Nomadic children are among the least educated in the Sahel, and they are socially marginalized as a result. Long months spent roaming pastures with their animals fractures the school year and leave most illiterate.
Racine Diallo, technical director of Senegal’s Great Green Wall Agency, described the impact on education across the green belt: “In 2014, the school of Mbar Toubab reopened thanks to the Great Green Wall. They started a school garden and developed their skills in that area,” he told Atmos in his office in Senegal’s capital, Dakar. “Another community made enough money to provide the school with electricity, which they paid for through their garden.” Putting cash into the hands of women means income cycled directly back into their communities, he added. “They sell vegetables, settle debts, and everything else goes to the family for school fees and taking care of the children. They are the bedrock,” he emphasized.
Senegal is widely considered one of the Great Green Wall’s star pupils, with more than 18 million trees planted by 2017 and 42,452 hectares of dried land reforested. By contrast, Sudan, which is due to provide 20 percent of the landmass of the Wall compared to Senegal’s 7 percent, has restored just 2,000 hectares so far.
Senegal has also avoided the deadly farmer-herder clashes over land that have swept the Sahel and killed more people in Nigeria than Boko Haram. Fulani herdsmen there are accused of grazing cattle on land set aside for agriculture, as they are forced to find new pasture far from their dried-up home villages. These battles have displaced thousands of people.
“The crisis between the cattle herders and the farmers in West Africa is becoming a critical one, first of all because the climate conditions have changed massively and the way of life of the cattle herders has not changed in tandem. That’s creating a lot of tensions between the communities,” explained Liz Kpam Ahua, regional representative for the UN’s refugee agency in West Africa, which is working on the situation.
“The government of Senegal, which has taken the situation in hand to create a belt of green that allows the cattle herders to stay—we can only appreciate them for their foresight,” she added.
Activities began in earnest in the far west of Senegal in 2009, expanding eastwards to reach Mboula by 2012. Diallo emphasized the importance of extensive consultation with communities before a single tree is planted: “If we agree what is farmland, grazing land, and protected land from the beginning, there will be fewer problems,” he said. “Above all, we cannot decide in their place.”
In Senegal, tree species such as acacia and baobab have dominated the reforestation drive, concentrated in what are called parcelles in French (Senegal is a former French colony). These enclosures, the kind that had perturbed Sy at the start of the project, act like a reservoir of animal feed for the months when most vegetation is gone.
“We have reforested the area and fenced it off to animals. In these areas, the tree cover is much thicker, because more of them grow, and they grow high. There are five of these parcelles in our community,” said Gory Ba, mayor of Mboula. “The animals do not enter, and as a result, we can grow food for them undisturbed for 10 months a year. For the final two months, they go to the communal reserve,” he added.
The reserves are the third innovation of the Great Green Wall, beyond the gardens and parcelles, and only swing into action when all other options for feeding the animals have been exhausted.