Nature and Biodiversity

These start-ups are helping to make life in the Sahel more sustainable

Millions of hectares each year are lost to desertification in the Sahel region.

Millions of hectares each year are lost to desertification in the Sahel region. Image: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Stefan Ellerbeck
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Climate and Nature

This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate

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  • The Great Green Wall initiative aims to restore land degraded by desertification and create sustainable jobs in Africa’s Sahel region.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Uplink platform has recognized ecopreneurs who contribute to sustainable development in the region.
  • Four start-ups in Mali, Benin and Niger have developed innovations which are helping people live and work more sustainably.

The Sahel region of Africa is already feeling the effects of the climate crisis.

The Great Green Wall initiative (GGW) is an ambitious project which aims to “transform the lives of millions of people living on the frontline of climate change by creating a mosaic of green and productive landscapes across Africa,” according to the United Nations.

Conceived in 2007 by the African Union, it was a response to widespread land degradation as well as extreme poverty caused by severe droughts in the Sahel region. The GGW land restoration intervention zone is 8,000km long and 15km wide, covering 153 million hectares of the Sahel.

The Great Green Wall aims to form a natural barrier to help combat the climate crisis in the Sahel region.
The Great Green Wall aims to form a natural barrier to help combat the climate crisis in the Sahel region. Image: UN.

A 2020 update report by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) stated that almost 20 million hectares of land had been restored and 350,000 jobs had been created during the period 2007-2018. The GWW initiative has a target of restoring 100 million hectares of land by 2030, creating 10 million jobs in the process.

Making the Sahel more sustainable

The Trillion Trees: the Sahel and the Great Green Wall Challenge is part of the World Economic Forum’s UpLink platform. Its aim is to find innovative start-ups to “contribute to the vision of the Great Green Wall Initiative and deliver benefits to people and the environment of the Sahel”. It’s run in collaboration with the UNCCD and its Great Green Wall sourcing challenge, which calls on global supply chain managers “to upscale the use of sustainably produced Sahelian ingredients”.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to help ensure global food security?

Here are four challenge-winning top innovators who are helping to make life in the Sahel region more sustainable.

1. Benin: Maggot-based fertilizer

Benin-based Agro-Eco Services has developed an innovative solution which helps farmers to optimize their yields by retaining more water in the soil in a sustainable way. Its organic ‘Maggot Compost’ fertilizer is based on black soldier fly larvae, enriched with biochar. It’s recovered from organic waste such as animal waste.

Two white bags of organic fertilizer. Sahel
Maggot Compost is organic and acts as both a natural fertilizer and pesticide. Image: AES.

“Our solution helps restore degraded land in Sahel countries where desertification and deforestation are well advanced,” the company says.

“We currently have a monthly production capacity of 10 tons of compost,” it adds. “We are planning a monthly production of 100 tons with support from projects and subsidies to move from manual production to industrial and international production.”

2. Mali: The 'smart stove’

Eighty-three per cent of Mali’s population lack access to energy supplies, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Green Energy recovers and converts waste heat into clean electricity. This is powered by biomass pellets and biochar produced from local biomass waste. Its ‘smart stove’ creates energy capable of powering light bulbs, charging mobile phones and enabling clean cooking for off-grid households.

A woman using renewable energy to cook food. Sahel
The ‘smart stove’ uses renewable energy to help power homes in Mali. Image: Abdoulaye Souare.

“We allow many homes to have access to green energy, free of charge, in rural and urban areas. Our invention contributes to the preservation of the environment thanks to the recovery of household waste which will no longer pollute our cities,” the start-up says.

3. Niger: Smart irrigation

Tech-Innov enables farmers to remotely control the irrigation, fertilization and watering systems of their farms. Its ‘Tele-Irrigation’ system involves the use of a mobile phone, solar energy and sensors allowing an intelligent distribution of water.

Farmers growing crops in a desert. Sahel
The ‘Tele-Irrigation’ system helps farmers grow crops more efficiently. Image: Tech-Innov.

“African agriculture has long remained rudimentary with archaic and sub-optimal production tools and methods. This situation and these methods inhibit agricultural yields and are one of the main reasons for chronic food insecurity. It is from this observation that came the idea of ​​an intelligent and remotely controllable irrigation system,” Tech-Innov’s CEO, Abdou Maman Kané, told

4. Mali: Making shea sustainable

The UN estimates that around three million African women work either directly or indirectly in the shea butter industry. Mali is one of the continent’s leading shea-nut producing countries.

GTMD Sarl is an agro-business specializing in the trading and export of oilseed and seasonal products such as shea butter and nuts, as well as cashew nuts. It’s also developed a process to use waste residues from shea production to produce ecological charcoal.

The start-up says this reduces deforestation as less wood is needed to be cut to produce conventional charcoal. It trains local women to produce eco-friendly charcoal sticks from shea waste that they can use as fuel for cooking.

"The company's mission is to supply good-quality shea products in large quantities to the Malian market, which until 2021 did not have a large-scale shea butter production processing industry," GTMD Sarl explains.

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Nature and BiodiversityFood and WaterEnergy Transition
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