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Good People, Good Work

Yacouba Sawadogo: Transforming Desert into Forests & Farmland

2022-11-21
Language:English
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As a result of destructive human activities and climate change, large areas of the Earth are being desertified at an unprecedented rate. A hero named Yacouba Sawadogo is a farmer and a Shining World Land Protection Award recipient who has been successfully restoring soils damaged by desertification and drought. Mr. Sawadogo, who is locally known as “the man who stopped the desert,” also received the Right Livelihood Award in 2020, widely considered the “Alternative Nobel Prize” as well as the Champions of the Earth award from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).

Mr. Sawadogo, a native speaker of Mossi, was born in the northern province of Yatenga in the West African nation of Burkina Faso in 1946. The drying out of once-fertile plains and the resulting drought caused hundreds of thousands of deaths from 1972 to 1984. However, Yacouba Sawadogo chose to stay there instead and try to work out how to make the land productive again.

Along with Dr. Mathieu Ouédraogo, an agricultural economist, he decided to use and modify the ancient African farming practice called zaï, a simple and cheap technique that could be utilized by any farmer to rehabilitate drought-damaged soil. Despite the resistance from local farmers, over time, he stopped the advancement of the desert and successfully transformed the barren and abandoned land in his village into a huge, 40-hectare forest that now has more than 96 trees and 66 plant species, as well as a variety of wildlife. Today, the practice has even spread to Asian countries.

In 2021, Supreme Master Ching Hai presented the Shining World Land Protection Award to Yacouba Sawadogo, along with a token US$10,000 humble contribution to support his sustained efforts to reforest and rehabilitate barren desert lands and increase food productivity.

“Some trees are at a very high spiritual level. The Fifth Level, yes. Some trees are very big and very spiritual. That's why many people meditate under trees. They feel good there. Some parks have smaller trees. Even though they're not at a high level, if they're at the Third Level, they already make us feel good. They stand there to protect the world, to stabilize our world, and to provide oxygen. It's a way to absorb (bad) karma and give blessings. So we should respect everything. Don't overuse anything. So please don't cut and trim trees at random.”
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