How to help Yacouba Sawadogo

The Burkina Faso farmer is in danger of losing his land. A Salon reader figured out a way to lend a hand

Published September 11, 2008 10:18PM (EDT)

My post two weeks ago pointing out Charles Mann's terrific piece about soil fertility in National Geographic magazine contained some crushing news about Yacouba Sawadogo, the Burkina Faso farmer whom I first wrote about two years ago. The government had allowed his land -- including the forest he had painstakingly nurtured in the desert -- to be annexed and divided up into parcels to be sold to the highest bidder.

A Salon reader, Judith Bush, contacted Charles Mann to see if there was any way readers could make a donation to help Sawadogo save his land. Mann got together with Chris Reij, the Dutch researcher who has publicized Sawadogo's "zai hole" farming techniques around the world and came up with a plan.

Mann writes:

Yacouba does not have direct access to a bank or even the necessary identification. So the Dutch researcher I quoted, Chris Reij, has set up an account in Holland, at a bank which has direct links to one in Burkina. In Burkina, the Dutch account can be drawn on by Matthieu Ouedraogo, another researcher I quoted. He can then withdraw the cash and take it to Yacouba -- he has ID and a car and lives not far away, in another village. Both of them have worked with Yacouba Sawadogo for more than 20 years and are extraordinarily decent people...

I do not feel comfortable with posting bank routing numbers on the Web, but if readers wanting to make a donation e-mail me, at, with their name and phone number, I'll pass on the necessary info, along with Mann's e-mail address. Mann and Chris Reij would like to get all the e-mail addresses of people who contribute, so "they could send thank-yous and updates about the situation."

Mann also added an encouraging postscript.

From what Chris Reij told me, thanks in part to the publicity from National Geographic, the immediate heat is off Yacouba Sawadogo -- they're not going to sell his land immediately. But he will still have to come up with the scratch pretty soon, as will other farmer foresters. So donations are a great thing. The goal would be to help Yacouba and other farmer innovators in the area.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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