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Great Green Wall: Stakeholders seek to restore Sahel for nature, people

BirdLife International and the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) on Monday, July 13, 2022, organised a workshop on enhancing biodiversity mainstreaming in the actions of the Great Green Wall (GGW) under the aegis of the Pan-African Agency of the GGW (PAGGW), on the margins of the 8th Ordinary Session of Council of Ministers.

Great Green Wall
Participants at the workshop

The workshop, which held as part of the PAGGW partnership with BirdLife International, connected the BirdLife Partners in the region with the National Agencies of the Great Green Wall (NAGGW) to exchange experiences and strengthen synergies towards shared planning, while putting together a roadmap for further development of the regional concept “Make the Sahel Greater and Greener for Nature & People”.

The Sahel is a large semi-arid expanse of land of over 3 million sq. km that stretches the breadth of the African continent on the southern fringes of the Sahara Desert. Around 80% of the region’s population depend on agriculture. However, years of over-farming, overgrazing, now coupled with the growing issues related to climate change, have led to increased desertification, threatening livelihoods of more than 130 million people, and the survival of wildlife.

To tackle this crisis, the Heads of State and Government of Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan, established the Great Green Wall Initiative (GGWI), which was endorsed in 2007 by the African Union as the Great Green Wall Initiative for the Sahara and Sahel. The initiative spanning from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, aims at halting desertification by restoring degraded soil through a mosaic of different land uses, including sustainable farming and restored patches of natural habitat, with the ambitious target of creating 10 million green jobs and providing food security to more than 20 million people by 2030.

A UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) report released in 2020 shows that about 20 million hectares of land have been restored so far. In Senegal, 11 million trees have been planted, while across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Nigeria and Ethiopia, more than 540,000 hectares of land had been reforested, creating over 280,000 jobs.

However, since its creation, the GGW initiative has paid little attention to biodiversity. Consequently, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in 2019 between the PAGWW and BirdLife International to support the integration and monitoring of biodiversity, habitats, and ecosystem services, within the initiative. The PAGGW and BirdLife committed to working together to support the implementation of the 2021-2030 priority investment plan through restoring habitats, monitoring of biodiversity along the GGW corridor, building the capacity of national and local conservation organisations, in addition to awareness raising and advocacy.

“The Great Green Wall is a great development opportunity for communities to integrate socio-economic and ecological conditions in a context of climate change and insecurity. All components are equal, but the biodiversity component is essential for this initiative and must be taken into account by all actors, state and non-state actors. Because a hand can never wash itself,” stated Mr Ahamat Mahamat Haggar, Director General of the GGW National Agency in Chad, during the workshop.

“BirdLife and its partners have been involved in a lot of conservation efforts in the region, such as the Living on the Edge project in the Sahel. Building on what has been done, this collaboration will ensure the implementation of activities at local level, conservation of biodiversity and improvement of communities’ livelihood for sustainable conservation,” said Geoffroy Citegetse, BirdLife’s East Atlantic Flyway Manager.

In Nigeria, NCF has been implementing a tree planting project as part of its Green Recovery strategy along the GGW corridor in five states, working together with the National Agency of the GGW to restore degraded land, improve livelihood of local communities and integrating biodiversity through Agricultural Integrated Community Farms. In the Hadejia Nguru Wetlands, NCF built the capacity of local communities in sustainable livelihoods, including mat weaving, bee keeping and improved fishing methods.

“Afforestation, reforestation, mass awareness creation about green energy and sustainable living are major intentional programmes which individuals, corporate organisations and government agencies must embark on to combat desertification and climate change impact that can drive humanity into annihilation and bring unexpected devastation, even pandemic. More funds should be sourced and released to encourage non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations who are determined to champion the causes locally, although the challenge is global,” stated Dr. Muhtari Aminu-Kano, Director General of the NCF, after hosting the workshop.

Within the framework of the partnership, the PAGGW with support from the BirdLife Partnership, has developed the project entitled “Making the Sahel Greater and Greener for Nature and People”. This proposed initiative aims to improve biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services and community resilience for the benefit of nature, people, and climate.

This proposal is evolving rapidly, with a first appropriation phase in Niamey last April and the just concluded workshop in Abuja including all the National Agencies of the Great Green Wall, BirdLife partners and affiliates in the region, supporting BirdLife partners from Europe, international organisations and other NGOs working on the Sahel.

During the workshop, the National Agencies of the GGW welcomed the actions toward improving integration of biodiversity into the GGWI and called for the funding and implementation support of the project. Besides, BirdLife Partners and National Agencies identified areas of collaboration and agreed to continue working together in their respective countries, including joining forces to mobilise resources and building technical and financial capacity at national and local levels. With appropriate material and information available, BirdLife Partners and National Agencies agreed to increase information sharing and use them for the better communication on the GGW Initiative.

“The Sahel is critical for the survival of migratory birds. The BirdLife Partnership has been active in the Sahel for decades. Through local actions, we developed enhanced ways to promote birds & biodiversity. We have the know-how to engage, enable, and empower communities, monitoring and enhancing biodiversity and landscape restauration, improving livelihoods and building capacities. Today’s workshop comes as the logical step toward translation of our collaboration with the Pan African Agency of the GGW at national levels, for coherent and consistent impacts, at scale. This is the DNA of BirdLife, from local to global,” said Jean-Baptiste Deffontaines, BirdLife International West Africa head.

“We must see the Great Green Wall as a gateway to socio-economic and resilient development. In order to do so, we must adopt an inclusive approach that takes into account the concept of sustainable development, social equity, economic visibility, and the environmental dimension. The Great Green Wall will be implemented by the communities for the communities,” submitted Mr Gora Diop, Director General of NAGGW, Senegal.

The momentum around this initiative is at its peak, with many countries committing to funding the Great Green Wall in 2021 and 2022 – at the One Planet Summit (with almost €17 billion for the 11 countries to preserve biodiversity and meet UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2025), COP26 of the UN Convention on Climate Change, and COP15 of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification – with one overriding aspect: putting biodiversity at the heart of the GGW initiative.

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