The man who stopped the desert

Mar 10, 2016 | written by:

Romans used to say Hic Sunt Leones. That arid strip of land and still unexplored, was simply reported as a land of lions, too dangerous for men and especially too hot for life. Over time, the desert has not changed: water mirage that brings life continues to be just a mirage, while drought is increasingly tangible.

With my words, today I want to bring you in the Sahel, a wide geographical range that extends south of the Sahara; it marks the transition from the desert to the savannah, marked itself by desertification. The soil is extremely poor, both because of the climate, both for the abuse that has been made in recent decades: grazing and intensive agriculture. Fight the desert seems impossible here, too difficult to stop its progress.

It is also difficult to fight prejudices and the mentality of people, but Yacouba Sawadogo has won on both, making fertile barren and inhospitable areas. In 1980 Yacouba, Burkina Faso farmer, began to work land using an ancient African agricultural practice updating it in his own way. The ancient practice was the zai graves: digging in the dry and barren ground micro basins able to hold water. The update was to make a lot more holes in the ground increasing their size and then filling them with a compost made of leaves and manure. Graves are prepared during the dry season, in this way, during the rainy season, the holes filled by the compost capture water, retaining moisture and nutrients to make them available in the following months and allow the planting of different species of plant.

If initially Yacouba had been mocked by the other farmers unconfident in his method, the results have made the suspicious change their mind very soon. Lands quality was improved, so as to be able to convert an area completely bare in a forest of over twelve hectares, with trees, cereals and medicinal herbs. Today the farmer from Burkina Faso personally instructs the other farmers in his updated method in the laboratory even open to visitors created in his farm. He has also became ‘The man who stopped the desert’ in the eponymous documentary made in 2010 by Mark Dodd, a British filmmaker who wanted to tell his story.


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