Hot air constricts the throat. The thermometer reads 45°C. Recurring temperature during the lean months before the expected winter rains in August and September in the arid Sahelian region of Ferlo in northern Senegal.
Eric Badji treads the tall grilled grasses, golden iridescent under the sun’s fire, in the Koyli Alpha community nature reserve, located in the Six Drillings area known as the “thirst triangle”, which is conquered after two hours of hiking, 340 km north of the capital. In this small pearl of 643 hectares created in 2016, along the route of the Great Green Wall (GMV), the doctoral student in plant biology, from the Cheikh Anta Diop University (Ucad) in Dakar, smiles as he scans the horizon: “Looking in the distance, the trees are closer, you think you see a real density of trees forming a wall of vegetation, it’s the illusion of the big green wall! But here there will never be a forest, we are in a wooded savanna environment. »
“2022 is the year of fresh start! »
GMV’s laborious pan-African project, born in 2007, with the aim of reforesting a strip of the Sahel that crosses Africa from Dakar to Djibouti, has revived in the lands of the Fulani de Ferlo herders a promising fervor.. Sergeant Badji, Eric’s namesake, walks over the cracked earth. “Everything is ready for planting. 2022 is the year of fresh start! », he exclaims–he. The water and forestry agent of the Senegalese Agency for Reforestation and the Great Green Wall (ASERGMV) shows the tedious work carried out. In 500 hectares of the municipality of Tessékéré, furrows dug, awaiting sowing, are lost on the horizon.
“We have learned a lot over the years, which species to plant and how to plant them”, argues Aliou Guissé, professor of plant ecology and co-director of OHMi, the international human-environment observatory created by Ucad and CNRS. In fifteen years, the GGW has become an inexhaustible land of research. “We are even testing solid rain,” enthuses the researcher, evoking these granules, buried in the soil with young plants, capable of storing seven times their volume of water and replenishing it after winter.
“We expect a production of 2 million plants”
In the nurseries, the activity is fun. A coming and going of wheelbarrows. Groups of men, women and young people, crouching, form small bundles of sandy soil for the plants lined up by the hundreds, by the thousands. “We expect a production of 2 million plants for 15,000 hectares by 2023”, Colonel Gora Diop’s ambitions. The new director of the agency defends the hiring of 1,850 young people for nurseries, plantations and fighting fires. “In the past, we didn’t associate populations enough, it was a big mistake, he recognizes. The vision is clear now, there will be no planting without protective mesh, and given the aridity, if we have a 50% success rate, we can say brave. »
The young professor Mustapha Sagna wants to believe, as in the time of the crazy hopes of the reforestation campaigns of the years 2008-2012 to fight not only against desertification, but also against poverty and the rural exodus: “We were hundreds of students crossing the country during the civic holidays to plant thousands of trees with the inhabitants! » Remember this time of the pioneers that seems so far away, the truck transport on the road, the camps to set up, the latrines to dig, the land to work, with this intoxicating feeling of fulfilling a mission for the development of the country.
The researchers, equally excited, then measured the microclimate created by each tree and began to dream of the milder climate of the future wall. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm was dampened. President Macky Sall, elected in 2012, shunned the work started by his predecessor Abdoulaye Wade.
“What a waste, there’s nothing left, nothing, nothing”
In spite of everything, the reserve was created, and hundreds of hectares planted from one side to the other. “But many were not fenced in, or the fences were torn down, regrets Eric Badji. What a waste, there’s nothing left, nothing, nothing. » Not a blade of grass, not a young plant, not a bush. But miles of bare, overgrazed land, smeared with animal droppings by hordes of hungry herds. There would be 3 million cows, sheep, goats, donkeys, camels to trample and devour this fragile environment.
It is also difficult to imagine that there were, in this thirsty land, community gardens full of lemons, mangoes and okra – to feed, accommodate families and encourage children to go to school. Eden was sacrificed. The water from the holes was reserved mainly for the cattle.
1,600 carts arrive to store fodder
“As long as we don’t have a policy for developing forage crops and reducing livestock, everything will be doomed to failure”, despairs Gory Ba, the mayor of the 65-village rural community of Mboula, in which the Koyli Alpha reserve is located. “Residents are aware of the problem,” he begs. His commune created a salutary valve during this season of fatal scarcity by exceptionally opening up a fenced-in lot, resulting in an uninterrupted parade of more than 1,600 carts for three days to stock up on fodder.
“GGW is a very beautiful promise, it can bring a lot to the villages”, strongly defends the school’s director, Oumar Dialo. The village of Widou Thiengoly is now convinced of this and is clamoring for a reservation, after opposing the project.
“Animals adopt nocturnal habits”
Within the reserve’s grounds, some baobabs, African plums, several species of acacias and hardy desert date palms flourish. “It’s crazy, in six years of protection, the landscape has been transfigured with this carpet of herbaceous plants and all these young trees growing, by the sole action of natural regeneration,” excites Eric Badji.
Beside him, Anna Niang walks on tiptoe. “A jackal passed, lifts the young animal biology researcher, pointing out traces in the sandy soil. It is so hot that most animals adopt nocturnal habits.” None of the subtle movements escapes him. “There, paws”, she breathes, pointing to the shy red monkeys that stealthily raise their heads above the tall grass. “They act as scouts, to see if we’re still there,” she whispers, overjoyed at this unlikely encounter. In the distance, a scimitar-horned oryx turns its hooves indifferently as we approach. Six individuals of this species of white antelope, extinct in the wild, were reintroduced in 2020 to this savanna that was the species’ natural habitat before being decimated by desertification, hunting and competition with domestic herds.
Ferlo’s great animal biodiversity
“The oryx are happy, now they are 12 years old, rejoices Anna Niang. “Contrary to what we imagine, there is great animal biodiversity in Ferlo”, comments the young researcher as birds in ruins like the Abyssinian roller or the blue-eared starling shimmer with color in the sky. With the return of vegetation, insects, rodents, birds, mammals reinvest this living laboratory, which has no less than 162 species of birds, 9 large mammals and 11 reptiles.
“For ten years, if the protection of the plots for natural regeneration and plantations had continued, we would have everywhere this landscape of the reserve, bitterly regrets Eric Badji. We would have it, our great wall. »
The GGW accelerator
The Great Green Wall (GMV) covers a strip 15 km wide and 7,000 km long and crosses eleven countries: Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti.
In Senegal, it covers 16 municipalities more than four departments and 545 km long.
3.5 million hectares have been restored throughout the GGW since 2007. There is every reason to fear that these statistics do not account for the high failure rate.
The ambition is to restore 100 million hectares by 2030.
In January 2021During the “One Planet Biodiversity Summit”, nine international organizations announced funding of €18.5 billion for 2021-2025 and the creation of an accelerator, under the United Nations Convention against Desertification, to support projects across the world. the territory of the eleven countries.
€2.4 billion was disbursed in 2021. So far, the accelerator has focused on creating working procedures and coordinating institutions and non-state actors.