Analysis of the African Great Green Wall Project

The African Great Green Wall is a massive early 21st-century project undertaken to control and change the environment of Northern Africa. In this paper I will cover the objectives, stakeholders, and governance mechanisms of the project; how decentralization and policy transfer apply to the case; evaluate strengths and weaknesses with examples; consider the prospects for delivering on promises; and talk about desertification, sustainable livelihoods, and international cooperation.

The official website of the project,, has been taken over by someone attempting to sell health supplements. This is one indicator of a project that has not gone well. In a non-dated brochure on the project seemingly put together by the African Union Commission, European Union Delegation to the African Union Commission, and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, we can ascertain part of the evolution of the goals and objectives of the program. The Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative began in 2007 "...with the objective of tackling the detrimental social, economic and environmental impacts of land degradation and desertification in the region." (African Union Commission, n.d., pg 2) Then there are two more sets of goals stated, " support the efforts of local communities in the sustainable management and use of forests, rangelands and other natural resources in drylands." and " contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well improve the food security and livelihoods of the people in the Sahel and the Sahara." (Ibid) On the next page it's stated that the original idea was to build a line of trees longitudinally across Africa, but now the vision is for a "mosaic of interventions". The overall goal is then stated as " strengthen the resilience of the region's people and natural systems with sound ecosystems' management, sustainable development of land resources, the protection of rural heritage and the improvement of the living conditions of the local population." (Ibid, pg 3)

In 2011 1.75 million Euros was spent to generate a "harmonized strategy" with three main objectives: "Improve the living conditions of people in the arid zones of Africa and reduce their vulnerability to climate change, climate variability and drought; Improve the state and health of ecosystems in the arid zones of Africa and their resilience to climate change, climate variability and drought; Mobilize resources for the implementation of the Great Green Wall Initiative through the establishment of efficient partnerships between national and international stakeholders". (Ibid, pg 4) Further plans are then stated for generating "national action plans", "project portfolios", "communication strategies and plans", a "resource mobilization platform", and a "learning and networking platform". (Ibid) From this it would appear that it took 4 years and millions of dollars to generate plans to generate plans.

Specific targets were set. Depending on which organization is doing the assessment between 4 and 16 percent of those goals have been achieved. (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, 2020, pg 23) Even though the project was supposed to be an African led endeavor and may remain partially so (Ibid, pg 9), it appears that with the establishment of The Great Green Wall Accelerator in January of 2021 the European countries are taking more of a lead in the endeavor. Billions have been spent, with many more billions to go. Dependency on external funding transfers power and influence to foreign actors. This initiative established 5 goals: "Investment in small and medium-sized farms and strengthening of value chains, local markets, organization of exports; Land restoration and sustainable management of ecosystems; Climate-resilient infrastructures and access to renewable energy; Favourable economic and institutional framework for effective governance, sustainability, stability, and security; Capacity building". (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, 2023)

This indicates that in addition to the objectives the stakeholders in the project are also evolving. The primary countries involved are: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and the Sudan. There are at least 24 international organizations involved. (African Union Commission, n.d.) I've mentioned the influence of involvement of the European countries, there's also involvement in the other direction with China. (Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, 2023)

The governance mechanisms of the project are difficult to discern. The years of changing objectives are demonstrative of the difficulty of coordinating such a project. The Great Green Wall project is under the leadership of the African Union and coordinated by the Pan-African Agency of the Great Green Wall (PA-GGW) (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, 2020, pg 10) Activities are structured under five areas, the Major Strategic Axes: Sustainable Land Management and Green Economy; Climate Change, Socio-Economic Development and Governance in the localities; Support Research and Development; Communication, Marketing and Advocacy; Information System, Observatory, Early Warning and Response. These are then further elaborated in to 26 Strategic Objectives. There are then regional, national, and local levels that implement these operations. The PA-GGW is the regional level that has another 9 Regional Structural Programmes under it. Each member state has a national GGW structure. Local Sustainable Development Committees administer Integrated Sustainable Development Community Units. (Ibid, pg 12-13) This is therefore a top-down organization, but without real authority as it crosses national lines, with the only apparent corrective mechanism to be the holding of funding in areas. The Great Green Wall Accelerator seems to be an attempt to correct the lack of mechanisms for accountability and follow-through on funding, specifically meant to design a platform for "...monitoring, tracking, and connecting financing flows with project needs", and then to transfer this over a number of years to the control of the Pan African Agency. (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, 2023)

The decentralization structure of the project is complex. Decentralization can be thought of politically, administratively, and fiscally. Administration can be pursued as deconcentration, delegation, or devolution. Fiscal decentralization can take many forms involving governmental organizations, as well as privatization and deregulation for market decentralization. (Decentralisation Thematic Team, 2022) The Great Green Wall project is decentralized politically in that dozens of countries spanning a large swath of Africa are involved directly and indirectly, along with countries in both Europe, the Middle East, and Asia also being involved. This means that there are thousands of officials and decision-makers involved, without clear power structures. Because "...power resides implicitly in the other's dependency." and "The dependence of actor A upon actor B is (1) directly proportional to A's motivational investment in goals mediated by B, and (2) inversely proportional to the availability of those goals to A outside of the A-B relation." (Emerson, 1962), considering that the African countries have a high motivation for this project, and that they are largely dependent upon foreign financing, and considering that they may be limited for the most part to European countries with more minor financing from the Middle East and Asia, therefore there is a large amount of power in fact with the ability to be wielded by these countries involved in the financing. With the project occurring across multiple national lines it means that different methods of both administrative and fiscal decentralization can and are occurring.

As previously mentioned, one of the recurrent goals has been to design systems that allow for policy transfer of what is and is not working in the varying regions. What should be the measurement of success is a topic that has been publicly discussed. (Editorial, 2022) A research center has been established to compare successes and failures between projects in Africa and Asia. (Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, 2023) Studies have been carried out to try to increase the efficiency of resource allocation to viable areas on the project. (Mirzabaev et al., 2021) Historical projects have been compared with China along the Gobi Desert and the Prairie States Forestry Project in the 1930s United States called the Great Wall of Trees by FDR. (Cusick, 2022) It's difficult to tell if information was consulted from the Great Plains Shelterbelt project in the United States and the Great Plan for the Transformation of Nature in the Soviet Union, or if useful information has been exchanged with the Three-North Shelter Forest Program project in China or the Great Green Wall of Aravalli project in India.

There are three mechanisms through which policy transfer work: coercive isomorphism where policies are forced or influenced by powerful organizations; mimetic pressures where policies are copied hoping to be successful; and normative pressures where similar programs are implemented because that's the easiest path to follow in practice. (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983) All three are shown in the Great Green Wall project, although it would seem that much of the progress has come about because of a change in applied practices which have been slowly transferred not through these institutions, but from farmer to farmer. (Morrison, 2016)

The greatest strength of the project is probably the fascination people have had with the initial ambitious proposal, although that has been a failure. On a secondary level it has generated billions of dollars of revenue for the African countries through donations mostly from European governments, although it's difficult or probably impossible to track exactly where all of that money has gone. Positive changes have been noted, for instance aerial photos showing tree growth, although the comparison of 1975 to 2003 is before the program so it may be that the program is taking credit for effects that it is not the cause of. (Puiu, 2019)

In 'The Great Green Wall Implementation Status and Way Ahead to 2030 Advanced Version' from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification prepared by the Government of Ireland there is an analysis of intervention impacts across 11 countries. For instance, Burkina Faso has: financed 1.4 million dollars domestically and 31.5 million internationally; produced 16.6 million plants and seedlings; reforested 20,383 hectares; fixed 250 hectares of dunes; restored 29,602 hectares of land; has 12,500 hectares under Assisted Natural Regeneration; installed 2,800 km of windbreaks; trained 26,869 people; created 45,383 jobs; done Income Generating Activities of 6.5 million dollars; improved 51,633 households; produced 19,913 kg of seeds of 43 different species; and put 585 hectares under protection. (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, 2020, pg 51) This analysis can be considered an assessment of the strengths and progress of the project.

The project also has many weaknesses. It took three years from the start of the project before an organization was formed, then another year before the goals were established. The history of the moving objectives of this project shows the inefficiency in this system. The initial vision of a planted forest across the continent has been abandoned although it is often still promoted as the movement. Violent conflicts in the area mean that maybe only half of the area under consideration is consistently accessible. (Mirzabaev et al., 2022) In areas plagued with war the environment rarely rises to a high level of concern and that calls into serious question the sustainability of changes because of the instability of regimes. Corruption is difficult to track and it may be difficult to tell where all of the money has gone. (Prud'homme, 1995) The African-led initiative is so dependent on foreign funding and has proven so ineffective in its efforts that power is being transferred away from the domestic countries, although implementation cannot be, meaning that misalignment is built into the structure and system. In the end it's a tragedy of commons reaching across continents that appears to be a redistribution of resources from European to African countries. In personal communication Allan Savory, founder of the Savory Institute, has communicated to me that the project " a waste of time, money and lives because it is doing nothing at all to address the cause of biodiversity loss / desertification and climate change."

The prospects of the project delivering on promises first of all depends on which objectives we consider the project to have, which has been a moving set of wide-ranging targets. If we take what may be the two most important objectives of the project, reducing and reversing desertification and helping to facilitate sustainable livelihoods, there are better ways to pursue these objectives. The Savory Institute has shown that useful agricultural land can be regenerated and managed through natural and holistic means utilizing animal grazing. (Savory and Butterfield, 2016) Economic success requires a stabilized society with a certain amount of security and order under the rule of law so that peaceful mutually advantageous exchanges can be made and private investment can reasonably expect a chance of return and remuneration through virtuous market mechanisms. With the project as it is, especially being so extensive and largely uncoordinated, it's likely that many areas of the initiative fail and the money largely disappears with a minimal showing of improvement for the investment made, while some areas with less corruption and better management will be able to make progress, although as the history of the project shows determining where and on what would present challenges.

We have examined the African Great Green Wall project by analyzing the history of the objectives, the stakeholders involved, governance mechanisms in place, decentralization and policy transfer, strengths and weaknesses, and its future prospects. An ambitious and changing project, it's difficult to determine and weigh the realized and anticipated upside versus the costs and unintended consequences of the project. In another ten years the project will most likely be a landmark to either be emulated for international cooperation, or a cautionary tale of the misallocation of resources through governmental means.

Reference List

African Union Commission (n.d.) Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel initiative: The African wall. Accessed on 16 January 2023 at

Cusick, Daniel (2022) Will Africa ever see its 'Great Green Wall'? Climate Wire, E and E News. Accessed on 16 January 2023 at

Decentralization Thematic Team (2022) What is Decentralization? Accessed on 10 October 2022 at

DiMaggio PJ & WW Powell (1983) ‘The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields’. American Sociological Review, 48 (2), 147–60.

Editorial (2022) How to make Africa's 'Great Green Wall' a success. Nature 605, 8 (2022). Accessed on 16 January 2022 at

Emerson, Richard (1962) Power-Dependence Relations. American Sociological Review, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Feb., 1962), pp. 31-41.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2022) Programme Implementation Report 2020-21. Accessed on 16 January 2023 at

Mirzabaev, Sacande, Motlagh, Shyrokaya, Martucci (2021) Economic efficiency and targeting of the African Great Green Wall. Nature Sustainability 5, 17-25 (2022). Accessed on 16 January 2023 at

Morrison, Jim (2016) The "Great Green Wall" Didn't Stop Desertification, but it Evolved Into Something That Might. 26 August 2016 Smithsonian Magazine. Accessed on 16 January 2023 at

Prud'homme, Remy (1995) The Dangers of Decentralization. The World Bank Research Observer. Vol. 10, No. 2 (August., 1995), pp. 201-220.

Puiu, Tibi (2019) More than 20 African countries are planting a 8,000-km-long 'Great Green Wall'. 25 April 2019 ZME Science. Accessed on 16 January 2023 at

Savory, Allan; Parsons, Stanley (1980) The Savory Grazing Method. Rangelands 2(6), December 1980. Accessed on 16 January 2023 at

Savory, Allan (1983) The Savory Grazing Method or Holistic Resource Management. Rangelands 5(4), August 1983.

Savory, Allan; Butterfield, Jody (2016) Holistic Management: A Commonsense Revolution to Restore Our Environment. Third Edition. The Center for Resource Economics, Island Press: Washington, DC.

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (2020) The Great Green Wall Implementation Status and Way Ahead to 2030. Accessed on 16 January 2023 at

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (2023) Great Green Wall Initiative. Accessed on 16 January 2023 at

Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography (2023) Pan-African Great Green Wall Research Center. Accessed on 16 January 2023 at



Popular posts from this blog

Why is Slytherin House Bad?

Fighting Local Government Corruption - Part 1 of ?

Pro-Global Warming

Donate to Jeff's Work