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Restoring Lands, Lives and Livelihoods in Africa

October 29, 2014


Tigray Region, Ethiopia.

World Bank

  • Sustainable ecosystems are vital to the livelihoods and food security of the world's poorest
  • Natural resources and ecosystems are threatened by climate change
  • African countries are using innovative ways to revitalize and boost the resilience of ecosystems

Natural resources and ecosystems that are critical for the livelihoods and wellbeing of the world’s poorest are threatened by degradation and over-use. But forward thinking and innovative approaches can help revitalize and boost the resilience of these resources and ecosystems, and the people who rely on them. Paula Caballero, Senior Director for the World Bank’s Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice witnessed this first-hand in Mali, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.

“Africa’s story is often one of extraordinary endeavour and human perseverance in the face of severe challenges,” said Ms. Caballero, Senior Director, after her visit to Sub-Saharan Africa. “In all the countries I visited, the link was clear between natural resources management and growth—not only today, but also for tomorrow.”

Changing Lives along the Great Green Wall

Caballero visited sections of the $1.1 Billion Bank-funded program supporting African countries’ Great Green Wall Initiative, which has had a positive impact on local communities and farmers in Burkina, Ethiopia, Mali and 9 other countries. Developed under TerrAfrica, the program aims to improve the resilience of lands and its people.

In Mali, where drought is a fact of life, 8% of the GDP is lost every year due to land degradation. Over the past few years, the Bank has supported programs to roll back the desertification processes and enhance the resilience of communities to climate change. Recently, the Government of Mali asked for Bank assistance to rehabilitate and protect the inner Niger River Delta—a vast wetland that is fragile and especially vulnerable to climate change and degradation. The Delta is vital to the livelihoods of millions of people in Mali, and 8 other countries that surround it. 40% of Mali’s livestock—over 2 million cows and 4 million goats and sheep—migrate to the Delta region during the scorching dry months.

In Burkina Faso, an inspiring visit with Yacouba Sawadogo—known as The Man Who Stopped the Desert—showed that drylands are not inevitable. Sawadogo, a farmer from one of the poorest countries on earth, achieved what many experts dream of:  Halting the desert. In just 20 years, he converted a completely barren area into a thriving 64-acre forest with 87 species of trees. “I started replanting this forest because I wanted to cure the land and cure the people,” said Sawadogo. “Now, I produce more than I can eat. I will sell the surplus and use the medicinal plants to cure people. What I have done and continue doing is for the next generation and for the entire humanity.”


Yacouba Sawadogo, "the man who stopped the desert" in Burkina Faso. 

TerrAfrica / World Bank

" The Bank is committed to promoting better landscape approaches and more sustainable resource management, because healthy ecosystems are crucial to the livelihoods of so many of the world's poorest people, especially in Africa. "

Paula Caballero

Senior Director, Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice, World Bank


Ruaha National Park, Tanzania. 

World Bank

In Ethiopia, large-scale restoration of land has transformed the lives of smallholder farmers. The government program, which is partly supported by the World Bank, has boosted the livelihoods of 30 million people and helped put 15 million hectares of communal and individual lands to more productive use. “The land here used to be barren and full of rocks rolling down to our villages. The land was so dry and there were no trees on it so our soil used to be washed away,” said farmer Meri geta Hulgize Nurelgne. “With the program, trees have been planted and this new grass you see is either sold or used as cattle feed.”  Unemployed youth and landless women have also been able to transition away from subsistence to become entrepreneurs in honey production and other small businesses.

Better Resource Management in Tanzania

Caballero also visited Tanzania, where the Bank has been boosting efforts to reverse the degradation of Lake Victoria. The Bank has helped introduce pollution management and improved environmental management of the lake to benefit 46 million inhabitants who depend on the lake’s resources, including the world’s largest freshwater fishery, to make a living.

Tanzania’s unique resources—its magnificent wildlife and unique ecosystems—represent tremendous economic value. The government of Tanzania is increasingly exploring nature-based tourism as a way to drive economic growth and create jobs, and benefit local communities. Caballero’s meetings with government officials highlighted the need to protect the natural capital to attract tourists. “People come to Tanzania for nature but if nature is not preserved, why would they come?,” said a local entrepreneur. “We need help to sustain the resources we have so that we can have better lives.”

With help from the Bank, governments in Africa are working to make ecosystems more resilient, so that they can sustain future generations. “There is hope in the region that dedication, innovation and sheer human spirit will empower the farmers who are restoring the land and keeping the social fabric together,” said Caballero. “The Bank is committed to promoting better landscape approaches and more sustainable resource management, because healthy ecosystems are crucial to the livelihoods of so many of the world’s poorest people, especially in Africa.”