Burkinabé Laureate Yacouba Sawadogo, “the man who stopped the desert,” dies
Burkinabé farmer and Right Livelihood Laureate Yacouba Sawadogo, who successfully created an almost 40-hectare forest on formerly barren and abandoned land, passed away on Sunday, December 3. Born sometime in 1946, Sawadogo introduced more than 60 species of trees and bushes to the forest. It is arguably one of the most diverse ever planted and managed by a farmer in the Sahel.
“We mourn the loss of Yacouba Sawadogo, a visionary farmer and a beacon of hope,” said Ole von Uexkull, Right Livelihood’s Executive Director. “His resilience, despite facing challenges and scepticism, is a testament to the power of sustainable farming practices. His legacy will continue to inspire those pursuing a more harmonious relationship with the environment.”
In 2018, Sawadogo was honoured with the Right Livelihood Award “for turning barren land into forest and demonstrating how farmers can regenerate their soil with innovative use of indigenous and local knowledge.”
His groundbreaking work began in the early 1980s during a severe drought. Using traditional Zaï techniques, Sawadogo’s methods became a model for regenerating soil and improving crop yields. His efforts have empowered farmers to reclaim degraded lands, combat desertification and adapt to climate change.
Sawadogo’s impact reverberated beyond Burkina Faso, influencing policies, inspiring fellow farmers and attracting attention from global organisations. As of 2016, the Zaï technique had helped restore the productive capacity of tens of thousands of hectares in Burkina Faso’s Yatenga and Gourcy provinces alone.
Sawadogo’s groundbreaking work was featured in the 2010 documentary The Man Who Stopped the Desert.