The Man Who Stopped the Desert: Helping Others to Do the Same

Photo by Anna Bon

Photo by { Anna Bon}

The Web-alliance for Regreening in Africa (W4RA) — the Web Foundation’s first project — starts in earnest in a bit over a week.  We are all quite excited, to say the least.  We are also collecting other experiences in the use of the Web to support agricultural projects.  So please comment below or send email with your knowledge and experience.

Stephane Boyera, George Sadowsky and I will be meeting with our new W4RA partners (VU University, Africa Regreening Initiative)  in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso to make field visits, gather with technology and agriculture experts, and then refine the project plan.  The problem to be solved begins with the fact that a very, very small minority of ingenious, typically uneducated, farmers in the African Sahel have figured out how to grow plants and trees in near-desert conditions.  They use little more than the materials they have at hand to do so (hoe, rocks, manure and sprigs of native vegetation, natural rainfall, etc.). Yacouba Sawadogo is one such genius, with whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet.  You’ll enjoy viewing the trailer for a great documentary that 1080 Films is completing on Yacouba, titled: The Man Who Stopped the Desert.

The W4RA project aims to train local developers to build Web- and mobile-based platforms, so that they can help to accelerate significantly the rate at which hundreds of thousands of farmers and others in the agricultural ecosystem are able to leverage the knowledge of people like Yacouba.  Additional information related to harvesting, utilizing, selling crops could also be of value.  Sharing of such knowledge is very slow now — largely via word of mouth.

This project has a chance to test key aspects of the Web Foundation’s philosophy:

  • Creating locally-generated, valuable content, rather than imposing external knowledge and solutions,
  • Using the Web to accelerate and scale-up the reach of valuable services to help people who  need it,
  • Testing concepts for voice and mobile Web interfaces to resources across the real Web,
  • Training  local experts to develop Web systems, rather than providing systems developed from the outside.

Steph and I will provide reports from the trip, and from the project as it gets underway.  Stay tuned.

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