Senegal: The Great Green Wall, a wall of misunderstanding? (by Mohamed Gueye, for Farm Radio Weekly in Senegal)

| May 2, 2011

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Mamadou Habibou is a herder. He lives in the village of Tessekeré, about 330 kilometres north of Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Like many herders, he must walk long distances and leave his family for several months at a time. He would like to graze his cattle near his home. And the Great Green Wall may help him achieve this goal.

The Great Green Wall goes through Mr. Habibou’s village. Local farmers and shepherds have become accustomed to the comings and goings of the foreigners who oversee the planting of shoots or shrubs to build the wall.

The Great Green Wall project aims to plant a line of trees nearly 8000 kilometres long and 15 kilometres wide. This green belt would pass through 11 countries in the Sahel, from Senegal to Djibouti. It hopes to stop the desert from expanding and swallowing farmland. Mr. Habibou and his fellow villagers are happy with what is being achieved. At least that’s what they say in public.

Unlike Mr. Habibou and his fellow villagers, not all farmers praise the Great Green Wall. For fear of appearing to be against the development of Senegal, they never publicly criticize the project. But privately, several bluntly admit that they do not feel the need to preserve these trees.

Aliou Sow is a farmer in Senegal. He complains bitterly that the authorities planted trees in his community without consultation. He says the Department of Water and Forestry just passed through the village to tell them that a project of the utmost importance would take place in the area. And while farmers travel miles on foot or by donkey to fetch water for the villages of Tessekeré, Amaly and Widou, wells are being dug specifically to irrigate nurseries for the Wall.

In Senegal, the Great Green Wall is still under construction. The state has earmarked resources and engaged with many partners around the project, but the trees are still far too small to form a protective barrier.

Matar Cissé is director of the National Agency for the Great Green Wall. He says that people have much to gain from the green belt. He explains: “We chose species that people would do well to protect, in that they will provide them with regular income.” The tree species chosen should also provide forage for livestock during the dry season.

To encourage farmers and herdsmen to feel a sense of ownership towards the Wall, authorities are conducting a communication campaign. Mr. Cissé believes he has convinced people to mobilize for the project’s success. He refuses to admit that some are not thrilled with the Wall.

Aminata Siby, a housewife in the Widou area, is one of those people who is not thrilled. She speaks in an offended tone: “These trees must be important because they are prohibiting us humans from using the water from boreholes, for the sake of those trees.”

Mr. Cissé insists that the skeptics must be people who do not live close to the Green Wall. He says, “Here [in Senegal], all the villagers joined the project without any reservations for the protection and preservation of the Great Green Wall.”

For now, the Great Green Wall in Senegal consists of large marked-out perimeters and shrubs less than one metre high which extend over 15 kilometres. Proponents hope the wall will span 700 kilometres from east to west in Senegal within three years.