Creating the Great Green Wall of Africa

The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.

Nelson Henderson, pioneer farmer

The high dream of Richard St Barbe Baker, the ‘Man of the Trees’ who was also a friend to the pioneers of the Findhorn Foundation community, is becoming a breathtaking reality decades after his death in 1982.

The Man of the Trees Richard St Barbe Baker

The Man of the Trees Richard St Barbe Baker

Although he was never to see it realised in his lifetime, he planted a seed with his audacious proposal more than 60 years ago to plant a swathe of trees across the southern reaches of the Sahara, solving the twin problems of land degradation and desertification.

In 1952 the British forester and environmental activist argued that creating a great green wall of trees would act as a barrier to the southwards expansion of the vast desert, simultaneously improving the quality of the soil by binding it together and adding life-giving nutrients to the mix.

During the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro his dream was again spotlighted with footage showing that the idea has firmly taken root in sub-Saharan Africa with 21 countries involved in the massive tree-planting initiative.

On completion it will be the planet’s largest living structure spanning an area three times the size of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

 A remnant of the Caledonia forest in Scotland

Although he was unable to find adequate support for his idea during his lifetime, in 2005 Olusegun Obasanjo, then president of Nigeria, revisited St Barbe Baker’s original proposals and saw in them an answer to some of the social, economic and environmental challenges facing the Sahel-Sahara region.

Two years later, with the backing of the African Union, the Great Green Wall project was started and has grown in scope. Today the wall of trees is seen as a way for countries in the region to work together to tackle issues of climate change, soil erosion, food security, job creation and economic growth.

The legacy of St Barbe Baker, and his friendship to the Findhorn community, is honoured with an area of trees named after him in The Park between the iconic whiskey barrel houses and BagEnd eco homes.


Trees for Life founder Alan Watson-Featherstone

His autobiography My Life, My Trees was published by Findhorn Press and in the foreword community co-founder Peter Caddy paid tribute to his role as ‘The Man of the Trees’ and as the inventor of the modern caravan, with the community evolving in a caravan site.

Among those who have taken up similar work are Alan Watson-Featherstone, founder of the Findhorn-based Trees for Life conservation charity, and Andy Lipkis, the visionary force behind TreePeople in Los Angeles.

Geoff Dalglish

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