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The man who stopped the desert

Yacouba Sawadogo is an innovative African farmer who has been travelling across the deserts for the last 30 years reviving ancient re-forestation and soil conservation techniques. His only tools are a shovel and a firm belief that everything can be changed for the better. His amazing results speak for themselves.


Back in the 1980s, a terrible drought afflicted Africa’s Sahel region, destroying all that was green and verdant, reducing rainfall by 80% and turning huge chunks of land into desert. To survive, most of the local people had to leave. But Yacouba stayed.


Unable to read or write, and without using any modern gadgets or techniques, he simply continued using an ancient African farming practice called ’zai.’ He plants seeds in small holes filled with compost. The holes then fill up with water during the rainy season, so they are able to retain moisture and nutrients during the dry periods.


Yacouba’s experiments were successful: the soil quality has increased. Along with millet and sorghum, he also managed to start growing new trees, which in turn helped replenish groundwater levels: the soil, shade and organic materials under the trees help hold moisture so it can be absorbed by the soil.


Yacouba’s story became known around the world, and in 2010 he starred in a documentary called ’The Man Who Stopped the Desert.’ All the proceedings were put into the restoration of local forests and a training program for farmers who want to learn Yacouba’s technique. ’Zai’ is now being taught and enthusiastically used throughout the region, and the local farmers have learned to maintain the security of their food supply and are adapting to climate change.



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