by Anja Chalmin
The Right Livelihood Award, also known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’, was established in 1980 to “honour and support courageous people and organisations that have found practical solutions to the root causes of global problems”.
In 2018, the prize was awarded to Yacouba Sawadogo, from Burkina Faso, and Tony Rinaudo, from Australia, for turning large parts of the Sahel region into productive land.
Around 1980, Yacouba Sawadogo began restoring inhospitable land with a method called “zaï”, starting with ~40 hectares of barren land in Burkina Faso. Nowadays this area is described as one of the most diverse areas in the Sahel region. The so-called Zaï-method combines the cultivation of woody plants and grain and is thus enhancing the soil’s fertility and water storage capacity. In the past years Yacouba Sawadogo trained thousands of farmers from Burkina Faso and Niger and enabled them to restore the productivity of their lands.
About 35 years ago, Tony Rinaudo came to Niger and started growing up trees on agricultural lands from underground root networks after realizing, that many of the tree root systems where still alive even though the trees had been felled aboveground. Instead of planting new trees he taught farmers to regenerate already existing trees by selecting young tree shoots, protecting the shoots from browsing and fire and supporting them by regular pruning. Applying this method it takes three to four years to establish new trees, well adapted to local climate and local soils. With help of this technique and at minimal costs more than 200 million trees and many agricultural lands have been restored in Niger alone.