As rich in culture, music and inspired people as the Sahel itself, the UNCCD event at Expo Dubai 2020 “Spotlight on Africa | Spotlighting the Sahel: Climate-Resilient Solutions towards achieving Food Security” marked a big step toward changing the world’s perception of the region. Rather than an area hindered by civil unrest and economic turmoil, the positive narrative of the Sahel’s showcases its potential: the abundance of natural resources, infinite deposits of renewable energy and the youngest population in the world.
Along with a strong momentum for positive change, Sahel faces major development challenges, including the pressing need to adapt to changing climate and create opportunities for the new generation. In his opening remarks, the UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw highlighted that the potential of the Sahel to overcome these hurdles lies in the abundant resources including vast landscapes waiting to be restored to productivity.
Sahel’s natural endowments offer immense potential for economic diversification, value-chain development and livelihoods. And its population is the youngest in the world – a challenge that can be turned into an opportunity.
— UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw
The event at Dubai Expo placed youth, women and smallholder farmers, herders and social entrepreneurs at the center of the conversation on the challenges and opportunities facing the Sahel. It featured initiatives that are accelerating socio-economic growth and enabling shared prosperity in the Sahel, such as Great Green Wall, to find solutions to address food security and climate change in the Sahel, including in implementing the Agenda 2030.
Reflecting on the progress of the Great Green Wall Initiative, the participants agreed that it has far surpassed its initial vision of planting trees, becoming a platform that translates positive thinking into actions. The restoration of 20 million hectares of land in the Sahel, creation of 350,000 jobs, training of 10 million people on sustainable ways to manage the land and water and subsequent mobilization of nearly 20 billion hectares to move forward has inspired action at the local level. Harnessing indigenous knowledge and creating diversified value chains have been emphasized as essential to supporting the future progress of the initiative.
The event showcased successful green entrepreneurs, many of them young women, who are convinced that in the Sahel, all the opportunities the youth needs exist at home. From agroforestry to producing eco-friendly coffee alternatives, the Sahel is awaiting young hands to revive the land, mine its “green gold,” drive climate action and achieve zero hunger.
Performances of Sahelian visual and music artists, including the Malian singer and UNCCD Land Ambassador Inna Modja, have also made the event very memorable. Inna shared what motivated her to travel along the Great Green Wall and meet with communities engaged in land restoration: “I am awed by the ambition of the project and what it can achieve. The Great Green Wall is the future. We sow the seeds in this lifetime, so that the future generations can reap the harvest.”
The event was co-organized by UNCCD and the African Union in association with the United Arab Emirates Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.