World Bank Group support to developing countries to manage their natural resources is critical for poverty reduction. A recent IEG evaluation assessed how well the World Bank has addressed natural resource degradation to reduce the vulnerabilities of resource-dependent people. On Desertification and Drought Day, we present the following four lessons drawn from IEG's assessment of World Bank support for the Great Green Wall.

Decades ago, several African Heads of State envisioned, and eventually lent their support to, the development of a Great Green Wall: a large belt of trees that stretches across twelve states of the Sahel. The concept of the Great Green Wall was developed to combat land degradation and desertification of the Sahel, a concept that has grown in importance as the threats posed by climate change intensify. Twenty-one African countries have signed on to the initiative, along with at least 11 international partners; including the African Union, European Union, and the World Bank.   

These are four key lessons that can inform future investments in the Great Green Wall:  

1. A precise understanding of the change in vegetation cover across the Sahel, attributable to donor investments in the Great Green Wall, has been limited because of an underinvestment in measurement.

Earth observations combined with site observations show that the World Bank’s support for the Great Green Wall has been successful. Vegetation has been successfully established, land has been rehabilitated, and the density of trees and shrubs have increased dramatically at rehabilitation sites. However, projects did not implement measurement mechanisms to establish how much of the increase of vegetation can be attributed to donor programs versus other important variables including changing rainfall.  

Watch: Discussion on the role of increased rainfall on the greening of the Sahel and the need for sustainable practices with professor Matt Turner, from the Department of Geology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Oumarou Moumouni, member of the development NGO Groupe de Recherche, d'Etudes d'Action pour le Développement in Niger. 

2. Land management practices that seek to restore degraded land can run the risk of exacerbating vulnerability.

Just prior to the coronavirus pandemic, there were 30 million food insecure people in the Sahel. This large cohort consists of farmers, agro-pastoral, and nomadic populations – all of whom engage in traditional land-use arrangements that provide mutual food and livelihood benefits. In these settings, even the most degraded land has value: these are important areas of passage and grazing for livestock, particularly during the rainy season, and are sources of wild plants and wood gathered by women. But the use of area enclosures – a land management practice that seeks to restore degraded land by excluding livestock and humans from openly accessing it in the short to medium term – runs the risk of exacerbating vulnerability; and in the absence of good land governance, possibly causing harm 

Watch: IEG’s evaluation analyst Joy Butscher explains some of the impacts of land management practices on pastoral populations.  

3. Increasing the value of degraded land can lead to predation by elites and to encroachment by non-traditional farmers, which risks displacing the local population.  

Such was the case in Niger, where land was effectively restored, but where parcels were also sold outside of the community, in areas that lacked good land governance. Predation also occurs as a result of decisions to support crop agriculture alongside tree planting. While land restoration activities took place on communal land, the introduction of “inter cropping” facilitated individualized claims on community land. Projects should be designed with an understanding of customary, flexible tenure arrangements and the coping strategies of vulnerable resource users who access degraded lands as a social safety net.  Importantly, that emphasis should be placed on ensuring that clear, enforceable land-use agreements are in place prior to land restoration activities, to protect the land-use rights of the most vulnerable. 

Watch: Professor Matt Turner, from the Department of Geology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, on land governance in Niger.

 4. Because land restoration mainly benefits those that have access to land, some women and youth are especially disadvantaged in the Sahel.  

In Niger, a very large number of women are forced to fend for themselves and their families because their husbands and sons have migrated to other West African countries to look for work. Projects that support land and resource restoration can ensure that women and youth benefit by addressing participation barriers, linked to social and cultural norms. For example, since in some conservative areas, some women’s participation in cash for work programs is prohibited, programs must propose alternative income generating options to ensure equity. 

Watch: Oumou Moumouni, from the UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs speaks of the disadvantages women face in the Sahel.


Photo credit:  Rafe H Andrews, Dawning

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