Woman carrying items through the Sahel Desert in Chad
Photo credit: mbrand85/Shutterstock

Temperatures in the Sahel are increasing 1.5 times faster than the global average, and around 80 percent of the farmland has lost some degree of its natural productivity. Together, these factors diminish the availability of land for food production or grazing, deplete water, and increase the vulnerability of the people living in the region. 

Adding to these challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic could drive up to 40 million people into extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, erasing five years of progress in fighting poverty. In the Sahel alone, over 17 million people are food insecure.

Despite all these dismal statistics, there is reason for hope. Degraded lands can become productive again, water can be saved or replenished, transforming people’s lives and creating job opportunities. 

That is why at the 2021 One Planet Summit, the World Bank announced its plan to invest more than $5 billion between 2020 and 2025 across 11 countries of the Sahel, Lake Chad, and Horn of Africa regions, stretching from Senegal to Djibouti. The funding will be used to restore degraded landscapes, improve agriculture productivity, increase climate-resilient infrastructure, and boost livelihoods and jobs. Through our support, we expect to build corridors of growth and transform the lives of millions of people.

In 2012, the World Bank launched the Sahel and West Africa Program in Support of the Great Green Wall (SAWAP). The Great Green Wall is a Pan-African initiative that aims to restore 100 million hectares of land and create 10 million green jobs by 2030. Financed by over $1 billion from the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility, SAWAP has brought 1.6 million hectares under sustainable land management and reached over 19 million people.

Great Green Wall by World Bank Africa Region

Going forward, we will focus our efforts on projects we know will boost livelihoods and resilience. Through our experiences in the Sahel, we have learned a few lessons on how to maximize results.

We need to scale up agroforestry practices to improve soil fertility, provide fodder for livestock and improve micro-climates. In Niger, farmer-managed activities to naturally regenerate trees and other native plants resulted in farms with high tree densities and bigger grain production, providing families more food and surplus for sale.

We need to protect and replenish water to collect and concentrate runoff on cultivated areas. In Burkina Faso, for example, efforts to recharge groundwater levels allow farmers to create vegetable gardens, improving food security and even enabling them to sell any surplus.

We must fight erosion and prepare for natural disasters, which are increasingly common as climate change affects weather patterns. In Nigeria, about 2.6 million people are benefiting from the $900 million Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Project (NEWMAP), which is strengthening the country’s preparedness to respond to natural hazards and climate risks and fight erosion. As a result, 16 states have improved erosion risk maps and prepared better-quality catchment management plans, 75 hydromet stations have been installed to provide data for integrated catchment planning, and vast areas of eroded gullies have been restored.

We need to strengthen land tenure security, a necessary condition to encourage land-users to sustainably manage their lands. In Ethiopia, in addition to large-scale land restoration, land certificates have been issued to more than 360,200 households, many headed by women. This includes some 10,000 landless youth who received certificates in exchange for restoring degraded communal lands, thereby encouraging young people to invest in making land more productive and conserving soil and water.

With the more than $5 billion we plan to invest to 2025, we will implement over 60 projects using a multi-pronged approach to help strengthen community climate action in Burkina Faso; youth skills development in Chad; women entrepreneurship in Djibouti; agriculture and livestock in Mauritania; water security in Niger; electricity access in Ethiopia; and land tenure in Senegal, to name a few.

Restoring landscapes and livelihoods across the drylands of Africa is about building hope, and we will join forces with communities, countries and partners to make it a reality.

This piece was originally published on the World Bank Nasikiliza blog.

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