Yacouba Sawadogo is an exceptional man – he single-handedly managed to solve a crisis that even scientists and development organizations could not. His re-forestation and soil conservation techniques are so effective they’ve helped turn the tide in the fight against the desertification of the harsh lands in northern Burkina Faso.
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. He 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.