Meet Yacouba Sawadogo – the man who stopped the…

His name is Yacouba Sawadogo is an extraordinary man who stopped the desert all on his own. He managed to find a solution to a crisis that had scientists and development organizations mind boggled. The battle against desertification in northern Burkina Faso has started to sway to the winning side of the fight. This is because of an old farmers effective soil conservation techniques and re-forestation.

Image Source: YOUTUBE

Image Source: YOUTUBE

Heavy soil erosion and drying of the land in West Africa is all due to over population, over-farming and over-grazing. National and international researchers attempted to fix the situation but, it didn’t really help much. That is, until Yacouba came along taking matters into his own hands in 1980.

The methods that he used were so odd that he was ridiculed by his fellow farmers. They took notice when his techniques successfully regrew the forest. Yacouba revived ‘zai.’ Zai is an ancient African farming practice and this led to growing forests and the soil quality was increased.

Zai is a very easy and non-expensive farming practice. A shovel or axe is used to dig small holes into the hard ground and then filled up with compost. Tree seeds, millet or sorghum are also planted into the compost. The holes that were dug catch the water that falls during the rainy season. That means that they are able to keep moisture and nutrients in during the dry season.

Zai has a certain list of rules, one states the Yacouba would get the lands ready in the dry season. It is exactly opposite of local farming practice. He was laughed at by land chiefs and other farmers. Then they seen that he was a pure genius. In only 20 years, he switched a barren area into a beautiful 30 acre forest that is complete with over 60 different species of trees.

A natural resources management specialist with the Center for International Cooperation, by the name of Chris Reji said “Tes of thousands of hectares of land that was completely unproductive has been made productive again thanks to the techniques of Yacouba.”

He has chosen not to keep the secrets all to himself. He hosts a workshop on his farm that teaches visitors and bringing people together. “I want the training program to be the first starting point for many fruitful exhanges across the region,” he said. Farmers from villages around him visit to gain advice and high quality seeds. “If you stay in your own little corner, all your knowledge is of no use to humanity.”

Award winning filmmaker Mark Dodd made a documentary in 2012 about Yacouba’s experiences. It was called “The Man Who Stopped The Desert.” The story of how one mans efforts saved thousands of farmers across Africa, is told. It is one of the worst areas ever hit by deforestation in the whole world. The documentary defies the notion that Africa needs help from the outside to solve it’s problems. “We must stop teaching and telling, and instead start learning and listening to what the farmers have to say.” Reji said.

The film aided in growing awareness of Yacoubas work and that resulted in more donations. With all of the support of Oxfam America, he is promoting using stone bonds that slowly runoff, that way, water from the pits trickle into the soil. This proved to be a very successful technique.

Regi said “What Yacouba has done can also be done by many other farmers across the Sahel. The big challenge is that in the next 5 to 10 years, we will have to try to motivate millions of farmers to invest in trees because it will help them to improve their food security, and at the same time it will also help them adapt to climate change.”

Making this happen isn’t necessarily as easy as it may sound. The success of the documentary didn’t help Yacouba very much. He is facing many different problems. An expansion project recently took up a large part of the forest that he spent so long growing. Houses are already being built on the land.

Yacouba hasn’t lost any hope, even with setbacks. Right now, he is trying to raise $20,000 to buy his forest back. This work is important and he knows it, he doubled is cultivation efforts, grew into nearby lands. His understandings of the future of the environment and conservation is profound. “If you cut down ten trees a day and fail to plant even one a year, we are headed for destruction.” He said.



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