From a harsh, uncompromising land comes a story of hope… Those who believed him a madman, have finally recognized him as a genius. Yacouba Sawadogo, a Burkina Faso farmer, has single-handedly managed to solve a crisis that both scientists and development organizations could not manage.

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Over-farming, over-grazing and over population have, after decades, resulted in heavy soil erosion and drying in Burkina Faso, a landlocked West African nation. Although national and international researchers tried to fix the critical situation, their efforts didn’t make much of a difference. It wasn’t until Yacouba decided to take matters into his own hands in 1980, reviving an ancient African farming practice called ‘zai’, that forest growth and increased soil quality were seen.

Zai is a very simple and low-cost farming technique. Using a shovel or an axe, small holes are dug into the hard ground and filled with compost where the seeds are planted. The holes catch water during the rainy season, so they are able to retain moisture and nutrients during the dry season.


Following the rules of Zai, Yacouba prepared the lands in the dry season – exactly the opposite of the local practice. Other farmers and land chiefs laughed at him, but soon realized that he was right. In just 20 years, he converted a completely barren area into a thriving 30-acre forest with over 60 species of trees.

Yacouba Sawadogo

Yacouba chooses not to keep his secrets to himself. Instead, he hosts workshops at his farm, teaching visitors and bringing people together in a spirit of friendship. “I want the training program to be the starting point for many fruitful exchanges across the region,” he said. Farmers from neighboring villages visit him for advice and good quality seeds. “If you stay in your own little corner, all your knowledge is of no use to humanity.”

Yacouba’s understanding of the future of the environment and conservation efforts 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.

In 2010, award-winning filmmaker Mark Dodd created a documentary based on Yacouba’s experiences called ‘The Man Who Stopped the Desert’. The film helps defy the notion that Africa needs outside help to solve its problems. “We must stop teaching and telling, and instead start learning and listening to what the farmers have to say,” says Chris Reji an expert in water and land conservancy from the Center for International Cooperation.

Meet Yacouba and his work in the trailer of Dodd’s documentary:

Without needing to work the land side by side with Yacouba, you too can contribute to reforestation worldwide. Here is one option that might be right for you: support the Plant-a-Billion-Trees Campaign.


Source: Oddity Central