Society

Traditional farming techniques are stopping desertification

Yacouba Sawadogo, an African peasant farmer, has pioneered a technique that reverses the process of desertification.

Image: Youtube capture

Image: Youtube capture

A farmer from Burkina Faso just won Sweden’s “alternative Noble prize” due to his work with Zai pits- an ancient farming method that turns barren land into forest.

Yacouba Sawadogo has been teaching farmers the Zai pit technique since the 1980s and has recently been credited with re-popularizing this traditional farming practice.

Zai pits are a low-tech system of rainwater harvesting by which 20x20 cm holes are dug about 1-foot deep. Once the hole is dug, it is refilled with layers of organic material, topsoil, compost, and seeds. These materials allow for much greater absorption and retention of water.

The breakdown of organic material also provides essential nutrients for the seeds to grow. To protect seedlings from strong winds, (which can reach 100 km/h during the planting season) Millet is typically planted nearby, as well.

Zai pits, which are known in English as planting pockets, planting basins, micro pits, and small water harvesting pits, have been adopted by aid agencies as a way to farm arid and semi-arid regions. Because of their ability to capture water run-off and store it in the ground, they are particularly useful where rainfall is unpredictable.

Zai pits are one of the numerous indigenous methods of water-retention that are used in the Sahel-zone of Africa, and specifically in Northern Burkina Faso, and are the most well-known.

The story of Yacouba Sawadogo and his Zai pit renaissance has been featured in a 2010 documentary “The Man Who Stopped the Desert.”

From his phone in Burkina Faso, Sawadogo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation "My wish is for people to take my knowledge and share it. This can benefit the youth of the country”.

The “alternative Nobel Prize” is awarded to changemakers who find solutions to global problems. This year Sawadogo was honored alongside three Saudi human rights activists and an Australian agronomist.

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