Endri Martini/ICRAF

Durian was among the commodity crops promoted by AgFor Sulawesi.

The desertification of Africa, especially in the Sahel region, is a common topic of discussion in climate change related news. The issue of diminishing water resources, and lower agricultural output, are now some of the  factors which the mainstream media in the U.S. says is to blame for the continuing African migration to Europe.

We see an example in this article by The New York Times.

Beyond climate change matters, typical reportage regarding the Sahel as showcased by Fox News, focuses on the question of mass food insecurity, and the ever-present bogey-man of Islamic Fundamentalism.

Something else is happening across the Sahel, which should be cause for optimism.

In 2007, the African Union launched the Great Green Wall initiative, which today involves 21 countries. Since then, the initiative has evolved from being focused on an almost 8,000 kilometer long ‘wall’ of trees running along the southern border of the Sahara, to a multi-faceted development concept, focused on grassroots principles.

According to the Smithsonian, there is a very successful re-greening effort underway in Burkina Faso and Niger, where “Hundreds of thousands of farmers had embraced ingenious modifications of traditional agriculture practices, transforming large swaths into productive land, improving food and fuel production for about 3 million people.”

Western researchers investigating this phenomenon had been working in West Africa for decades without noticing this transformation through “farmer-managed natural regeneration,” a method of re-greening the land for African farmers, and by African farmers.

In terms of coverage of the issue by mainstream outlets, CNN has devoted some time to the African-driven re-greening efforts, and to the writer’s credit, gave space to a different perspective. The idea from CNN  is that there are empowered West African farmers who are sustainably managing and improving their environment. There is a clear dichotomy between the New York Times and Fox News on one hand, and CNN and publications like the Smithsonian.

The Times and Fox News are simply confirming existing views towards the Sahel region. And that is, that it is a lost region ravaged by drought and famine, and overrun by religious fundamentalists. The attractively formatted New York Times article on this subject is loaded with photos of somber men, starving children, and dusty landscapes. Meanwhile Fox News panders to its readership by emphasizing Islamic terrorism in short paragraphs.

I was unable to find information regarding the Sahel that did not involve military involvement or UN agency requests for humanitarian funding. CNN, on the other hand, while also preferring to report unrest and climate woes, in a rather fair manner presented the hopeful potential of farmer-managed natural regeneration and the Green Wall Initiative.

On this subject CNN and the Smithsonian should be acknowledged for fairly representing decades of efforts towards a greener and more empowered Sahelian Africa.