The ecological wonder of The Great Green Wall

Wednesday - 10 January 2018

Forty years ago, my husband got funding for his PhD under the USA Department of AID. In return, we were going to move to Dakar, Senegal for a few years to pay back the money for the education. I was studying plant science, ethnobotany, and anthropology at the time, and did a lot of research to prepare for the move. As an avid supporter of the Appropriate Technology movement, and an agriculturist with a keen interest in arid and semi-arid tropical plants, I was ready to work at some form of halting the southward spread of the Sahara Desert into Sub-Sahelian Africa. The US AID did not require us to go to Senegal for some reason, but my love of the region that developed due to all my research never stopped.

great green wall illustration

Some time ago I discovered the incredible project known as The Great Green Wall. Stretching from Senegal on the west coast, the effort was focused on planting a 10-mile wide band of drought-resistant trees to the east coast, ending in Somalia. I believe the primary plants are acacia trees and vegetables. Once the trees become established, their roots can pull up water from the low water table, making it more available for crops, and this is badly needed in this region. The trees will also help cool the air temperatures slightly, a bonus.

great green wall

The acacia being planted is Acacia senegalia senegal, a source of gum arabic, which has many uses in the food industry and other endeavors. As a perfumer, I’m wondering if the flowers have a lovely scent like Acacia farnesiana (cassie) or Acacia dealabata (mimosa). If so, the flowers could be harvested for extraction of the scent, adding another economic bonus.

green wall women farmers

green wall women farmers

As climate change is engulfing the world, and raising fears of loss of arable farmland, floods, hurricanes, and more damage, it is heartwarming to see that an initiative started 14 years ago is providing wonderful results. I may never get to visit Senegal or the Sahelian region, but my heart has long been there, loving the culture, and the hardworking, tenacious people. Bravo to Senegal for investing so much in the project, and building the greatest horticultural feature on earth, in cooperation with the other nations.

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