The Optimist Citizen
Yacouba sawadogo

A man who turned a 30 acre-barren land into a thriving forest with over 60 species of trees

Yacouba Sawadogo is a man who was once considered a madman by people in his village for preparing the soil for agricultural in a morbidly dry season. Little did they knew about the changes that were about to happen. Yacouba sawadogo revived an ancient African agricultural style called ‘Zai’ that helped turn acres of barren land into a lush forest.

According to Chris Reji, a natural resources management specialist with the Centre for International Cooperation, “Tens of thousands of hectares of land that was completely unproductive has been made productive again thanks to the techniques of Yacouba.”

The Zai technique is a farming style where the land is prepared during the dry season as opposed to normal farming. Holes are dug in the land and then they are filled with compost and the seeds that are suitable for the land. The compost attracts termites that help loosen the hard soil making it porous and ready to absorb water for the plant. This technique has proved successful in Yacouba’s village. After the hard work of 20 years, he converted a completely barren land into a thriving 30-acre forest with over 60 species of trees. 

Yacouba never keeps his work a secret. He organizes bi-yearly “Market Days” at his farm in the village of Gourga. Attendees from over a hundred regional villages come to share seed samples, swap tips, and learn from one another.
In the year 2010 award winning filmmaker Mark Dodd created a documentary based on Yacouba Sawadogo’s experiences called “The Man Who Stopped the Desert.” The documentary has helped raise awareness and also helped raise donations for the same. His story became one of Africa’s greatest ecological success stories and is now considered widely a model for the rest of the world.


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