The Great Green Wall

The Great Green Wall is a plan to hold back the expansion of the Sahara with an 8000 km natural wonder of the world across the width of Africa. It would be the largest living structure on the planet.

In Burkina Faso, a landlocked country between Mali and Ghana, a hot dry wind from the Sahara blows. The north of the country is in the Sahel, the borderland of the Sahara. Its temperatures range up to 47°C and it gets less than 600mm of rainfall a year. There, Ecosia, the eco-friendly search engine, has planted nearly 17m trees over 12,400 hectares.

Chad has planted 1.1m seedlings, and its nickname “the dead heart of Africa” could be made obsolete. Africa’s second largest wetland, 17,806 square km Lake Chad, was once 330,000 square km in the Chad Basin, which does not drain to the sea. Increasing water shortages contribute to the rise of Boko Haram in the region. Part of it is Sahel acacia savannah, which once supported vast migrating herds of grazing mammals.

Mauritania was part of the original Panafrican Agency of the Great Green Wall in 2007. The UN Convention to Combat Desertification proposed 1.65 million hectares of forest there. In January 2021 its president, Mohamed Cheikh El-Ghazouani, who is the chair of PAGGW, welcomed the UN’s Accelerator programme, a new $14bn scheme. It is estimated that $33bn investment is needed to complete the wall.

Though 80% or more of planted trees in the Sahara die, in Niger, farmers used water harvesting techniques to protect trees that seeded naturally on their farms. Rather than planting a forest on the edge of a desert, the project transformed to develop indigenous land use techniques. Hundreds of thousands of farmers made the land productive for food and fuel for 3m people. French imperialism had imposed French techniques, to clear land for agriculture and keep crops separate from trees, damaging the ecology. The trees improve the soil. Twelve million acres in Niger were restored for farming.

South Sudan is south of the area of the Wall, which passes through Sudan. In South Sudan, the breakdown of agriculture foments conflict. It is covered in tropical forest, swamps and grassland, 3° north of the Equator.

Western Sahara is occupied by Morocco after liberation from Spanish rule in 1975. It has no permanent streams, and in summer reaches 45°C. Yet its north-west, with the temperature moderated by the Atlantic Ocean, has Acacia dry woodlands and succulent thickets.

Global Citizen gives a good introduction. The wall aims to

• improve soil quality for farmers, which would allow crops to better withstand hostile conditions;
• create wildlife corridors that revitalize ecosystems and become hubs of tourism;
• restore sources of water to combat drought;
• generate millions of green economy jobs;
• establish a carbon sink to fight climate change;
• break the vicious cycles of migration that are draining societies of youth;
• boost economies;
• and ease the conditions that lead to violence.

Kew Gardens are involved in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, planting one million seedlings over four years, collecting and storing species and investigating which survive best.

Here is the project website.

Touch

I have not hugged anyone since 6 March. The attention and touch to my bare skin yesterday moved me. Human fellow-feeling also moved me- texting can be beautiful- but I need reassurance of my value, and caring touch made me feel better. I will wring all the pleasure I can from the experience.

I saw my pulse was low, and did something about it: search to find if that’s a problem, phone the NHS, speak to my GP. She arranged the CCG. Then on Thursday evening I found myself thinking about it. Would I be OK? I analysed this. Possible heart problems are a thing people might be worried about, and worried people might think about the thing they were worried about. I had done all I could about it for the moment. So possibly I am worried. I’ve just looked up the difference between worry and anxiety: here it is. Worry is verbal, in the head. I used the word correctly, even though I could not have specified the difference.

Next day, I went to the surgery. Because of The Disease, you go in and announce your presence, then wait outside. Only where a physical examination is necessary do you see a professional in person at all. I chatted to a man of eighty, who arrived on an electric scooter. Someone was going to give him a lift, but had not turned up. He told me he was fed up, and made clear he meant he wanted to die. He had had a cataract operation in February, and when he went in they had told him they had to remove the lens. They really should have told him that before, as that is how you treat a cataract. Then they told him he could not drive for weeks, and now he has double vision sideways and all the opticians are closed. It is good to chat. He had been in the army for ten years, including during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a formative and terrifying experience for him.

A woman turned up in a mask. “That looks professional,” I said. It doesn’t have the vents or filters, she said, it’s from her husband’s work, and more a dust mask than an airtight mask.

I decided to identify this tree. I think it is a silver birch. Say if you think different.

The nurse, in an apron of plastic film, a hair covering, and a mask, chatted away as she fastened sticky contacts to my skin: chest, abdomen and ankles. That was the caring touch. It mattered, despite her latex gloves. She so misses touching. She is a huggy person. “Normal sinus rhythm,” she said, and the doctor confirmed.

Going without touch matters, as a human being, a primate, an animal; and it is how things are. I will accept it.

Then I went off for blood tests. I was challenged at the door: have I had a cough or fever in the last seven days? No, and not a headache, loss of taste and smell, or lesions on the toes either. The phlebotomist had to have a good dig around in my arm before finding the vein.

How can you just enjoy cycling? I realised I was pedalling along in a fury of resentment. I resented the wind, I resented the inclines, and when I was working hard I cudgelled myself to work harder. I should not need to drop a gear, here. No wonder I never want to go, though I get some pleasure when out. Yet the most memorable moment of the thirteen miles was stopped at a temporary traffic light, when I stood and looked at the trees. A worker approached the light, opened the metal box wired to it, apologised. Oh, that’s alright, I said. They may have been non-binary and I was keen to identify their assigned gender, just like a straight person probably would be. Something about the hip to shoulder ratio in the shapeless overalls made me think them female, but only the voice (goggles, hard hat) made me sure.

So today I decided I would enjoy the cycling. I looked at the gorgeous pink blossom on two trees. I looked at the many different greens on the foliage, and the shivering wide-leaved grass. I dropped a gear when I felt the need, and may have gone faster as a result. I praised myself for going up the inclines, and fully enjoyed going down. I thought of that resentment: only appreciation and love will do. “Love! Love! Love!” I cried.

I want views from another country, so tag this post Mauritania. Mauritania, in West Africa, has some fascinating rock art.