A forest has grown on pebbles: in Niger, the Great Green Wall is advancing slowly

On the ground, goats bite the seeds of acacia, a shrub with formidable thorns: once a lunar landscape, the Simiri plateau, a town located about a hundred kilometers north of Niamey, has turned into a small paradise for wildlife and flora.

“Welcome to the site of the Great Green Wall of Simiri, a small forest of more than 25 hectares which has grown on stony ground! “, welcomes AFP captain Mouhamadou Souley, head of the desertification control services. Termites burrow into galleries, you can see the footprints of squirrels and partridges, as well as praying mantises hanging from the trees, where swarms of grasshoppers devour the foliage.

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Reforestation of the hostile Simiri Plateau began in 2013. Armed with pickaxes and spades, villagers built earthen dikes that retain rainwater around young trees for longer to ensure their growth, even in the event of damage. drought. “Through this, we have already launched extension work for another 65 hectares”, points to Captain Souley.

The return of the giraffes

Pharaonic project of the African Union (AU), the Great Green Wall (GMV) aims to restore by 2030 some 100 million hectares of arid lands in Africa, on a strip 8,000 km long from Senegal in Djibouti via Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

The Nigerien part of the GMV is essentially made up of Senegalese Senegalese (white gum tree) and Bauhinia rufescens, two species very resistant to drought, reaching a peak of twelve meters. “Their leaves and seeds are rich in protein for cattle”, rejoices Garba Moussa, a farmer from Bani-Maté, a hamlet near the site: “Cooked or dried, we also eat them as survival foods during severe food shortages. “

“This place was a barren landscape, here is a small forest reborn by a miracle! “, exults Moussa Adamou, the mayor of Simiri, who notes “The return of the game”. Now even “Giraffes” leave their distant habitat of Kouré, south of Niamey, to come and savor the tender acacia leaves, he says.

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By 2030, Niger, a three-quarters desert state, aims to “Reverdir” 3.6 million hectares of land on 37.5% of its immense territory, according to Colonel Maïsharu Abdou, director general of the GMV agency in Niger. To realize this dream, this country, one of the poorest in the world, needs more than 454 billion CFA francs (more than 693 million euros), according to him. The European Union (EU), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Bank and bilateral donors have already put their hands in their pockets.

“It’s a long-distance race”, believes Colonel Abdou. After a decade of work, “We made a first assessment in 2020 and what was achieved is between 8 and 12%” overall, he reveals.

The jihadist threat

In addition to stopping the desert, the project is also focused on access to water, solar energy, as well as socio-economic aspects: market gardening, fish farming, cattle breeding, poultry farms; the challenge is to provide jobs to a population undermined by poverty. Local NGOs have joined the fight. “We are going to reforest 100 hectares in six communes, we have our nurseries and we have dug water wells”, explains Issa Garba, from the organization Young Volunteers for the Environment (JVE).

However, the jihadist attacks which are plaguing several GGW countries risk jeopardizing the realization of this gigantic project. “Insecurity dealt a blow to its realization. All countries are focused on the fight against insecurity ”, alarms Issa Garba. “There are areas where farmers are afraid to venture out to carry out reforestation or tree maintenance actions”, notes Sani Yaou, a Nigerien expert.

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In Niger, the forest areas in the south have already lost a third of their surface, to represent only 1 to 2% of the country, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Arable land is therefore so many treasures for this country, where 80% of the population lives from subsistence agriculture. From 23 million inhabitants in 2019, the Nigerien population should increase to 30 million in 2030 and 70 million in 2050, according to the World Bank. Hence the vital importance of the rapid success of the GMV.

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The World with AFP

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A forest has grown on pebbles: in Niger, the Great Green Wall is advancing slowly