Gordon Sato’s radical method of using seawater for irrigation has helped the poor villages of coastal Eritrea develop a self-sufficient economy.
Eminent American biologist Gordon Sato, who died on 31 March 2017, spent his retirement helping the people of Eritrea to help themselves. His unswerving commitment led to a low-tech, sustainable agricultural economy for impoverished coastal communities, who can now plant mangroves where they have never grown before.
The simple methods they have developed can be applied to desert areas worldwide so countries such as Somalia need never suffer famine again.
Prompted by reports of a famine, Sato first went to the country, then struggling to break away from Ethiopia, in 1985 and set up a fish-farming operation named Manzanar after his Japanese-American family’s Second World War experiences.
Sato returned frequently, and after retiring in 1992 chose to spend half of every year there. In one of the poorest, driest places on earth, his Manzanar Project harnesses the coast’s most abundant resources – sunlight and seawater – to grow mangroves in otherwise barren areas to feed animals and provide a habitat for fish. An impressive non-profit initiative, today there are more than 1 million mangrove trees along the coast.
The determination to help the Eritreans led to a Rolex Award in 2002 for Sato, then 74 and the oldest person to receive one. Manzanar is now expanding into Mauritania. Author of 150-plus papers, Sato received the Blue Planet Prize in 2005.
Mangrove seedlings grown by the Manzanar Project in 2001
People the Manzanar Project could feed by providing fodder to raise animals
Percentage of Eritrea's coastline where mangroves grow naturally