During the 1980s, Africa’s Sahel region was afflicted by a terrible drought that destroyed all that was green and verdant and reduced the rainfall by 80%, thus turning huge chunks of land into desert. To survive, most of the local people had to leave. But Yacouba stayed.
Yacouba Sawadogo can not read or write, so without access to modern gadgets or techniques, he start using the ancient African farming practice ’zai’. The farmer started planting seeds in small holes filled with compost. The holes then fill up with water during the rainy season and thus retain moisture and nutrients during the dry periods.
The experiments of Yacouba were successful and the soil quality has increased. Along with millet and sorghum, the farmer also managed to start growing new trees, which in turn helped replenish groundwater levels. The soil, shade and organic materials under the trees help the moisture to hold so it can be absorbed by the soil.
The story of Yacouba became known around the world, thus in 2010 he starred in a documentary called ’The Man Who Stopped the Desert.’ The proceedings were put into the restoration of local forests and also in a training program for farmers who wanted to learn Yacouba’s technique.
Today ’Zai’ is being taught throughout the region, so the local farmers have learned to maintain their food supply security and to adapt to the climate change.