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Yacouba Sawadogo

Once upon a time in a village called Gourga in Burkina Faso, West Africa, there lived a Muslim farmer named Yacouba Sawadogo. Yacouba Sawadogo was rather ignorant in the subject of Science for he had gone to a religious school. Yet, what he did was scientific and it helped restore the fertility of the farming land of his village that had been damaged by drought and desertification.

After a terrible famine that happened in his village in the 1980s, Yacouba did something which his fellow villagers thought was mad. He started farming during the dry season even when it was public knowledge that nothing would grow then. The villagers, the head of his family, and the village chief all laughed, ridiculed and criticised him for not having common sense. He was also accused of going against the tradition and rules of his society. However, the young Yacouba kept silent and persevered.

Yacouba knew that he had to be prepared. He had to be ready before the wet season arrived. He had to work the soil to retain as much water as possible before the rain came. He had the confidence, belief and trust in himself that he was doing the right thing, even though the people around him thought otherwise.

He dug hard into the earth using only an axe and a shovel. The earth was tough and dry but he kept going. It was laborious work. Through sheer determination, he succeeded in digging large holes in the hard ground. He then filled the holes with litter (compost) and dung. These materials attracted termites which then tunneled though the earth. The tiny natural tunnels helped break the soil down. They also served as catchment areas when the rain fell. Yacouba also built thin lines of stones across the fields to catch water. On these plots of land, he grew millet and sorghum. And he planted trees.

Yacouba was a determined farmer. He toiled for over two decades battling the harsh conditions and the harsh words that were showered upon him. Still, he did not give up. Like many stories of this sort, his hard work paid off. Yacouba managed to convert a barren, non-cultivable area into fertile land and a forest of a variety of trees.

Today, more than 35 years later, Yacouba is hailed as a hero who "stopped the desert" and the man who saved thousands of farmers across the Sahel region.

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