Can We Make the Desert Green?

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Introducing The Great Green Wall

Most people have heard about The Great Wall of China. But, how many know about The Great Green Wall of Africa?

Unlike the Chinese Wall, Africa’s Great Green Wall is currently being built. It isn’t an ancient piece of history. Its purpose is also different. Instead of keeping invaders out, Africa’s “wall” allows people to stay and thrive.

The Great Green Wall is an Africa-led movement with an epic ambition to grow an 8,000 kilometer natural wonder of the world across the entire width of Africa. Once complete, the Great Green Wall will be the largest living structure on the planet, three times the size of the Great Barrier Reef.

A tad idealistic?

Sounds amazing, but it also sounds a tad idealistic. Could something like this really happen? Or is it “pie in the sky.” Perhaps. But it seems if people will try new things, and adjust and compromise, good things can happen.

Scientists disagreed about the wall’s potential. Many believed the problem was not the Sahara Desert moving south, but people overusing the semi-arid land, thus making it less green and less valuable. In addition, so much of the proposed “green wall” wound through areas that were uninhabited. Hence, who would nurture the saplings to ensure they grew? Scientists judged that nearly 80 percent of the trees already planted had died.

Not good.

So, it was back on the drawing board. But the idea was hugely valuable and important, and leaders apparently had open minds.

A new plan

Slowly, the idea of a Great Green Wall has changed into a program centered on indigenous land use techniques, not planting a forest on the edge of a desert. Farmers across Niger and Burkina Faso discovered a cheap, effective way to re-green the Sahel by using simple water harvesting techniques and protecting trees that emerged naturally on their farms.

The Smithsonian Magazine has written an in-depth and deeply hopeful article about this change that is a must read called “The ‘Great Green Wall’ Didn’t Stop Desertification, but it Evolved into Something that Might.”

In that article we see people facing reality, but reality with hope: “We moved the vision of the Great Green Wall from one that was impractical to one that was practical,” says Mohamed Bakar, the lead environmental specialist for Global Environment Facility, the organization that examines the environmental benefit of World Bank projects. “It is not necessarily a physical wall, but rather a mosaic of land use practices that ultimately will meet the expectations of a wall. It has been transformed into a metaphorical thing.”

Cherish Caring for Creation!

It is criticaly important that we cherish the idea of habitat restoration, re-greening, and protecting our earth and oceans. It’s a matter of our own survival. In addition, if we are earth’s caretakers, and we are allowing individuals and states to degrade the creation—either willfully or by ignorance—then we are turning our backs on God. 

We will deserve to die out as a species as our earth becomes poisoned, dry and unfruitful.

That’s not why God created us. So, I cannot see it possible that God’s people will accept it as inevitable. All of us, secularists and believers, must realize this is an essential focus of our lives as we move forward through the 21st century.

If not, our children, grandchildren and future offspring are going to suffer mightily and condemn their ancestors instead of celebrating them. God’s reaction? It dishonors God. So, he must feel a great disappointment. He won’t abandon us, nor stop loving us. That’s a given. In our suffering—yesterday, today and tomorrow—we turn to God. It’s my belief God is now empowering us with the Holy Spirit so that we will honor him, and continue to know him better, as we become unified in caring for, and saving, his creation.

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Scott and Gigi Martell have served with New International since 2009. Scott worked with Project Mercy in Ethiopia from 2007-2009. In 2009, Scott and Gigi established a mercy ministry in Ethiopia that empowers women and children and follows James 1:27.

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