Senegal Mulls 'Green Wall' to Stop Desert Advance
DAKAR Senegal is pushing to plant a "Great Green Wall" of trees stretching for nearly 7,000 km (4,375 miles), from Dakar to Djibouti, to stop the relentless advance of the Sahara desert.
Environment Minister Modou Fada Diagne said the West African country, which hosted a meeting of experts this week, would start planting trees this year in the eastern Ferlo region which borders Mauritania and Mali.
"Instead of waiting for the desert to come to us, we need to attack it," Fada Diagne told Reuters in an interview late on Thursday.
The idea, first mooted by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, is to plant a 5 km (3 mile) wide band of trees crossing the world's poorest continent from east to west to stop the desert swallowing precious arable land.
Even in good years, millions of people face food shortages across West Africa, particularly in land-locked countries like Niger, Mali and Mauritania. v This year, drought and a locust invasion have put 3.6 million people in Niger alone at risk of severe malnutrition and in some cases of starving to death in regions where most of the population are subsistence farmers.
"Poverty and desertification create a vicious circle. Desertification hurts agricultural yields and reduces the quality and value of land," said Fada Diagne.
He said the plan was to use fruit trees to create revenues for people living near the green wall and make sure impoverished local villagers would not be tempted to cut the trees down for firewood.
He said in Senegal the desert was advancing at a speed of 50,000 hectares (123,600 acres) every year.
That was down from 80,000 hectares five years ago thanks to government plan which has trebled the number of trees planted every year, but was still alarming.
The plan is ambitious and details are scant -- Fada Diagne could not say how long it would take to plant the "Great Green Wall" nor how much it would cost.
A similar project to plant a 4,500 km barrier skirting the Gobi desert in China -- part of a reforestation plan that began in 1978 -- is expected to take more than 70 years and cost up to $8 billion.
Fada Diagne said Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade was very keen on the project.
"The president wants to change people's perception of the desert as a cancer at the heart of Africa, a misfortune," he said.
"He wants to turn the desert into an opportunity and develop its economic, energetic and tourist potential."