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In her world-famous novel “The Fountainhead”, Ayn Rand drew the portrait of an ideal man; one who was independent, believed in his vision, and could go to any length to realise it. Before some years, the world met Dashrath Manjhi, and saw the shadow of an ideal man in him. Now, a man from sub-Saharan Africa has emerged to be another great example of Ayn Rand’s vision. Yacouba Sawadogo is an innovative African farmer who has been travelling across the deserts for the last 30 years, reviving ancient reforestation and soil conservation techniques and literally fighting the intimidating deserts.
His story dates back to the 1980s when Africa saw one of the worst droughts in its history. During that period, rainfall reduced by a whopping 80%, killing all vegetation and leaving water-bodies parched. Most local people migrated to different places, but Yacouba stayed back. Instead of surrendering to the atrocities of nature, he decided to take control in his own hands and change the face of the land completely.
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Being unable to read and write, and with no access to modern techniques and tools, he started to employ an old African farming practice called “Zai”. The practice entails planting seeds in small holes filled with manure and biodegradable waste. The holes fill up with whatever water falls during the rainy season, and is retained in them. This provides moisture and nutrients to the growing plant during the dry periods. Also, the manure attracts termites, whose tunnels help break up the soil further and increase its absorption-capacity.
Within two decades of starting his revolutionary work, a forested area of about fifty acres (20 hectares) came up on the semi-arid land of the African desert. Yacouba featured in a 2010 documentary titled ’The Man Who Stopped the Desert’ through which he became known to the rest of the world. Perhaps as a fitting tribute to the man, all the proceedings from the documentary were put into the restoration of local forests and a training program for farmers who wanted to learn Yacouba’s technique. Today, Zai is being widely practiced in the region.
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Recently, however, the forested area belonging to Yacouba has been annexed by the nearby city of Ouahigouya which plans to generate revenues from the flora. Yacouba is fighting against the city corporation and raising funds to buy the land back.