Combating desertification and food insecurity with container gardening (N. ROTH / Willem)

Today, I received an interesting comment of Nancy ROTH on my former posting :

Great ideas for container gardening (Willem) August 14, 2007

I’m having a hard time imagining how this containerized approach, nifty as is appears, could be helpful at the scale needed to reverse desertification or to feed a major population. Isn’t it rather labor-intensive to create a separate container for each plant? Don’t the seedlings rather rapidly outgrow their containers? Then where do you plant them in the desert, which cannot sustain them?

Combating desertification and food insecurity with container gardening

Let us try to link different aspects of container gardening, desertification, desert gardening, food production, education and ecology.

Knowing that millions of plastic bottles and plastic shopping bags are littered every year all over the world, in particular in the desertified areas, it seems indicated to find incentives to get the local people aware these pollution problems.  Learning people, especially children, how these bottles and bags can be used to produce vegetables and young tree, seems to be a valuable (and acceptable) way to motivate the population to take care of the environment.  Less littering means less pollution, a form of desertification.

Motivating children to grow vegetables and young fruit trees in self-watering containers at school contributes directly to solve two major problems : pollution of the environment (less plastic flying around) and malnutrition (daily fresh food at school).  Moreover, the young fruits trees can be taken home at the end of the school year, planted around the house and thus contribute to reforestation (or afforestation) and provision of healthy fruits, not to forget the fact that the plastic bottles or bags should be buried at plantation time.

Considering desert gardening : it is quite difficult to improve the soil qualities in the desert, in particular its water holding and nutrients retaining capacities (too much leaching).  Let us imagine that in  small family garden a series of self-watering containers, e.g. plastic bottles and bags, are buried in the garden soil.  These containers can be filled with “improved soil” (for instance treated with manure).  As more water will be retained in the containers (less infiltration), more biomass can be produced with a smaller quantity of water and less fertilizer (less leaching).  This higher water use efficiency leads to higher food production and less influence of drought on crops (more food security).

Around the gardens, living hedges can also be grown in containers buried in the soil.  There is a significant enhancement in survival rate of the shrubs and trees in the hedges an those plants are growing quicker with less water.

From the educational point of view, container gardening is a fantastic tool for the teachers at school.  Less difficulties for the pupils to keep the school garden in good shape, closer contact with the growing plants in or around the classroom, opportunities to teach the kids a lot of things about differences in plant development from seed to vegetable or tree, are but a few benefits of this container gardening method.

You are most certainly right that it is hard  “imagining how this containerized approach, nifty as is appears, could be helpful at the scale needed to reverse desertification or to feed a major population”.

We are not claiming that container gardening itself can reverse desertification or feed  major population.  However, should every family apply container gardening, should every child at school take care of its own containers, it would create a new attitude, more awareness, less fatalism and neglect, more hope for a better future.

Of course, one needs a lot of support to introduce these ideas.  It will take a lot of time to convince people.  But the fact is quite clear : where container gardening is accepted people eat more fresh food and the environment is gradually cleaner.

It’s a simple as putting our shoes on !

Willem

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

One thought on “Combating desertification and food insecurity with container gardening (N. ROTH / Willem)”

  1. Yes. You are 100% right. As you read blogs, newspaper articles and other media what strikes me is the degree of fatalism that is evident, especially from those in the US.

    Container growing is just what we need to fight defeatiwm and get people involved. It truly gets everyone involved and all who do it will be delighted in the results. I grew things in pots when a kid, and that awoke my interest in plants and eventually in biomass technology.

    Yes. Containers all the way, and then maybe they will support things like Anaerobic Digestion which in my view should be harnessed on a large scale to use the huge amount of organic waste, (eg in Municipal Solid Waste, and in Agricultural Waste) which is not used at present at all.

    In fact current disposal methods can be very polluting. Also, who wants landfills – digest it instead and produce a liquid fertiliser, a compost, and of course methane gas for power generation or use it for road transport etc fuel.

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