A farmer transporting hay to Tera weekly market, Tera, Bajirga, Niger.
A groundbreaking map of restoration opportunities along Africa's Great Green Wall has been launched at the UN climate change conference, based on collection and analysis of crucial land-use information to boost action in Africa's drylands to increase the resilience of people and landscapes to climate change.
"The Great Green Wall initiative is Africa's flagship programme to combat the effects of climate change and desertification," said Eduardo Mansur, Director of FAO's Land and Water Division, while presenting the new map at the COP22 in Marrakech.
"Early results of the initiative's actions show that degraded lands can be restored, but these achievements pale in comparison with what is needed," he added during a high-level event at the African Union Pavilion entitled: "Resilient Landscapes in Africa's Drylands: Seizing Opportunities and Deepening Commitments".
Mansur hailed the new assessment tool used to produce the map as a vital instrument providing critical information to understand the true dimension of restoration needs in the vast expanses of drylands across North Africa, Sahel and the Horn.
Drawing on data collected on trees, forests and land use in the context of the Global Drylands Assessment conducted by FAO and partners in 2015-2016, it is estimated that 166 million hectares of the Great Green Wall area offer opportunities for restoration projects.
The Great Green Wall's core area crosses arid and semi-arid zones on the North and south sides of the Sahara. Its core area covers 780 million hectares and it is home to 232 million people. To halt and reverse land degradation, around 10 million hectares will need to be restored each year, according to the assessment. This will be major a contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
The data were obtained by analysing 63 000 half-hectare sample plots spread across the drylands of North Africa, Sahel and the Horn with FAO's Open Foris Collect Earth tool and very-high-resolution satellite images provided by Google Earth Engine and Bing Maps.
The data collection is a collaborative effort of the African Union, the CILSS/AGRHYMET Regional Centre, the Directorate General of Forests (Tunisia), Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia), FAO, Google and the World Resources Institute.
A great green mosaic
Experts say a variety of restoration approaches will be required to bring the Great Green Wall initiative to an effective scale and create a great mosaic of green and productive landscapes across North Africa, Sahel and the Horn.
These include natural regeneration allowing farmers to protect and manage the natural regeneration of forests, croplands and grasslands.
Where degradation is more severe, large-scale land preparation and enrichment planting is needed, mobilizing high-quality seeds and planting materials and involving communities in the selection of the native species to be used.
Even closer to the desert, sand encroachment can be fought by establishing and protecting the most adapted native woody and grassy vegetation and implementing sustainable management of oases systems.
Developing comprehensive value chains that benefit local communities and countries has the potential of transforming the lives of millions of people in Africa's drylands, making the Great Green Wall initiative a game-changer for the continent.
The drylands map was made possible with the support of Action Against Desertification, an initiative of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) in support of the Great Green Wall programme , national UNCCD action plans and south-south cooperation to promote sustainable land management and restore drylands and degraded lands in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, implemented by FAO and partners with funding from the European Union in the framework of the 10th European Development Fund (EDF).