A Giant Green Dream For Africa’s Sahara Desert

A “crazy” pan-African plan is looking to fight desertification in the Sahara with a giant green belt. The ambitious initiative calls for planting millions of trees – from Senegal all the way to Djibouti.

The Sahara (300td.org)
The Sahara (300td.org)
Laurence Caramel

WIDOU, Senegal – The rainy season has started in the rest of the country, but in Widou, in the heart of the Ferlo region in northern Senegal, the first raindrops won't fall until the end of July. In these tough times between harvests, most of the flocks have migrated to the South in hopes of grazing. Here, on the brown and parched land, all that is left is a pitiful looking green carpet burned by the sun and trampled by animals.

Just 100 meters away, an open-air lab is writing a new page of the region's history. In the tree nursery built by the Water and Forests Department, men are working, hose in hand. The women, bent over rows of small plastic containers, plant seedlings that will have to be ready for when the first rain arrives. This year, they need 390,000 of them.

Widou is one of the first communities selected by the Senegalese government to start the "Great Green Wall" project, a pan-African initiative launched in 2007 by the African Union. The goal is to create a 15-kilometer-wide and 7,600-kilometer-long wall of trees from Dakar to Djibouti to slow the progression of the desert. Eleven countries are participating, but Senegal, where 535 kilometers of the wall are planned, is the first country where the project is starting to take shape.

Colonel Matar Cisse, an environmental engineer, is wearing army fatigues and a cap. "The Great Green Wall is a crazy project!" he admits. But he quickly swipes away the idea that this project is about building an impenetrable wall. "It wouldn't make any sense," he says. "It's better to see it as us trying to make the forest denser wherever possible, to develop water retention, create natural reserves for the fauna, which has almost completely disappeared." For Cisse, the "wall" image works because it shows that they've "decided to colonize the desert instead of being at its mercy."

Cisse is also the head of the Great Green Wall National Agency and as such, is in charge of turning this dream into reality. "We will succeed. We have the best scientists and we have some experience," he says with a wide grin. Since 2008, reforestation has gained 5,000 hectares per year. "That's a first," says his colleague Pape Sarr, in charge of technical operations.

With time, agronomists, botanists and soil specialists have improved their work. First they had to select the right species to plant. Seven were selected according to how they would adapt to the roughness of the terrain, but also for what they bring to neighboring populations. The Senegal Acacia for its Arabic Gum, the Balanite tree for its berries and oil, the Zyzyphus for its fruit… "We must plant trees people won't want to cut down," says Aliou Guisse, plant ecology professor at the Sheikh-Anta-Diop University of Dakar (UCAD).

The distance between trees was increased to limit competition between plants. "Soils are extremely destructured here, so in order for the reforestation to be viable, it must recompose and house more bacteria. It's one of the main constraints of this project. We will have to wait seven or eight years to see if it worked," warns Rene Bally, research director at the French National Center for Scientific Research.

Reforested parcels – from 500 to 2,000 hectares in surface area – will be surrounded by a fence for five years. Cattle farmers will be able to get special authorized access. "First I remind them of the rules, no machetes and no matches, then I give them a laissez-passez that allows them to cut the grass for their flocks or to sell it," explains Omar Faye.

The Great Green Wall is certainly a technical challenge. But it is also a very human one. "If we can't convince the people that this project will give them a better life, we will fail," warns Guisse.

With about 30 technicians, the Great Wall Agency doesn't have the means to have a strong presence in the field, meaning it will soon be up to the people themselves to look after the project. In Windou, residents have proven a penchant for that kind of responsibility with a seven-hectare vegetable garden project that was set up just outside the town. There, 300 women produce tomatoes, salad, melons and potatoes. They quickly learned how to sow, replant, fertilize with manure and harvest. "Last year, these women made more than 1,500 euros from the part of the harvest they sold on the market," says Momar Mbaye Ba, who's in charge of the project.

"In about three years we'll be autonomous, we're starting to think about it," says Fatou Aidara, president of the Garden Commission. She's lived here forever, witnessed the great droughts of the 70s and 80s, when both people and animals died. She also saw hopes crushed by several development projects thought up by international cooperation groups. She wants to believe that this time, promises will be kept.

Read the original article in French.

Photo – 300td.org

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]


• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.


"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.



A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.


How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."

— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.


Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more Chicago Bulls or running of the bulls? Let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com info@worldcrunch.com!

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