The Man Who Stopped the Desert

The story of a peasant farmer who transformed the lives of thousands of people

Directed by Mark Dodd


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.


“Yacouba’s story is both incredibly timely and important given the current crisis in many parts of the world with desertification. It is also rare to find a conservation story with such an upbeat and inspirational ending.”
– Diana El-Osta, National Geographic Channels International

“Expertly produced, with touches of dry humor and dramatizations that tug at the heart, The Man Who Stopped the Desert entertains as well as informs, and must surely change the attitudes of those who think of Africa as a basket case dependent on foreign aid.”
– Reel Earth Film Festival, New Zealand

“Mark Dodd’s documentary is simply good storytelling, but like the deceptively simple zai technique, its implications are profound.”
– Educational Media Reviews Online

“The Man Who Stopped the Desert is an excellent documentary. It powerfully depicts the struggle and triumph of Yacouba, a man whose contribution to combating desertification is enormous.”
– Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary the UN Convention to Combat Desertification

“Mark Dodd’s achievement is to inform and inspire in equal measures. Perfectly pitched cinematography and narration by Hugh Quarshie engage beautifully with a moving story of struggle and success.”
– Dick Meadows, Producer, BBC

“By sharing what he has learned with neighboring farmers, the documentary shows how Yacouba Sawadogo and other innovative local farmers are helping to lead a remarkable environmental transformation in parts of the Sahel.”
– Voice of America