Africa's Great Green Wall to combat desertification secures $16.8 billion in international finance Impact

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Now we have science writer. Rachel danske with an update on africa's great green wall project which will soon see an infusion of billions of dollars from the world bank and others this project. The great green wall is intended to serve as a bulwark against desertification of the land south of the sahara desert while at the same time supporting communities that live in this region. Okay rachel how're you doing. I'm doing well. Thanks for having me sure. This is a rape big wall. This is a big project. It's basically supposed to be this green band that spans about seven thousand kilometers across the whole hop of africa. It launched back in two thousand seven. Rachel what would you say. The progress has been since two thousand seven now to two thousand twenty one almost non-existent which is why they launched this new round of funding last month. There was an assessment that found that a fraction of the goal had been achieved so far and the goal is for twenty thirty so they realized that time was running out right throughout this piece. You make this really important distinction between planting a tree and growing a tree. Why is that so important to think about when you know thinking about restoring lands or planting trees to help prevent desertification. The first time. I heard it. I just thought well. That's a really good way to put it. And then when racer after another would phrase it that way that we don't plant trees we grow them because that's been one of the missing pieces in restoration. Efforts globally not even specific to the great green wall but just in restoration landscape and forest restoration. Generally there has been this focus on planting trees but little focus really on looking at what gets planted in the first place in paying attention to the species diversity in the planting material and making sure that it's the right tree for the right place. There's also last follow plus maintenance of the tree then there needs to be talked to someone in west africa who was saying that. He's traveled to so many countries throughout the continental. Seen so many trees planted. But where the forests. Yeah that's a really interesting way of thinking about it. Basically tree planting mania that's been happening has come from all these different projects foundations quotas. That are saying oh. It costs a dollar to put a tree in the ground and we're going to offset our carbon. We're going to green the world but no one's looking after these trees and making sure that they live beyond that for sheer gas so now that we know that. That's not a good way to go about this. There's actually a lot of research. That's found some of the best practices for restoration projects. What are some of the recommendations have come out from research. In the past ten years when paper published last year talked about ten golden rules for reforestation. And they think those summed up a lot of the recommendations really well in addition to just protecting existing forests which probably sounds obvious. But there's a lot of research on the new. I don't have the same benefits that existing ones do and it's hard to replace that beyond that involving local communities has been just incredibly important component that researchers are saying was not really part of the focus before because the restoration ecologists are focused on the physical research and they aren't trained to think about how people play into the picture and it's just so important to the survival of the trees because it's people who are planting trees and it's people who are maintaining the trees and if you don't have community by an investment in rye these trees there and interested keeping them there. The trees aren't going to last and the trees only have their benefits when they last going back to trees here for a minute you mentioned keeping old us in place for protecting them. What else is being looked at. So that's when using a diversity of species so that there can start to be restored. Biodiversity rather than just monoculture of trees. They're starting to be focused now. Also on the quality of the seeds. And what you're actually planting. And how do we build. The systems and infrastructure for collecting and improving. Seeds is going to be the most resilient seed for that species but then it's also about the genetic diversity because there can be inbreeding with plants. If you're not collecting from wide enough geographic area than you can start to sort of limit. The gene pool and that can be problematic. You talk about this example in ethiopia of a seat initiative a network that is supposed to improve the quality of seats. Can you talk about how that would work. And how it would involve the community. The provision of adequate trees deep portfolio or pets. Bo is a project in ethiopia that they're calling it a functional trees seed system. It's a multi-pronged effort. They're trying to develop standards for seed collection and sharing that. There's high quality seed that will ensure that the trees that are planted can be their most resilient they're developing maps for how to source those seeds they're trying to strengthen the research system the infrastructure and the the research system to improve seed quality and they're linking all of that to the people who will use the seeds seeds there's technical training for farmers and the local language and there are diagrams of how to store different types of seeds. They're really trying to get that knowledge to the community to farmers and local nurseries to scale up the capacity of local decentralized infrastructure. Is there another model project that people might be looking at to expand as the money comes in. Are there other areas. That are doing good things. Yeah there was one of their project that i came across the one billion trees for africa project. And it's led by this man from cameroon tabby jota. He talked about how he grew up in this thriving economy system and he went off to university and when he came back the lands that he new as a forest with no longer for us. He started planting marina cheese and cola nut trees and mingo trees and all these different trees that would restore some of the soil health that he thought had been lost but also produce food and income generating opportunities for people so that they would be invested in keeping the trees there. He called his approach. The contagion approach. Because it's just sort of caught on. He got a bunch of men and women in this one community to be involved in the tree planting the neighboring communities saw what was happening and he was very clear that it's not like a drastic change where their community sedley rich where they weren't before but the small benefits were noticeable and so the neighboring community wanted to do something similar. And so it's just been a word of mouth approach so as he developed this very grassroots success he's gotten funding from more international sources than use it to do the work on the ground in these different communities mostly in west africa. And he's starting to do more and more with the great great wall which seems very exciting so there are a couple of different findings that we talked about that suggests the way forward for this type of restoration project involving the community diversity of. They're planting making sure that they're not just putting stuff in the ground but they're actually supporting plant growth and the communities around it but another thing that comes up a lot in your story is now we kind of what should happen. Researchers have come to a lot of conclusions that are very useful. But then there's the practice what's actually happening on the ground and maybe even what will happen on the ground. What are some of the biggest impediments to implementing the results of this research. One interesting comment. That i heard was that the implementing partners people with the money don't have scientist on their teams. They don't realize how complicated it is to plant a tree into get it right and to make sure that grows the lack of knowledge in the right places and the lack of communication between the people with the money and the people with the knowledge and also the community who is going to be involved. Those conversations aren't being had something else that a here is the expectations that donors have. They want fast results. And that's not. How trees in general work. But it's especially not how effective restoration works because all of these things need to happen and they take time getting communities involved. There's a lot of upfront investment. That needs to happen. In developing all of this infrastructure and research systems with a lot faster to just go and say just plant a bunch of eucalyptus trees. Because that's what they have the seeds and planting materials for. There's a disconnect between the speed that donors want to see results and the reality of what needs to happen. I've seen that you've written about this project for years now. What do you think you're going to see if you check back in two years. I hope to see that things. Like the pats project and this other effort the one billion trees for africa a hope that they have scaled and and that they inspire or serve as models for other projects. I don't know where. I'm placing bets. It feels like there is enough of a resounding message coming from the research community about the importance of this and the importance for the effective ecosystem function restoration and the community development but also for the climate benefits and if the global fenders governments who want to plant trees for the climate benefits if they are serious than they will start listening to these researchers. This is like thousands of miles. Four thousand miles. That's like the us plus another third right east west a huge huge area to cover an across countries. And all these different people's. How is this. possible. Rachel i mean this is a global scale. This is a huge project. it's huge. It's huge and that's probably why it sounded like the great idea when they announced it. And why didn't go anywhere for ten years but it's the partner agencies that i've spoken with involved in this project. The great queen wall are really clear that it's an environmental program but it's also the social alliance when that's meant to economic development but also really impart some resilience. See into these communities. Who are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. That's why they're really ramping. Up this funding now because they see the value for the planet from a climate change perspective but also for the millions of people across this gigantic area. Pinks rachel thanks for having me. Sure rachel Danske is a science writer based in denver. You can find a link to story on the episode page for the podcasts. At science mag dot org slash podcast.

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