Great Green Wall cross-border pilot project (Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger)

Reversing land degradation and desertification in Africa’s drylands, boosting food security, and supporting local communities in adapting to climate change and sustainably using their natural resources.

Great Green Wall project - IER Mali

Kew’s Great Green Wall cross-border pilot project aims to gather environmental and social data on land restoration to help inform larger restoration projects in the Sahara and Sahel region.

The challenge

In Africa’s drylands, including Sub-Saharan Africa, increasing pressure on fragile resources has resulted in continued land degradation, leading to increased poverty which, in a vicious cycle, drives further land degradation. The results of this desertification are devastating for local communities who greatly depend on natural resources, and who are also on the frontline of climate change. To address this complex challenge, the Great Green Wall of the Sahara and Sahel Initiative (GGW) was launched in 2007, an African-led partnership which aims to restore landscapes and improve livelihoods while contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

This flagship land restoration programme, a 15km by 8,000km mosaic of sustainable land management approaches, crosses the breadth of Africa - involving more than 20 countries of the Sahara and Sahel - and will impact millions of people.

Kew’s GGW cross-border pilot project

As part of this larger initiative, Kew is coordinating a GGW cross border pilot project across Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, developed under Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership. The project aims to build a model for the restoration of large-scale agrosylvopastoral systems throughout the Sahel region.

This project involves a network of collaborators, from local community groups and environmental non-government organisations to forestry officials and government officers. In engaging with these stakeholders, Kew is focusing on the technical and cultural aspects of land restoration as well as the scientific elements. Ultimately, the local communities involved must be convinced of the tangible benefits of the GGW for them in terms of their livelihoods and well-being, for the project to be successful in the long-term.

The approach taken combines the reintroduction of native trees and shrubs in a restoration framework which includes the economic and ecological rehabilitation of traditional agroforestry systems. We have paid attention to selecting the most useful species to consider for the restoration activities, ensuring local community participation in the decision-making, and the type of techniques that can be used to improve and accelerate restoration (plantations, fencing, Assisted Natural Regeneration). In parallel, surveys have been undertaken to determine possible long-term socio-economic outcomes triggered by the project.

Our project will allow us to understand which species perform better and the potential they generate for household income increase; in addition, we anticipate that the biotic and socio-economic data generated will also help with the design and implementation of other larger-scale restoration projects in similar contexts.


  • Identification of suitable priority useful species which are adapted to the local conditions, to support sustainable economic activities
  • Enhancement of community members’ capacity for seed collection and ex situ conservation, nursery management and plant propagation techniques
  • Evaluation of project impacts on local communities’ livelihoods
  • Assessment of key biotic data from in situ restoration plots, such as species survival rate and growth rate
  • Development of guidance on sustainable land restoration models and management strategies


  • Ex situ conservation of useful plant species
  • Propagation and conservation of useful species in communities
  • Support for in situ conservation and use
  • Plant species supported by the project used to support sustainable economic activities
  • Dissemination of information on project achievements and associated guidance

Results so far include:

  • Ex situ conservation of useful plant species: A total of 84 useful woody (72) and herbaceous species (12) have been collected and stored to international standards. Collections have been assessed through seed testing (viability, germination, dormancy, barriers to storage).
  • Propagation and conservation of useful species in communities: From a list of 193 useful species provided by 120 communities during consultations, 55 woody and herbaceous species have been selected and propagated within the local communities. Over the four years of the project, so far over 1 million seedlings have been propagated across Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
  • Support for in situ conservation and use: The selected 55 woody and herbaceous species have been planted in 168 experimental plots to restore 2,235 ha of degraded land. Preliminary findings show a survival rate higher than 50% for 13 of the propagated species. Over 100 village technicians were trained and supervised to collect seeds and produce seedlings in village nurseries near the planting sites. In addition to using plantations, in Mali, two alternative forestry techniques have also been tested: Assisted Natural Regeneration (ANR) and bare roots of Andasonia digitata.
  • Plant species supported by the project used to support sustainable economic activities - examples include:
    • A 20% increase in the annual income of the nurserymen assisted by the project
    • Production of juice from Balanites aegyptiaca and Tamarindus indica has shown great economic potential.
    • Acacia senegal has been planted for the production of gum arabic and Carapa procera for oil extraction (the oil has medicinal properties).
    • In Burkina Faso, three herbaceous species have been planted to investigate their role in strengthening habitats and providing fodder, hay and material for mats and roofs.
  • Dissemination of information on project achievements:
    • Project activities have been disseminated through local radio and ‘best farmer’ contests (where the plots with the best plant growth and survival rates are awarded a prize as a project incentive).
    • The participatory monitoring and assessment system, established to evaluate the project’s livelihood outcomes, is in the process of generating comparable indicators for use in this and other projects in the region (such as the FAO’s Action Against Desertification Project).


  • Institut d'Economie Rurale (Rural Economics Institute) - IER Sikasso


  • Centre National de Semences Forestières (National Centre for Forest Seeds) - CNSF Niger

Burkina Faso


The Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation

Sacande, M. and Berrahmouni, N. (2016)

Community participation and ecological criteria for selecting species and restoring natural capital with native species in the Sahel

Restoration Ecology 24:479–488

Alexander, S., J. Aronson, O. Whaley, and D. Lamb. (2016)

The relationship between ecological restoration and the ecosystem services concept

Ecology and Society 21(1):34

Sanogo, S., Sacande, M. and Van Damme, P. (2015)

Gravimetric sorting improves germination of Anogeissus leiocarpa seedlots 

Seed Science and Technology 43:318-323