Growing up in a village in Burkina Faso, Georges Bazongo remembers his parents and neighbors cutting down trees each year to expand their farmland so they could “grow enough food for our families.”
He also noticed some trees becoming drier in the drought-prone region, an indication that the soil was deteriorating as heavy rains washed away its fertile layer.
Some of his relatives moved to Ivory Coast in search of a better life, 48-year-old Bazongo said.
Things started improving a decade ago when the government and environmental groups helped villagers understand the risks of their degraded land, said Bazongo, director of operations at Tree Aid.
About a quarter of the planet’s land area is in a bad condition due to natural processes such as erosion, and human practices like deforestation and overgrazing, scientists say.
At Bazongo’s village, more than 160km from the capital Ouagadougou, local people have identified forest areas where tree-cutting is forbidden, developed soil and water conservation methods, and diversified crops, he said.
Now, even though his family there has swelled from 16 members to 36 and climate shocks continue, they get enough food from agriculture, livestock and forest produce — and no longer need to expand their farmland, he added.
The village is part of the Great Green Wall initiative, a regional program that seeks to rein in climate-change impacts, cut hunger, create jobs and reduce conflict by restoring a belt of land below the Sahara.
“We’re lucky to learn these new skills,” said Bazongo, whose charity supports the initiative in five countries.
“But what about the other millions of families living in poverty? That means they still continue to expand [farm] land, cut trees, and destroy plant and animal habitats because they can’t see any alternatives,” he said.
Getting funding has been a challenge, he said, adding he was “very happy” to hear France’s announcement on Monday that development banks and governments had pledged US$14.3 billion for work on the Great Green Wall.
At the One Planet Summit in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron hailed donors for beating a US$10 billion target and said France would ensure commitments were kept.
“We are now standing shoulder to shoulder with ... the entire African continent,” he said.
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