It took time, faith and self-sacrifice in this Yacouba Sawadogo village of Burkina Faso for farmers to transform his dream and vision into reality.
40 years ago, his village Gouga, north of Burkina Faso was suffering the throes of desertification. The water was missing, animals were dying while the men abandoned the village, going to swell the numbers of rural exodus.
Today, the situation has reversed. The village became hospitable and conducive to agriculture.
In 1974, Sawadogo then aged 25 years and pledged a flourishing trade in the city, decided to do the opposite path. He abandoned his business and returned to the village. His objective was to fight the desert.
Decision met with ridicule
Yacouba’s methods were so odd that his fellow farmers ridiculed him. But when his techniques successfully regenerated the forest, they were forced to sit up and take notice. Yacouba revived an ancient African farming practice called ‘Zai’, which led to forest growth and increased soil quality.
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,” 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.”