Yacouba Sawadogo shared this year’s award with three Saudi human rights activists and an Australian agronomist. The 3 million Swedish crown ($341,800) prize honours people who find solutions to global problems.
Sawadogo is known for turning barren land into forest using “zai” – pits dug in hardened soil that concentrate water and nutrients, allowing crops to withstand drought. The technique has been used to restore thousands of hectares of dry land and in doing so reduce hunger in Burkina Faso and Niger since he began to teach it in the 1980s, according to the Right Livelihood Award Foundation.
Sawadogo initially faced resistance for his unconventional technique, based on an ancient method that had fallen out of practice. Now “zai” have been adopted by aid agencies working to prevent hunger in the region.
“Yacouba Sawadogo vowed to stop the desert – and he made it. If local communities and international experts are ready to learn from his wisdom, it will be possible to regenerate large areas of degraded land, decrease forced migration and build peace in the Sahel.” Ole von Uexkull, executive director of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation.
Sawadogo told his story in a 2010 film called “The Man Who Stopped the Desert”.