Yacouba Sawadogo

Burkinabé farmer

Yacouba Sawadogo is a farmer from Burkina Faso, a country in West Africa. He has been using a traditional farming technique called Zaï to help soil damaged by drought. He is notable for spreading an improved soil and water conservation practice in Burkina Faso.[1]

Early LifeEdit

He went to a religious school where the students often didn't have enough to eat. Since he was the smallest and youngest, he was the one who had to go without.


The northern parts of Burkina Faso are very dry and often have droughts. The most recent big drought in happened in the 1970s, resulting in a famine (lack of food) which killed a lot of people.

The drought caused a lot of desertification. There were also other problems like overgrazing, bad land management, and overpopulation. These problems meant that a lot of land could not be used to grow food.[1]

Together with Mathieu Ouédraogo, another local farmer, Yacouba Sawadogo tried different ways of fixing bad soil in about 1980. He uses simple traditional things: cordons pierreux (lines of stones) and zaï holes. Both Sawadogo and Ouédraogo have tried to get other people to do the same things.

Cordons pierreux (stone lines)Edit

Cordons pierreux are thin lines of fist-sized stones laid across fields. They catch water. When rain falls, it pushes silt (special dirt) across top of the field. The rocks slow down the water so it soaks into the ground more. The silt also makes a good place for seeds of local plants to grow. The plants slow the water even more, and their roots break up the soil, so it's easier for more water to soak in.[2]

Zaï holesEdit

Zaï holes are holes dug in the soil. They also catch water, but in a different way. They used to only be used a little bit to make land better for growing plants. Yacouba Sawadogo had the idea to fill the holes with manure and other things to make food for the plants. The manure attracts termites, whose tunnels help break up the soil even more. He also made the holes slightly bigger than the traditional ones.[1] Zaï holes have been used to help cultivate trees, and crops like sorghum and millet.


Yacouba Sawadogo holds "Market Days" to get other people to do these things, especially zaï holes. People come to share seeds and learn from each another.[3]

Problems with Burkina Faso GovernmentEdit

Yacouba Sawadogo's work with zaï holes helped him make a forest of about fifty acres (20 hectares). The nearby city of Ouahigouya took the land to make money. [2] Sawadogo and his family members each get one tenth of 1-acre (4,000 m2) out of the plot, and don't get any other payment.

Sawadogo is trying to get $20,000 ( American dollars) to buy the land.[4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Kaboré, Daniel and Chris Reij. "The Emergence and Spreading of an Improved Traditional Soil and Water Conservation Practice in Burkina Faso". International Food Policy Research Institute, February 2004. http://www.ifpri.org/publication/emergence-and-spreading-improved-traditional-soil-and-water-conservation-practice-burkin (last accessed 10 April 2010)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Mann, Charles C. "Our Good Earth: The future rests on the soil beneath our feet." National Geographic, September 2008. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/09/soil/mann-text (last accessed 15 September 2008)
  3. Indigenous Knowledge Notes #77, The World Bank, February 2005. http://www.worldbank.org/afr/ik/iknt77.htm (last accessed 15 September 2008)
  4. Leonard, Andrew. "How to help Yacouba Sawadogo". Salon.com, Sept. 11, 2008 15:18 PDT. http://www.salon.com/tech/htww/2008/09/11/helping_sawadogo/index.html Archived 2009-01-31 at the Wayback Machine (last accessed 15 September 2008)