Touré and his band of young environmentalists have planted millions of trees in arid lands . Photo: TRT Afrika

By Firmain Éric Mbadinga

As a schoolboy scout, Abdou Touré learnt a life lesson that he has been passing on since to anyone who lends him an ear — that nature needs nurturing as much as it nurtures us.

"Go plant trees, as many of them as you can," now in his 40's tells his audience, keeping the messaging simple.

Touré has been leading by example for the past few years, planting trees wherever he can with a single-mindedness of purpose that is as overpowering as it is inspiring.

Affectionately called "Green Uncle" in his native Senegal, Touré's innate love of nature and his campaign zeal have turned him into one of the strongest conservation voices in the Sahelian region amid the increasing threat of desertification.

"My travels around Senegal and other countries in the neighbourhood since childhood gave me an appreciation of nature and its rich diversity. Over time, I also observed how nature was changing, and worryingly so," he tells TRT Afrika.

Touré's commitment to preserving the environment was cemented after a climate-focused event hosted by Finland in 2010. Since then, he has been rallying young people across West Africa to join him in his fight against climate change.

Abdou Touré is called ''Green Uncle" in his native Senegal. Photo: TRT Afrika

His weapon of choice? Reforestation.

In just four years, Touré and his band of young environmentalists have planted millions of trees in arid lands and mangrove swamps, aiming to bring climate stability and reverse the process of desertification in the Sahel region.

In 2019, he launched the "#QuartierVertChallenge", a citizens' initiative that sparked a greening movement involving young people from 15 African countries, particularly those in the Sahel region.

His efforts haven't gone unnoticed. During the last two World Environment Days, Camp Climat Senegal, a group coordinated by Touré, attracted volunteers from 11 West African countries.

The execution strategy is as simple as the mission statement. Touré's environmental campaigners o around planting trees wherever they are deployed, whether in a neighbouring country or their own.

"Before starting the reforestation initiative, I would collect rubbish in the alleyways," he recalls. "Since 2019, I have been focusing on planting trees. At Camp Climat Senegal, we all decided to play a decisive role in our living environments. And that means taking action, even the simplest action. Trees reduce heat and capture CO2."

Advancing desert

Despite his achievements, Touré is acutely aware of the challenges ahead. He laments the loss of green spaces in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, comparing the city to a "concrete graveyard where everything is grey".

Desertification in Sahelian countries poses a significant threat to the livelihoods of millions of people. This region, which stretches from Senegal to Sudan, is characterised by semi-arid conditions that make it particularly vulnerable to climate change and over-exploitation of land resources.

Touré appealed for more supporters through social media. Photo: TRT Afrika

The increasing frequency of droughts, coupled with unsustainable farming practices, has led to the degradation of fertile soil into barren land. This process, known as desertification, reduces the land's productivity and exacerbates food insecurity and poverty among the region's predominantly agricultural communities.

But Touré is not one to be deterred. He continues to appeal for more supporters on the continent through social media, hoping to reverse the looming threat of concrete and desert over Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger, and even Mali.

"The different points you see on the map of Africa show where our ambassadors are most active. These are Yaoundé in Cameroon, Dakar in Senegal, Chad, and Niger. In Senegal, where I mostly work, our reforestation is concentrated in the Dakar and Kaolack regions, followed by Matam and Podor along the Senegal River," Touré tells TRT Afrika.

A powerful voice

In just about four years, the QuartierVertChallenge initiative has made significant strides in environmental conservation, planting millions of trees in mangrove regions and a few thousand in non-mangrove areas.

While simplicity remains his calling card, Touré is aware that the medium is as crucial as the message.

At the recently concluded Africa Cup of Nations in Côte d'Ivoire, he leveraged the power of sport to promote his cause. "Uncle Green's AFCON" encouraged individuals to plant a tree for every goal scored during the championship.

Touré's efforts haven't gone unrecognised. In March 2023, UNESCO featured him in its "Cultivating our Humanity" section.

QuartierVertChallenge has garnered partnerships with municipalities, universities and high schools in several countries to promote responsible ecological practices and foster a passion for reforestation.

The movement draws inspiration from Yacouba Sawadogo of Burkina Faso, who died in 2023, leaving behind a globally acclaimed ecological legacy. Like Sawadogo, who was honoured with the UN Champions of the Earth prize in 2020, Touré advocates concerted action by all segments of the population in Sahelian countries to create a green belt for safeguarding the environment.

"Governments must take decisive action and initiate awareness campaigns to truly transform the Sahel," he says.

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TRT Afrika