Plant wall holds back Africa’s encroaching desert

June 17 is World Day to Combat Desertification. Yes, on top of all the other environmental problems, many parts of the world are also challenged by the encroachment of sand.

Sand encroachment is what happens when grains of sand are carried by winds and collect in dunes on the coast, along watercourses and on cultivated or uncultivated land, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a statement today..

“As the dunes move, they bury villages, roads, oases, crops and irrigation channels and dams, causing major economic damage and increasing poverty and food insecurity”.

FAO is marking today’s World Day to Combat Desertification with the publication of a manual that shows how a project in Mauritania successfully fixed dunes and stopped sand encroachment.

It will serve as a useful blueprint for similar projects elsewhere in Africa.

Wall of 400,000 plants

The new FAO publication, Fighting sand encroachment–lessons from Mauritania, compiled with the support of the Walloon region of Belgium and Mauritania’s Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development, explains sand encroachment processes and control techniques, with an emphasis on involving local people in sand control activities, FAO said.

“By choosing the right local plant and tree species and involving the local community and national authorities, the FAO Mauritania project fixed 857 hectares of threatened land on the outskirts of the capital city Nouakchott and in southern coastal areas with 400,000 plants grown for the purpose in nurseries.

“The fight against desertification is a fight on two fronts,” said Nora Berrahmouni, FAO Forestry Officer for Arid Zones.

“The first is preventing the process happening in the first place through sustainable management of existing forests, range lands and natural resources.

“The second is repairing the damage done to forests and oases, by first stopping the sand blowing on the degraded soil and then replanting.”

The Support for Rehabilitation and Extension of the Nouakchott Green Belt Project was initiated by Prince Laurent of Belgium, financed by a U.S.$1.6 million grant from the Walloon Region of Belgium.

It ran for nine years and finished in 2009. It was implemented by FAO in close collaboration with the Government of Mauritania. The project has worked so well that it is now being replicated in other parts of Mauritania.

Brick in a green wall

Lessons will be also drawn up for the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel, an initiative being carried out under the auspices of the African Union Commission and the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), FAO added.

“The Great Green Wall initiative aims to address the impacts of aridity, low land productivity, desertification and climate change as well as to secure sustainable livelihoods in the Sahara and Sahel drylands.

“It will include sustainable management and restoration of degraded forest lands, dune fixation, and management of oases and grazing land across several countries of the Sahara and Sahel, from the Atlantic coast to the Indian Ocean.”

FAO, in collaboration with the African Union Commission, has aunched a U.S.$460,000 project to kick-start the Great Green Wall project in five countries–Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Mali and the Niger. The European Union is also providing 1.4 million euros to implement the initiative in eight other countries.

“Lessons learned from this project will also serve the new ‘inter-regional program for poverty alleviation and combating desertification through collaborative watershed management’ launched by FAO in June 2010 in Mauritania, Morocco and Ecuador and funded by Spain,” FAO said.

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn