Geographies in Depth

3 innovators in Africa growing food as a force for good

A group of women sowing seeds

Women sowing seeds in the Sahel to begin the building of the Great Green Wall. Image: Great Green Wall

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Climate change is worsening food security and stability in Africa's Sahel region and forcing populations to migrate.
  • Countries in the Sahel include Senegal, Mali, Niger, Chad, Nigeria and Mauritania.
  • The UN's Great Green Wall initiative aims to regreen an 8,000 kilometre strip of savannah along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.
  • One Billion Trees for Africa, Forested Food and Sahara Sahel Foods are three "ecopreneur" businesses helping with this effort.
  • Their solutions are hosted on UpLink, the World Economic Forum's innovation crowdsourcing platform.

Failing crops and flooding are among the climate impacts affecting lives and food security in Africa and forcing people to migrate.

In the Sahel – a vast region below the Sahara Desert encompassing countries including Senegal, Mali, Niger, Chad, Nigeria and Mauritania – temperatures are rising 1.5 times faster than the global average, according to a report from the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office.

Mali’s agriculture capacity could fall by 30-40% because of climate change. In Senegal, fish stocks are already declining, dropping by 80% in 2017 alone.

Clashes over land are growing, and people who migrate may face increased risks on the way and when they arrive, the UN says.

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Africa is growing a green wall

Regreening initiatives such as planting trees and recycling nutrients back into the soil are showing they can be a key part of the solution.

In Burkina Faso and Niger, farmers have transformed large swathes of arid land into productive agricultural space, according to analysis from Oxfam on regreening the Sahel. This has improved food security for about 3 million people and reversed the degradation of about 6 million hectares of land. There are also signs that it can reduce local conflict.

This is the context of the Great Green Wall initiative, a project led by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification to restore an 8,000 kilometre strip of savannah along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.

An infographic showing the results and achievements of the Great Green Wall Initiative
Innovators across Africa are supporting the UN's Great Green Wall Initiative to regreen a vast areas of land across the continent's Sahel region. Image: Great Green Wall

Food for good

Three innovators contributing to this effort are Tabi Joda of One Billion Trees for Africa, Ariana Day Yuen of Forested Foods and Josef Garvi of Sahara Sahel Foods.

One Billion Trees for Africa focuses on planting and growing native trees and developing a market for non-timber forest products such as fruit, medicine and organic foods.

“Indigenous trees are either being overexploited, cut down as wood, or destroyed through wildfires and mining activities,” Joda says. One Billion Trees for Africa has planted more than 2 million trees in 11 countries across Africa, restored 80 hectares of land and created 77 jobs.

Forested Foods is operating in three forests in southwest Ethiopia. It works with forest communities to grow and market non-timber forest products like honey, spices, resins and fruit. By offering producers guaranteed markets and premium prices, it aims to show that conserving forests is more sustainable than cutting them down for timber or crop farming.

“Ethiopia in particular has 2-4% of its natural forests left,” Yuen says. This worsens the impact of climate change for millions of farmers in Ethiopia.

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Finding new food in the desert

Sahara Sahel Foods uses “forgotten” native trees as food sources.

“The Sahara and the Sahel contain dozens of native, little-known food trees that can provide nutritious fruits, seeds, leaves and gums,” Garvi explains.

The business works with 1,500 smallholders who protect and propagate the trees. Nearly 20 native trees are now the source of new products and markets, including for top hotels and restaurants.

One Billion Trees for Africa, Forested Foods and Sahara Sahel Foods are members of the Sahel and the Great Green Wall cohort on UpLink, the World Economic Forum’s innovation crowdsourcing platform.

The project is part of the UpLink Trillion Trees challenge, which calls for solutions to the loss of global forests and aims to source “ecopreneurial” approaches to landscape restoration that help the people and environment of the Sahel.

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Related topics:
Geographies in DepthClimate ActionIndustries in DepthSustainable Development
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