The further adventures of Yacouba Sawadogo

International fame, mediated by National Geographic, could help the Burkina Faso farmer.

By Andrew Leonard
December 3, 2008 4:45PM (UTC)
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The story so far: In 2006, in the post "A Tree Grows in the Sahel," I wrote about the amazing reforestation work pioneered by a farmer in Burkina Faso, Yacouba Sawadogo. In August of this year, Charles Mann's terrific piece on dirt in National Geographic brought us up-to-date on some unfortunate news about Sawadogo's efforts to hold on to his land. Salon readers expressed the desire to help, and a not insignificant amount of money has been raised to assist Sawadogo.

Yesterday Charles Mann provided some updates on Sawadogo's situation, one from himself, which I've excerpted below, and a note from the researcher Chris Reij, who has been publicizing Sawadogo's efforts for decades.



Dear Friends of Yacouba Sawadogo,

This is from Charles Mann, the author of the article in National Geographic that inspired you kind people to think about helping Yacouba Sawadogo keep his land....

Many of you sent money to Dr. Reij, either directly or through me, for which I thank you all -- it is a wonderful thing to do. I am attaching a short note from Dr. Reij and Dr. Mathieu Ouedraogo about their visit to Yacouba in October...

Again, my thanks to all, wherever you are. Receiving your notes, each expressing the wish to help a stranger, has been wonderful. Here in the U.S., it's coming up to a holiday of giving. But to me it feels like the best of the holiday has already been happening.

Best wishes,

Charles Mann


Short visit to Yacouba Sawadogo on October 14, 2008

In Burkina Faso I tried to find out what the current situation is regarding the fields of Yacouba. The story is quite complex. The town of Ouahigouya now recognizes Yacouba's rights to his land, but the current legislation requires him to get an official and registered land title. Everyone getting an official land title has to pay a registration fee, which is calculated on the basis of each m2 of land and how this land is categorized ... urban land, rural land, commercial land and some categories in-between. How much Yacouba will have to pay for the titling of his land will depend on how his lands will be classified.

I met with a traditional chief, who is close to the mayor and the town council -- and he mentioned that they are well aware of the high international profile of Yacouba and of his achievements. That certainly strengthens his position. Showed this chief the French copy of the National Geographic and mentioned that this is read in China, France, the USA and all over the world.

My colleague Mathieu Ouedraogo will follow-up with the mayor and the town council in an effort to ensure that Yacouba gets his title at the lowest possible costs. We have not yet mentioned to Yacouba that he is about to receive some financial support. It seems better to do so when the final amount of support is known and when we get the info about the costs of land titling. Will send all readers of this note the info as soon as it becomes available.

Mann also noted that anyone else interested in helping out contact him through his Web site.

Andrew Leonard

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

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