No Green Wall without small-scale gardens for women (Willem Van Cotthem)

My attention was caught by some statements in Mrs. Priscilla ACHAKPA’s interview, referred to a former posting on my desertification blog:

Nigeria: WEP Wants Green Wall Sahara Programme (

This Executive Director of the Women Environment Programme (WEP) urged the Nigerian Government to speed up the implementation of the Green Wall Sahara programme (GWSP), which she called “an integrated development strategy for combating desertification and mitigating the effects of drought and climate change” (see also UNCCD).

Mrs. ACHAKPA observed that the impact of desertification raised security concerns, especially among the vulnerable groups.  She stated that “the impact of climate change is more on women in the rural areas as they have little or no understanding of the issues involved”.  Her NGO, the WEP, intends to conduct a study on gender awareness of climate change issues, because adequate information on climate change is necessary to evolve steps to control it.

Agreeing with some of Mrs. ACHAKPA’s ideas, I want to congratulate her for asking to speed up the implementation of the Green Wall programme.  Indeed, such a nice programme, being a real challenge for all the Sahelian countries involved, merits massive support to speed up its achievement.

On the other hand, I disagree with her that Nigerian and other Sahelian rural women will be better off with “adequate information on climate change necessary to evolve steps to control it“.  Even supposing that there would be a small chance to find adequate information on climate change for rural women, I am not so sure that this will help these vulnerable women to handle their security concerns raised by the impact of desertification.

Even if the Green Wall programme may play a little bit of an interesting role in some aspects of climate change, it will not be tremendously important for the rural families in the northern provinces of Nigeria and in the other countries concerned.  I rather believe that it would be more efficient to invest in awareness building of the local population about the need to combine small-scale agriculture (or gardening) with reforestation in the Green Wall programme (agroforestry).

No doubt, we are all aware of the fact that such an enormous reforestation plan, with billions of trees to be planted in the Sahel belt, can never be achieved without “an army” of labourers for growing seedlings, digging plant pits and planting the seedlings.  These labourers will have to be well fed.  Tons of food will have to be produced at the local level.  By whom ?  By the local women ?  In this case, we would prefer that long time before the activities of the GWSP start all women can get “adequate information on ways and means to cultivate sufficient food for hundreds (thousands ?) of labourers of the GWSP working in their region”.

We can’t imagine that these women would be more interested in climate change issues than in best practices of food production in their dry region.

If well trained in cultivating all necessary species of vegetables and fruits, (dryland farming), they can not only use these skills during the implementation of the GWSP, but also for the rest of their life and that of their children, grandchildren, …

Therefore, just allow me this little piece of advice : start today laying out a small-scale garden for every woman in the northern provinces of Nigeria where the GWSP will be applied, because if there is not sufficient food production in those provinces when the labourers have to start planting trees, there will not be a Green Wall at all. Never, because planting trees with an empty stomach is so extremely difficult.  We all know this, even those strongly interested in climate change.

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Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.