The Man Who Stopped the Desert is a full HD, one hour feature documentary telling the story of Yacouba Sawadogo, an illiterate African peasant farmer who has transformed the lives of thousands of people across the Sahel. Soil is essential to life on earth. But much of the world’s soil has become degraded and useless. As the global demand for food grows, millions of pounds and the latest technological advances have been invested in attempts to improve soil quality. Leading scientists and agriculturalists from around the world strive against growing world hunger to find the means to bring exhausted soils back into production, but it seems that a peasant farmer from one of the poorest countries on earth has finally achieved what these experts dreamt of; halting the desert. During the 1970’s and early 80’s this vast region was hit with drought after drought. Families abandoned their villages in search of food and water, but Yacouba Sawadogo remained and pioneered a technique that battled the approaching desert.
This is not simply an agricultural story. Yacouba Sawadogo’s twenty year struggle is pure drama. It is about one man’s conviction that now has the potential to benefit many thousands living in the Sahel region of Africa. Through cinematic reconstruction, Yacouba narrates his own back-story; how as a small child he was sent away to a Koranic school in Mali where he endured an endless regime of physical labour and the arduous task of memorising the Koran. Then, as a young man he fights the accepted wisdom of the traditional land chiefs who are opposed to his new farming techniques. Opposition turns to anger when jealous neighbours burn down Yacouba’s newly planted forest and millet fields. But Yacouba is undaunted.
He perfects his technique, and today his name is synonymous with reversing the process of desertification. So much so that in November 2009 he was invited to Washington DC to share his story with policy-makers on Capitol Hill. It is an incredible climax to a gripping and timely story. In late 2009 the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation declared small farmers (like Yacouba) as key to helping alleviate famine and poverty amongst the world’s poorest, launching a multi-million dollar research and investment programme into local solutions for Africa.
Dr Chris Reij of Vrij University Amsterdam who has followed Yacouba’s work over the past 25 years had this to say of his achievements: “Yacouba single-handedly has had more impact on…conservation than all the national and international researchers put together..In this region tens of thousands of hectares of land that was completely unproductive has been made productive again thanks to the techniques of Yacouba”.