Research network launched to help Great Green Wall initiative

An interdisciplinary network of French institutes and African universities has been launched to provide a mobilisation framework for the sustainable management of land and territories in the area of the Great Green Wall (GGW) of the Sahara and the Sahel.

The GGW is an area of about 8,000km that stretches across 22 African countries. The African Union launched the GGW Initiative in 2007 with the aim of restoring the degraded landscapes on the continent and bringing hope to millions of people in the Sahel – including through job creation, according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

Hosted by the Ministry of Higher Education and Research of Djibouti, the international research network IRN RESET-GGW: Research, scientific expertise and knowledge for the sustainable management of lands and territories of the Great Green Wall, was launched in Djibouti on 25 April 2023.

The IRN RESET-GGW is an ambitious African initiative aimed at sustainably reversing the degradation of vital ecosystems, addressing climate crises and improving living conditions while preserving agro-ecosystems in 11 Saharan and Sahel countries. These are Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan. The GGW covers 780 million hectares of arid and semi-arid land around the Sahara and is home to 232 million people.

Significance and aims

Despite conducting numerous scientific studies in the GGW countries, only a fraction have resulted in publications that are useful for effective decision support for GGW implementation, according to the launch event note.

This creates an urgent need to combine interdisciplinary scientific knowledge and to make the African scientific community a major player in the territorial, national and regional coalitions that are being formed. The vision of the GGW initiative is to promote developing a mosaic of sustainable land use systems and diversified and resilient agropastoral production in the Sahel and Horn of Africa (Somali Peninsula), according to the note.

The Sahel is the “vast semi-arid region of Africa separating the Sahara Desert to the north and tropical savannas to the south”, according to the UN magazine Africa Renewal.

Thus, the interdisciplinary and inter-institutional RESET-GGW aims to mobilise existing trans-disciplinary expertise to support the innovative implementation of the GGW initiative which will enable new research strategies and effective decision support.

To achieve these aims, the IRN RESET-GGW will carry out training and research studies in agricultural and environmental sciences, earth and universe sciences, and data science with a specific focus on agro-biodiversity, sustainable land and natural resource management, ecosystem services, production systems, migration and mobility, and rural land.

African universities involved

Dr Oumarou Malam Issa, the director of research at the Institute for Research and Sustainable Development, or IRD, in France that will coordinate the activities of the IRN RESET-GGW, told University World News: “The interdisciplinary research network involves several African universities and research centres located in six African countries – Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Senegal, Niger and Chad.”

The partnering institutions include the Institut de l’Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles and the University Joseph Ki Zerbo in Burkina Faso, Centre d’étude et de Recherche de Djibouti in Djibouti, the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia; the Structure Fédérative de Recherches Résilience des Agroécosystèmes face au Climat et Intensification Ecologique au Sahel, the Abdou Moumouni University of Niamey, the André Salifou University of Zinder, and the University Dan Dicko Dankoulodo de Maradi in Niger; the Centre de Suivi Écologique, the Senegalese Institute of Agricultural Research in Dakar, the Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar, L’Université Gaston Berger, or UGB, in Saint Louis, all in Senegal; and L’Institut Tchadien de Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement in Chad.

Several French research units are also involved. These include the functional ecology and biogeochemistry of soils and agro-ecosystems unit Eco&Sols, UMR Espace-Dev (space observation, models and an actionable science), and PPZS, that focuses on, among other issues, the sustainable management of pastoral systems in dry tropical areas in West Africa, and the joint research unit Actors, Resources and Territories in Development (UMR ART-DEV).

“The new IRN will help African universities to produce new scientific skills and expertise through training alongside non-academic actors for mobilising national and regional multi-actor coalitions,” Issa pointed out.

Benefits for African researchers

Issa indicated that the IRN RESET-GGW will mobilise and support the community of researchers and students from African universities via missions of scientific monitoring and animation, valorisation and sharing of results and data, and multidisciplinary training.

“Young African researchers will be mobilised on transdisciplinary research projects focused on identified needs and their work will be supported for valorisation, both in international scientific journals and through scientific productions intended to inform public initiatives and promote decision-making,” Issa added.

“African researchers will also be enrolled in mobility programmes within the GGW zone, as well as in capacity-building actions through summer schools and transversal training workshops.”

Dr Hassan Rayaleh, specialist in natural resources, climate change, disaster and risk management and resilience at the University of Djibouti, told University World News that, “This network will facilitate collaboration among the African academic community and help coordinate, monitor and measure the impact of their studies on the implementation of GGW’s objectives.”

Rayaleh said the network will also help direct research to where it is needed, including developing ecosystem services, and promoting sustainable management of resources for achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).