Hailing from Northern Burkina Faso, Yacouba Sawadogo was born 72 years ago and struggled as a young man to understand what was happening in the degrading environment. On realizing that there was a crisis, he made a wise decision and took action to reverse the situation. He is a famous farmer known for his good deeds of having grown a 40-hectare forest on barren land which has now more than 60 species of trees and bushes. Yacouba Sawadogo was one of the keynote speakers during the 2018 Global Landscapes Forum that was held in Bonn Germany.

Yacouba Sawadogo and I during the Global Landscapes Forum in Bonn, Germany.

In early 1980s when crops failed and famine struck, some people died and many others opted to leave the rural areas to find income in the cities. However, Sawadogo chose to move back from the city to his rural village in order to find a solution to the crisis. He reintroduced and further developed a traditional farming technique known as “zai” in his local language.

The technique builds on experimenting with traditional planting pits for soil, water and biomass retention. Instead of just cutting the hard crust of soil to create planting pits, he dug the pits bigger, deeper, and put manure in them during the dry season. He then added elements like rock walls, and termites and created the magic formula to enhance water retention and fertility in deeply depleted soils.

At the very beginning, Yacouba was thought to be a “madman” and faced much resistance from locals to an extent that he saw his forest set on fire. Despite all this, Yacouba chose not to give up. In fact, people came to admire his work over time and he has continued to receive thousands of visitors from the region and beyond who are always eager to learn from him.

“This project is for future generations. I don’t want to eat today and leave future generations with nothing to eat. The work I do is to create the seeds for wealth – not only for Burkina Faso but for many other countries.” Yacouba Sawadogo. In the same spirit, Yacouba has continued to empower farmers to regenerate their land by organizing trainings. As a result of his efforts, tens of thousands of hectares of severely degraded land has been restored to productivity in Burkina Faso and Niger.

Sawadogo’s technique is one that can be adopted towards food secure nations worldwide as it helps conserve rainwater and improve soil fertility. This means that farmers can still produce crops even in years of drought. The trees planted alongside crops can help produce fodder for livestock, enrich soil and also create business opportunities such as bee keeping. This technique is one of the best climate change adaptation measure and can help reduce poverty and prevent natural resources and water conflicts.

Yacouba prepares the soil by filling holes with compost

Yacouba Sawadogo is one of the 2018 right livelihood award laureate for turning barren land into forest and demonstrating how farmers can regenerate their soil with innovative use of indigenous and local knowledge. He vowed to stop the desert, and he made it because he moved from commitment to action. It is possible. The future of this planet belongs to all of us and all of us must do something to protect it.

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