This is where your family has always lived.

From the days of the earliest Muslim travellers, this arid belt of land stretching right across the African continent south of the Sahara has been called the Sahel, or ‘shore’ of the desert. 

You are used to hardship. In the 1970s, when the rains failed, you witnessed one hundred thousand people starve to death and seven-hundred-and-fifty-thousand become dependent on aid. Scientists argued about who was at fault. Some said the effects of the drought had been intensified by overgrazing and poor land management; that it was all caused by the Sahel’s rising population. Others said air pollution from other countries had stopped the rain and you were the victims of global warming. 

You would not leave your land. 

You thought back to the traditional farming practices of your schooldays, and began to experiment by laying stones across your fields to slow down rainwater and catch silt and seeds. You dug pits filled with manure to attract termites and make the soil absorbent again. 

In twenty years, Yacouba Sawadogo, you had a forest. Other farmers were learning from you, joining the fight against the creeping tide of the desert which was expanding south by up to thirty miles a year. 

Seeing your success, local officials annexed your now-valuable land. 

The Sahel

Alex Harvie

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