Yacouba Sawadogo began experimenting with techniques for rehabilitating damaged soil in about 1980. He relies on simple approaches traditional to the region: cordons pierreux and zaï holes. Both Sawadogo and Ouédraogo have engaged in extension and outreach efforts to spread their techniques throughout the region.
Cordons pierreux are thin lines of fist-sized stones laid across fields. Their purpose is to form a catchment. When rain falls, it pushes silt across the surface of the field, which then fetches up against the cordon. Slowing down the flow of water gives it more time to soak into the earth. The accumulated silt also provides a comparatively fertile spot for seeds of local plants to sprout. The plants slow the water even further in turn, and their roots break up the compacted soil, thereby making it easier for more water to soak in.
Zaï holes also catch water, but take a slightly different approach. They are holes dug in the soil. Traditionally they were used in a limited way to restore barren land. Yacouba Sawadogo introduced the innovation of filling them with manure and other biodegradable waste, in order to provide a source of nutrients for plant life. The manure attracts termites, whose tunnels help break up the soil further. He also increased the size of the holes slightly over the traditional models. Zaï holes have been used to help cultivate trees, sorghum, and millet.