El Hadj [titre honorifique donné à un musulman qui a accompli le hadj, le pèlerinage à La Mecque] Salifou Ouédraogo is a farmer exploiting nearly 100 hectares of baobabs in Burkina Faso. At 79, the one who dreamed of becoming a sheik [titre honorifique souvent utilisé pour désigner des enseignants religieux] Muslim has succeeded in planting more than 35,000 feet of theAdansonia digitata, this majestic African tree at the heart of many myths and legends.
Today, the life of this man experienced in baobab cultivation – he collects, sorts and plants the seeds – is quite unique.
His story began in 1968, when he moved to Siguinonguin, in the Banwa [province dans l’ouest du Burkina Faso, à la frontière malienne] and plant three baobabs to “the sauce of the family”. [Si racines et fruits sont consommés, les feuilles, fraîches ou séchées, constituent également un mets à part entière et servent notamment à réaliser des sauces au Burkina Faso].
Previously, at his home in Titao, his choice to operate a mango orchard came to an end. “All my mangoes rotted in my third harvest season. I was only able to sell some for 3,000 CFA francs [4,50 euros]”, he relates.
This bad experience in memory, he decides to change tack and resolves to plant baobabs. “I went back to my home, in Titao, to look for baobab seeds to make a nursery. That’s how the business started,” explains the sexagenarian. He nurtured his plants and, appetite comes with eating, today he supplies many people with baobab seeds and plants in Burkina Faso, Mali, Ivory Coast and Senegal.
However, his beginnings were difficult. The villagers laughed at him. “Some people came to tell me to stop planting baobabs because, according to tradition, whoever plants a baobab dies. I told them that my father didn’t plant a baobab tree, but that he died. If the baobab stays alive and I die, it’s not a problem”, he relates.
The tree provides food and medicine to its community
As he persisted, he was called crazy, which further motivated him. “Since 1968, I have been planting baobab trees by the thousands every year for fifty-four years, and I am still alive. Some of those who did not plant baobabs and who warned me have already preceded me in the afterlife”, he raises. The old El Hadj even transmitted the “baobab virus” to his children, whom he taught how to find the seeds, sow them and take care of the plants.
On all the operating sites at his disposal in the Boucle du Mouhoun and in the South-West, Salifou Ouédraogo says he harvests three crops a year. He also sells baobab trees, the price of which varies between 2,000 and 5,000 CFA francs. [3 à 7,60 euros].
Failing to have become the sheik he dreamed of, the old Salifou is still convinced that he is doing useful work. Already, his baobabs provide food and medicine to his community. And from a religious point of view, planting a baobab is important, especially among Muslims [la tradition musulmane insiste sur l’importance de planter des arbres comme “bonne action”]. So, El Hadj Salifou Ouédraogo offers baobab seeds to those who are influenced by his ideas.