Nine miles wide and 4,750 miles long, Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, The Gambia, and Tunisia have banded together on an unprecedented endeavor to stave off impending catastrophe. The Great Green Wall is an African-led project with an epic ambition: to grow an 8,000km natural wonder of the world across the entire width of Africa. Its goal is to provide food, jobs and a future for the millions of people who live in a region on the frontline of climate change by creating a great mosaic of green and productive landscapes (principally acacia) across Africa.

The Great Green Wall is about more than just protection from windblown sand. The project will bring thousands of jobs to impoverished communities, and has already transformed otherwise unusable land into gardens scattered with tree nurseries. The influx of tourists, scientists, and medical professionals has also brought attention and resources to a neglected region in which aid is scarce and doctors are not readily available for the needy populations. The project is growing a symbol of peace in countries where conflict continues to displace communities, growing resilience to climate change in a region where temperatures are expected to rise faster than anywhere else on earth, growing economic opportunities to boost small business and commercial enterprise, growing a reason to stay for the millions set to migrate to Europe, growing green jobs, growing food security, for the millions that go hungry every day, growing a new world wonder across the entire width of Africa, as well as growing a fertile land, which is one of humanity’s most precious natural assets. It shows that if we can work with nature, we can overcome adversity, and build a better world for generations to come.

“The first, biggest achievement of the Great Green Wall is the fact that people of those regions have accepted to work together, for a common goal,” says Elvis Paul Tangam, the African Union Commissioner for the Sahara and Sahel Great Green Wall Initiative.

The vision for the project is as ambitious as it is necessary. Thus far, only 330 miles of greenery stands guard in Northern Senegal, and costing the Sengalese government over $6 million since the start of digging in 2008. International organisations have pledged over $3 billion to the monumental defence system.

Critics have pointed out that the wall suffers from a major mismatch between ambition and effort. But that’s not to say it should be ditched. They also witness that the vision of a barrier is counter-productive to the development objective as it draws attention to the perimeter of the land rather than to the land itself. To boost food security and support local communities it is better to focus on the wide field rather than its narrow edge. The development objective is important – an estimated 232 million people live in the general area of the Great Green Wall.

Once completed, the Great Green Wall will be the largest living structure on Earth and a new Wonder of the World. The Great Green Wall isn’t just for Africa. It is a global symbol for humanity overcoming its biggest threat – our changing environment and for this I am excited.