Map showing the the Great Green Wall initiative which aims to grow an 8,000km natural wonder across the Sahel region of Africa

The ambitious initiative known as the Great Green Wall received a boost this week with a pledge of $14.3bn in new funding from the African Development Bank, France and the World Bank to plant an 8,000km long and 15km wide mosaic of trees, grasslands, vegetation and plants across the Sahel, the arid savannah on the southern edge of the Sahara

The aim of the project first envisioned in 2005 was to restore the lands suffering from degradation and desertification, and to help the region’s inhabitants produce adequate food, create jobs and to promote peace.

Drought and water scarcity is an acute problem in the Sahel, and most of the dozen or so countries it spans have tried a variety of water conservation measures, such as watershed management, drilling of bore holes and water harvesting techniques.

The Green Wall project had only covered 4 per cent of its target area, according to a UN report last year, and looked well short of achieving its target date of 2030, before the latest funding injection. The funds are about 40 per cent of the estimated $33bn needed to meet its goals by the end of the decade.

“The Great Green Wall is part of Africa’s environmental defence system — a shield against the onslaughts of desertification and degradation,” said Akinwumi Adesina, African Development Bank chairman. “The future of the Sahel region depends on the Great Green Wall. Without the Great Green Wall, the Sahel region as we know it may disappear.”

Chart showing population of Sahel countries is likely to triple by the end of the century. Rising from 500 million in 2020 to more than 1.5 billion by 2100

Despite the slow progress, by 2017 more than 335,000 jobs were created through the project. But the population it will need to sustain with jobs and food in the 11 countries that lie within the Sahel region is expected to triple from 500m in 2020 to more than 1.5bn before the end of the century, according to estimates from the UN’s population division.

The success of the project depends on overcoming many factors. The main hurdle reported by participating countries is the lack of high-level political support for the environmental policy agenda from the governments in the region. There is also poor co-ordination and information sharing at national and regional levels, which results in insufficient collaboration between the countries involved.

The replication of pilot projects that have been successful will be the key to the expansion of the initiative, according to the UN.