  The then FAO Director General (DG), Dr Jacque Diouf, participated in the expert and ministerial meeting held in February 2008 in Saly, Senegal, where he stressed that FAO will support the Initiative.
Following discussions with the Commission of the African Union and based on a request from the Commission, the FAO Regional Office for Africa (RAF) developed a Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) project in 2009 to be  jointly  implemented with the AUC in five pilot countries, namely: Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Mali and Niger. The TCP was approved by the DG and its implementation began in November 2010. The African Forest Forum (AFF) in support of FAO, played a crucial role in this collaborative framework with the AUC, through assistance in identification and fielding of consultants to assist countries to implement the TCP.
Through the TCP ( worth $460,000), FAO provided support to the Commission of the African   Union aimed at enhancing the capacity of the Commission to provide assistance to the 5 pilot  countries to develop sound strategies, plans and project proposals for the future successful implementation of the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel initiative.
In addition to the TCP, the Commission of the African Union also requested FAO to prepare a project for funding of the GGWSSI to be submitted to the European Union (EC) to similarly support an additional 8 countries as well as cross-cutting activities at regional level. The 8 countries that the AUC identified to benefit from this project were:  Algeria, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Mauritania, Nigeria, The Gambia, Senegal and Sudan. This new phase resulted in the mobilization of €1.75 million (Euros) principally from the EU, with contribution from the Global Mechanism of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and from FAO itself. The new project aimed at the: 

development and adoption of a harmonized regional strategy for effective implementation by AMCEN in 2012 and by the AU Assembly in January 2013;
development and validation of detailed implementation plans and project portfolio for the eight countries;

formulation of three (3) trans-boundary projects and investment plans for their implementation;
development of  a strategy and action plan for capacity development including piloting field activities with local communities;
development of   a learning and networking platform  for enhancing knowledge sharing, technology transfer, best practices promotion
development of a communication strategy for the initiative

Both the TCP and the AU-EU projects have been successfully implemented by FAO. The participating countries now have in their possession, strategies, implementation and resources mobilization plans and project proposals as appropriate for the further implementation of the Initiative. Furthermore, public awareness was created on the significance of the Initiative and a partnership platform was established.
Way forward
FAO will continue its collaboration with the AUC and countries to promote and facilitate the implementation of the GGWSSI. Given the success of the two initial projects mentioned above, the European Union has committed to continue its partnership with FAO and the AUC and has therefore approved a wider programme (41 million EUR) for FAO to continue to provide support to implementation activities in Africa and to expand the Great Green Wall concept and experience to the Pacific and the Caribbean.