The Man Who Stopped the Desert

by 1080 Films

Trailer: The Man Who Stopped the Desert

“The Man Who Stopped the Desert” is a full High Definition, one hour feature documentary telling the story of Yacouba Sawadogo, an illiterate African farmer who has transformed the lives of thousands of people across the Sahel.

Soil is essential to life on earth. But much of the world’s soil has become degraded and useless. As the global demand for food grows, millions of pounds and the latest technological advances have been invested in attempts to improve soil quality. Leading scientists and agriculturalists from around the world strive against growing world hunger to find the means to bring exhausted soils back into production, but it seems that a peasant farmer from one of the poorest countries on earth has finally achieved what these experts dreamt of; halting the desert.

During the 1970’s and early 80’s this vast region was hit with drought after drought. Families abandoned their villages in search of food and water, but Yacouba Sawadogo remained and pioneered a technique that battled the approaching desert. This is not simply an agricultural story. Yacouba Sawadogo’s twenty year struggle is pure drama. It is about one man’s conviction that now has the potential to benefit many thousands living in the Sahel region of Africa .

Through cinematic reconstruction, Yacouba narrates his own back-story; how as a small child he was sent away to a Koranic school in Mali where he endured an endless regime of physical labour and the arduous task of memorising the Koran.

Then, as a young man he fights the accepted wisdom of the traditional land chiefs who are opposed to his new farming techniques. Opposition turns to anger when jealous neighbours burn down Yacouba’s newly planted forest and millet fields.

But Yacouba is undaunted. He perfects his technique, and today his name is synonymous with reversing the process of desertification. So much so that in November 2009 he was invited to Washington DC to share his story with policy-makers on Capitol Hill.

It is an incredible climax to a gripping and timely story.

In late 2009 the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation declared small farmers (like Yacouba) as key to helping alleviate famine and poverty amongst the world’s poorest, launching a multi-million dollar research and investment programme into local solutions for Africa.

Chris Reij of VU University Amsterdam who has followed Yacouba’s work over the past 25 years had this to say of his achievements:

Yacouba single-handedly has had more impact on…conservation than all the national and international researchers put together..In this region tens of thousands of hectares of land that was completely unproductive has been made productive again thanks to the techniques of Yacouba.

Diana El-Osta, Development & Production National Geographic Channels, International:

I think Yacouba’s story is both incredibly timely and important given the current crisis in many parts of the world with desertification. It is also rare to find a conservation story with such an upbeat and inspirational ending.

More information about Yacouba

Yacouba Sawadogo is an innovating farmer in the Yatenga region of Burkina Faso. One of his innovations is the improvement of the traditional “zaï” technique, which is a simple technique to rehabilitate strongly degraded land. This technique has been used to restore the productivity of tens of thousands of hectares of degraded land in the Sahel. Although Yacouba Sawadogo does not read or write, he has had a significant impact on agricultural development in parts of the Sahel. Since he began innovating around 1980 thousands of farmers, extension agents and researchers have visited his fields and many projects in the Sahel have built on his innovations.

Also the mass-media have discovered Yacouba Sawadogo. The National Geographic of September 2008 tells about him, and on August 17, 2009 he featured in a programme of Public Radio International (USA), which was broadcasted on more than 200 stations across the USA. In the last week of October 2009 Yacouba Sawadogo was a special guest at a major public panel: “Greening the Sahel”, in Washington, organized by OXFAM America and the International Food Policy Research Institute. On his way to Washington Yacouba was also present at the Dies symposium of VU University Amsterdam. The symposium on the World Wide Web and Social Development was orgniased by the VU Network Institute and CIS-VU. Guest of honour was Sir Tim Berners-Lee (founding father of the World Wide Web), who received an honorary doctorate by the VU during the anniversary ceremonials that day. Mark Dodd followed and filmed Yacouba on several occasions. The documentary “The man who stopped the desert” was launched earlier this year in London, and is actually running in New Castle.

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