Yacouba Sawadogo – The Man Who Stopped the Desert

Posted on March 8, 2015  Comments (1)

Quote from the video

Yacouba single-handedly had more impact on the soil conservation in the Sahel than than all the national and international researchers combined.

Dr. Chris Reij, Vrije University of Amsterdam.

As is normally the case making improvements in the real world is challenging and visionaries often face setbacks. Even when they have success that success is threatened by those that want to take the rewards but ignore the lessons. The clip above is a excerpt from the documentary film on his efforts.

Meet Yacouba Sawadogo – The Man Who Stopped the Desert

The simple old farmer’s re-forestation and soil conservation techniques are so effective they’ve helped turn the tide in the fight against the desertification of the harsh lands in northern Burkina Faso.

Over-farming, over-grazing and over population have, over the years, resulted in heavy soil erosion and drying in this landlocked West African nation.

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. Seeds of trees, millet or sorghum are planted in the compost. The holes catch water during the rainy season, so they are able to retain moisture and nutrients during the dry season.

According to the rules of Zai, Yacouba would prepare 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 is a genius. In just 20 years, he converted a completely barren area into a thriving 30-acre forest with over 60 species of trees.

Yacouba has chosen not to keep his secrets to himself. Instead, he hosts a workshop 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

It is wonderful to see his open science mindset, sadly too often missing in the USA today. Appropriate technology solutions often retain the focus on using science to provide benefit to society that has become somewhat or largely perverted in the USA (and those the politicians in the USA have demanded adopt this way of thinking the USA has been pushing).

Sadly just like politicians in the USA, UK, Australia… that ignore the lessons of science but have no problem reaping the rewards from the application of science and engineering (stemming from efforts they don’t manage to thwart) the local city annexed his forest and has been developing it.

Economic development is wonderful but politicians often use those words when not promoting the economy but merely rewarding those that pay the politicians (through legal or illegal cash payments). Often the policies are the opposite of economic development – with anti-competitive measures for those giving them cash (these often take the form abusing the copyright and patent system or preventing free markets and sometimes of just taking from those who create and giving to those who have paid the politicians cash).

Related: photos from Niger and Burkino Faso (when I was a kid we lived in Nigeria and took a vacation through Niger and Burkino Faso in the Sahell) – The Sahara Wasn’t Always a DesertInspirational Engineer Builds Home Made Windmill to Create Electricity (2008)

One Response to “Yacouba Sawadogo – The Man Who Stopped the Desert”

  1. Felix Erude
    April 17th, 2015 @ 11:23 am

    Being originally from Africa myself, I was absolutely thrilled to read this story. Sometimes in Africa we sit and wait for the West to come up with the funds and special expertise to solve our local problems. This is an example of someone using innate knowhow and using locally available resources to create a huge impact

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