A convenient truth for family gardening (Willem van Cotthem)

In August 2007, I launched a new project “Seeds for Food” (see <www.seedsforfood.org>) for collecting seeds of vegetables and fruits, in order to offer people living in the drylands opportunities to grow fresh food themselves in small family gardens or community gardens.  This action is growing into a dramatic success as people on different continents are now sending seeds of the fruits they eat or from vegetables grown in their own garden.

Nevertheless, a number of people express their concern about the possibility that some of these seeds could belong to “invasive species”, which would rapidly invade the local ecosystems and thus be a nuisance for the local biodiversity.

Here is one of these “critics” and my reply thereon :

“I have some problems with the scheme you are talking about. It is not good for biodiversity. For example here in SA when people imported bramble berries they took off so well that now they are a huge problem covering millions of hectares of land that would otherwise be used for grazing or local crops. I have just spent an hour near the bridge removing the bramble before it takes off after a very good spring rain.

In SA what we need to do is gather and care for our own indigenous seeds, not plant foreign seeds. So the scheme wouldn’t work here. I hope the scheme will really not cause more problems in the long run for the countries where the seeds are being grown. …………..


MY REPLY (Willem)

I understand fully your concern about the possible introduction of so-called “invasive species of plants”, rapidly dispersing in the original ecosystems and developing into a catastrophic nuisance.  This is certainly the case with bramble berries.  One should never send bramble berries abroad because this plant species is known as an invasive one of which the seeds are dispersed by a lot of animals.

Most of the vegetables, on the contrary, are not invasive.  And so are most of the fruit trees.

Now, let us suppose for a moment that tomatoes, onions, carrots, celery or parsley would spread quite rapidly over the dryland areas where we introduce them.  Would the local people mind finding these food crops around their houses after a certain time? If ever tomatoes would spread massively over desertlike areas, would we speak of a catastrophe for biodiversity ?  Or would it be even positive to see some green plants covering the dry soil?

So, I understand your concern, but I am very sure that the seeds we are sending abroad will never create such a problem.  Moreover, it would be better to create a vegetation layer over a dryland area with vegetables and fruits than to leave it barren, due to desertification.  Drought will always be the limiting factor in such areas.

I hope you see my point : we want to offer fresh food and fruits to the rural people in the drylands, not by sending them “food baskets”, rice, dry beans, peas, canned food and the like, but by offering them free seeds to be grown in their own small family garden.  Our “food aid” brings life into the drylands and takes care of the causes of hunger, drought and desertification.  That’s providing sustainable development, not by sending a billion of dollars load in an airplane, but in a small package full of different seeds.

And we are not sending invasive species !

Thanks for your remarks.

Friendly greetings,


Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

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