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Africa’s wall of trees

Tentative preparations for an African “wall of trees” to slow down the southern spread of the Sahara desert are finally getting under way, three years after it was first proposed.

The “great green wall” will involve several stretches of trees from Mauritania in the west to Djibouti in the east, to protect the semi-arid farmland and savannah of the Sahel from desertification.

The proposed belt of trees, 7 000km long and 15km wide, was formally authorised at the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (Cen-Sad) summit on rural development and food security in Cotonou, Benin, in June. Its Tripoli office will monitor the project.

A report says the labour-intensive project should be used to create employment. However, the researchers advised that payments be partly withheld for two years until the trees are established. Payment will be based on plant growth, according to the Unesco-linked non-profit Observatory of the Sahara and the Sahel (OSS).

Senegal will provide “close technical cooperation” because of its success in fighting desertification.

Consultants and representatives from the arid nations of Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal want pilot planting projects to begin in September and are working with the inter-state committee for drought control in the Sahel region.

Another planting programme in the Horn of Africa, including Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan, should be finalised within two months through the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

Mariam Aladji Boni Diallo, the Benin-based president of the Cen-Sad summit organising committee, warned that funding for the project was still tentative.

The project can only be assessed once it stops being words on paper and becomes action, warned Joséa Dossou Bodjrènou, head of the Nature Tropicale environmental education organisation at the Museum of Natural Science in Benin.

“The population needs to be sensitised to the importance of planting trees and taking care of them. Otherwise, they would destroy them without knowing it’s dangerous for the ecosystem. All this work would lead to nothing,” Bodjrènou said.

“It’s really important for the work to be done with local experts in each country because they know which species can grow on their soil. And we have to use local species, not imported ones.”

Links to the Great Green Wall research can be found on the African news section of www.scidev.net

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