28/03/2019

Acceptance speech – Yacouba Sawadogo

I gave up everything, time and belongings, to dedicate myself to the land. I haven’t had the opportunity to build a proper house and despite my being 75 years old, I own a donkey and a cart only. My one wealth is the forest I planted.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear guests,

May God bless this great ceremony. I would like to express my delight at being here tonight among the Laureates. There is no greater joy than to see my work being duly acknowledged. I, SAWADOGO Yacouba Gourga, while running a trade business at home, have been cultivating the land since my childhood, when I would help my father work in the fields. By observing and reflecting, a thought struck me. I decided I would give up on my business in order to find out how best to harvest and to regenerate soils so that they be fertile again. This was in 1974, following the worse drought ever. Flocks had been wiped out. I knew it would be very challenging. But neither pain nor failure would ward me off. I had nothing to lose. My grandparents and parents had been living off the soil and their example would give me strength. I knew the land could feed us properly, and that it would instruct me how best to handle it.

The first step was to adopt the Zaï technique. I would dig holes in hardened soil, filling them with organic manure and sowing them with seeds before closing them up with earth. Whenever it would rain, plants would grow fast and beautifully. They would contrast sharply with the other villages’ fields. The difference was spectacular, although rainfall would be sporadic and lacking as usual. There were similar contrasts in my own field, and only the plants in holes would thrive and eventually make it through the drought. The second step was then to build stones strings on the ground to prevent rainwater from flowing away immediately. The third step was to plant trees within the fields to protect seedbeds and to stem wind and erosion. Despite the severe drought that was harming more and more people, I could feed my family easily right since the first harvest, relying exclusively on the field work.

It was really tough at the beginning. No one would understand me as I abandoned trade for bushland. Worse, some would try to discourage me as I persisted. I could feel how my own family and friends were saddened and how they disapproved of my choice. They all were convinced I was being foolish. Some would even think I had lost my mind.
Sections of the forest were burnt down on three occasions. I would never retaliate. To quarrel does not resolve anything and it is unnecessarily exhausting. But God witnessed those monstrous deeds, which was enough. I did not need to wage war with those perpetrators.

I gave up everything, time and belongings, to dedicate myself to the land. I haven’t had the opportunity to build a proper house and despite my being 75 years old, I own a donkey and a cart only. My one wealth is the forest I planted. Many visitors are attracted to it every day, visiting and asking me questions to learn the techniques and replicate them elsewhere.
Coming to such a result demanded hard labour. Laziness does not fit in here.

Ladies and Gentlemen, honourable Guests, as the saying goes: “Unconscious are those who do not realize that land is mankind’s most valuable wealth.”

Drought is rampant, soils are depleting, and the trees meant to protect nature are vanishing. In short, Nature is being raked. Action must be taken to counter these different issues.
Humans are the first ones responsible for the deterioration of environment, the ones wronging nature as we are all witnessing it. Everyone has to work for a better environment. The Right Livelihood Award’s struggle to safeguard the environment has been illustrated many times over. By awarding such a cause, the Right Livelihood Award shows it is concerned by the deterioration of the environment and is troubled by its effect on mankind. Through this Award, the Foundation fights against drought and participates in the safeguarding of nature. Such an Award can only have positive consequences on the state of the forest and on the manner in which one can fight to preserve nature. This reward is very timely as I was dreaming of enhancing forest protection and densification, water retention and wells. I fostered ambitions to educate and train people against deterioration of the environment. Hence, this Award being valuable and meaningful.

May God bless the Right Livelihood Award!
May God grant long life to the Right Livelihood Award!
May eternal harmony reign in the house of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation!
Thank you to you all!