Making mini-greenhouses using recycled gallon plastic bottles

 Photo credit: The Record Herald

Preschoolers Get Early Start on Growing Season

By Carol Kagan

EXCERPT

On Saturday, led by Master Gardener Rebecca Keller, twelve young gardeners gathered with their fathers, mothers or grandparents for a Family-Friendly workshop to make mini-greenhouses for milkweed and sunflower seeds to start growing outdoors now.

More Family Friendly Workshops
The next Family Friendly Workshop on the schedule is Container Gardening on May 2, just in time to come and plant a pot with beautiful flowers for Mother’s Day.

 

Read the full article: The Record Herald

Make your choice : mobile technology or food production techniques (Willem VAN COTTHEM)

I have read with great interest the article on “12 ways mobile technology can boost African agriculture” , see the posting on my desertification blog :

http://www.africanagricultureblog.com/2011/11/12-ways-mobile-technology-can-boost.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+africanagricultureblog%2FNaEx+%28African+Agriculture%29

In fact, I was not surprised at all that this article, published at the African Agriculture blog, is based upon a recent report of Vodafone – Accenture (“Connected Agriculture : The role of mobile in driving efficiency and sustainability in the food and agriculture value chain”).

Here is Vodafone’s introductory text :

“Vodafone Group Plc is one of the world’s largest mobile communications companies
by revenue. It has a significant presence in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia
Pacific and the US through the company’s subsidiaries, joint ventures, associated
undertakings and investments.

Vodafone plays an active role in seeking to address the challenges faced by
today’s emerging economies through the use of technology. Using the Millennium
Development Goals as a focal point, the company has worked in partnership with
other multinationals and organisations such as the GSMA, UN Foundation and the
UK Department for International Development to provide products and services that
help to tackle hunger, reduce child mortality and support women.

Vodafone’s mobile money transfer service, M-PESA, has proved extremely successful
at bringing basic financial services to the rural poor in Kenya and other countries,
together with a wide range of community benefits. Other examples include
programmes such as the GSMA mWomen initiative which aims to address barriers
preventing women from using mobile, and SMS for Life which is improving the
management of anti-malarial medication stocks in rural Tanzania.”

————–

Vodafone and Accenture identified the following “12 opportunities for mobile phone technology to increase agricultural income and productivity. Some of these platforms are already widely used in Africa, while others are still in the early stages of implementation.“:

  1. Mobile payment systems
  2. Micro-insurance systems
  3. Micro-lending platforms
  4. Mobile information platforms
  5. Farmer helplines
  6. Smart logistics
  7. Traceability and tracking systems
  8. Mobile management of supplier networks
  9. Mobile management of distribution networks
  10. Agricultural trading platforms
  11. Agricultural tendering platforms
  12. Agricultural bartering platforms

To make things a bit more clear :

  1. Smallholder farmers can get an inexpensive and secure way to transfer and save money using their mobile phones, mobile payment systems replacing costly traditional transfer services and the need to travel long distances to collect funds.
  2. Mobile micro-insurance systems can safeguard farmers against losses when bad weather harms their harvest, encouraging them to buy better quality seeds and invest in fertiliser and other inputs.
  3. Micro-lending platforms could connect smallholder farmers with individuals elsewhere willing to provide finance to help the farmers.
  4. Mobile information platforms let farmers receive text messages with information.
  5. Farmers can call a helpline to speak to agricultural experts.
  6. Smart logistics uses mobile technology to help distribution companies manage their fleets more efficiently.
  7. Smallholders can use mobile technology can be used to track individual food products.
  8. Food buyers and exporters can use mobile phones to manage their networks of small-scale growers.
  9. Distributors of farming inputs could use mobile technology to gather sales and stock data.
  10. Linking smallholder farmers directly with potential buyers.
  11. Online platforms for submitting and bidding on tenders.
  12. Exchanging goods, services and skills with community members.

——————-

Suppose many agree that these are all fantastic opportunities!  But, do we really mean opportunities for smallholder farmers in Africa ?

Aren’t these smallholders not the same people spoken about in UN-articles on child malnutrition, hunger and famine, not to mention poverty ?

Are poor smallholders supposed to buy mobile phones with batteries (rechargeable ones, if there is electricity in the neighbourhood) ?

Are they supposed to use their mobile phone for every single opportunity mentioned above ?

Or do they try today to feed their family with hard field labour ?

And try to save some money to take their women and children to the hospital when needed ?

For me, one thing is clear : instead of promoting the use of mobile technology by poor people, I would rather spend some money on wages of teams of extension officers, training the smallholder farmers in some simple, cheap, low-tech food growing methods. My point is : with an empty stomach you can’t use a mobile phone.  So, let us first teach them how to improve their methods and techniques for food production and then, at the end of the day, when stomachs are full, show them the opportunities of mobile technology.  The horse and the wagon, you know !

Before going into business “with phones, payment systems, insurance, micro-lending platforms, information platforms, helplines, logistics, tracking systems, management of supplier and distribution networks, trading and tendering platforms”, shouldn’t we help these smallholders to decent food for their families by offering them all the possible opportunities to produce food at the lowest, sustainable cost ?

Our main objective is to help the smallholder farmers to better standards of living, not by making them spend their bit of money on modern technologies, but by informing them about opportunities to improve their food production with simple, affordable methods and techniques.

We have the knowledge to do so.  Let us not wait any longer to share this knowledge with them without hoping to become richer ourselves.  Maybe some bigger companies can contribute to set up this information sharing and training chain ?

Child malnutrition, nutritional programmes, stop-gap measures and container gardening in family gardens (Willem Van Cotthem)

Very concerned about the problem of child malnutrition in developing countries, in particular in the drylands, I read with great attention IRIN’s article on ‘GUINEA: Child malnutrition – moving beyond stop-gaps’

To make things clear, I republish here the definition of Malnutrition terms used in the text:

Wasting is the main characteristic of acute malnutrition. It occurs as a result of recent rapid weight loss, malnutrition or a failure to gain weight within a relatively short period of time. Wasting occurs more commonly in infants and younger children. Recovery from wasting is relatively quick once optimal feeding, health and care are restored. Wasting occurs as a result of deficiencies in both macronutrients (fat, carbohydrate and protein) and some micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).

Chronic malnutrition, on the other hand, is commonly referred to as “stunting“, i.e. a failure to grow in stature, which occurs as a result of inadequate nutrition over a longer time period. It is a slow, cumulative process, the effects of which are not usually apparent until the age of two years. Severe acute malnutrition (SAM) is the most dangerous form of malnutrition. If left untreated, SAM can result in death.

Source: Action contre la faim

In this article on child malnutrition IRIN said that nutrition experts in Guinea are studying options for treating moderately malnourished children as funding shortages disrupt normal programmes using fortified flour. Local health centres ran out of supplies and had to use corn-soya blend (CSB), which is normally only used in cases of moderate acute malnutrition and provided through the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

It is said that WFP seeks funds to maintain CSB stocks in Guinea, although humanitarian workers and nutrition experts underline the need to find alternative and long-term solutions and a more sustainable strategy.

IRIN also confirmed that local nutrition workers are debating the viability of using ‘Plumpy’nut’ or using local foods, prepared specially for children’s nutritional needs.

Sheryl Martin of Helen Keller International in Guinea told IRIN: “Stop-gap measures may be better than nothing but a plan is needed to assure adequate funding for the CSB …………………” “We are all frustrated by the lack of funding and are doing the best we can in the short term.

According to IRIN Kasraï, Head of Action contre la Faim (ACF, Action against Hunger) stated that it is important to use an integrated approach – not only therapeutic feeding but also programmes to address the principal causes of undernutrition in Guinea, by boosting people’s livelihoods, ensuring proper breastfeeding and weaning practices and improving home hygiene and access to health services, sanitation and safe water. “The challenge is in finding a reliable way of ensuring that moderately malnourished children receive fortified [with vitamins and other micronutrients] and high-caloric diets in the home.

Mamady Daffé, Health Ministry head of nutrition, underscored that the combination of poverty and a lack of knowledge of children’s nutritional needs contributes to child malnutrition. He said even if families understand children’s nutritional needs, many do not have the means to meet them. “People’s living conditions must improve. Without this we will not be able to tackle malnutrition,” he told IRIN. “The cost of living is up; people cannot buy what they need to eat properly.”

As you can see, there are a lot of interesting ideas and views in this article.  Trying to summarize the points made by different people and groups, I came to the following personal conclusions:

  1. Together with the nutritional experts, the humanitarian workers and the ACF (see above) I believe that child malnutrition in developing countries (not only in Guinea) can only be reduced or extenuated if alternative and long-term solutions can be combined in a integrated approach to develop a sustainable strategy.  The funding of stocks of CSB is only a small part of this approach.
  2. Boosting livelihoods of every family living in poverty and threatened by hunger and malnutrition should be based upon the following major fields of activity:

  • (a)   Improvement of home hygiene and health services.
  • (b)   Production of local fresh food, applying container gardening in a family garden for every affected family.
  • (c)    Alleviation of poverty.

The best practices for improving home hygiene and health services are well known.  Funding of these practices is a conditio sine qua non.

Sustainable production of fresh food in a small family garden or a school garden can be achieved with a minimum of financial resources.  One can always start with small-scale pilot projects to show the efficiency of this method and then apply it gradually at a larger scale until chronic hunger situations in the country are completely extenuated.

It should not be too difficult to find donors interested in partnerships for the build-up of such a strategy.  The growing interest in container gardening, recently shown by global attention for “sacks gardening”, indicates time has come to accept that locally producing fresh food, full of macronutrients, vitamins and micronutrients, is far more preferable for meeting the children’s needs than continuing delivery of fortified flour, corn-soya blend (CSB), Plumpy’nut or any other sophisticated therapeutic foods, used to treat malnutrition.

If one wants to eradicate hunger, malnutrition and poverty, using an integrated approach, therapeutic feeding should surely be maintained as a safety belt for acute malnutrition situations, but more importance should be given to addressing the basic causes of hunger and poverty.  That’s where family gardening and school gardening, with container gardening in all its inexpensive but very efficient forms, are coming into the picture.  Give every family, every school a chance to produce in its own small garden vegetables and fruits, and there be no deficiencies of macro- and micronutrients anymore.  Mothers having at least one decent meal every day will be happier with improved breastfeeding.  Vitamin deficiencies will not weaken their babies anymore.

Let us foresee for a moment that people and school children will take good care of their own kitchen garden and produce a bit more vegetables or fruits than what they need.  That surplus can be taken to the market and offer opportunities for a growth of the annual income.  Alleviation of poverty can thus be incorporated in a sustainable strategy.  No more expensive nutritional programmes, no more need for stop-gap measures, no more child malnutrition?  It sounds unbelievable, but small-scale pilot projects have shown that it can be achieved in the future.  Why not giving it a chance?  Seeing is believing.

No Green Wall without small-scale gardens for women (Willem Van Cotthem)

My attention was caught by some statements in Mrs. Priscilla ACHAKPA’s interview, referred to a former posting on my desertification blog:

Nigeria: WEP Wants Green Wall Sahara Programme (http://allafrica.com/stories/201002180504.html)

This Executive Director of the Women Environment Programme (WEP) urged the Nigerian Government to speed up the implementation of the Green Wall Sahara programme (GWSP), which she called “an integrated development strategy for combating desertification and mitigating the effects of drought and climate change” (see also UNCCD).

Mrs. ACHAKPA observed that the impact of desertification raised security concerns, especially among the vulnerable groups.  She stated that “the impact of climate change is more on women in the rural areas as they have little or no understanding of the issues involved”.  Her NGO, the WEP, intends to conduct a study on gender awareness of climate change issues, because adequate information on climate change is necessary to evolve steps to control it.

Agreeing with some of Mrs. ACHAKPA’s ideas, I want to congratulate her for asking to speed up the implementation of the Green Wall programme.  Indeed, such a nice programme, being a real challenge for all the Sahelian countries involved, merits massive support to speed up its achievement.

On the other hand, I disagree with her that Nigerian and other Sahelian rural women will be better off with “adequate information on climate change necessary to evolve steps to control it“.  Even supposing that there would be a small chance to find adequate information on climate change for rural women, I am not so sure that this will help these vulnerable women to handle their security concerns raised by the impact of desertification.

Even if the Green Wall programme may play a little bit of an interesting role in some aspects of climate change, it will not be tremendously important for the rural families in the northern provinces of Nigeria and in the other countries concerned.  I rather believe that it would be more efficient to invest in awareness building of the local population about the need to combine small-scale agriculture (or gardening) with reforestation in the Green Wall programme (agroforestry).

No doubt, we are all aware of the fact that such an enormous reforestation plan, with billions of trees to be planted in the Sahel belt, can never be achieved without “an army” of labourers for growing seedlings, digging plant pits and planting the seedlings.  These labourers will have to be well fed.  Tons of food will have to be produced at the local level.  By whom ?  By the local women ?  In this case, we would prefer that long time before the activities of the GWSP start all women can get “adequate information on ways and means to cultivate sufficient food for hundreds (thousands ?) of labourers of the GWSP working in their region”.

We can’t imagine that these women would be more interested in climate change issues than in best practices of food production in their dry region.

If well trained in cultivating all necessary species of vegetables and fruits, (dryland farming), they can not only use these skills during the implementation of the GWSP, but also for the rest of their life and that of their children, grandchildren, …

Therefore, just allow me this little piece of advice : start today laying out a small-scale garden for every woman in the northern provinces of Nigeria where the GWSP will be applied, because if there is not sufficient food production in those provinces when the labourers have to start planting trees, there will not be a Green Wall at all. Never, because planting trees with an empty stomach is so extremely difficult.  We all know this, even those strongly interested in climate change.

Seeds do not belong in the garbage bin or on the compost heap (Willem)

Thanks to Diane EROS of CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) I was interviewed on my “Seeds for Food” action.  This interview was programmed on Thursday May 7, 2008.

Seemingly, it got the attention and appreciation of a high number of people.  Some reacted promptly by sending me an email.  Here are a few  of them :

* Beverly Browne

Hello Dr. Van Cotthem,

Congratulations on the good work you are doing with your seeds program. I will begin to save my seeds to send to you. What would  be needed for you to consider repeating this in Zambia, also?  My husband and I are involved in a community development program in remote villages, working with a church. We provide some children with HEPS (high energy protein) once a week, and sponsor some others so they can go to school. We’re just beginning to construct a clinic and library. Adding the garden program would be wonderful, although we would have to overcome the possibility of animals (elephants) dismantling the garden. Your response would be much appreciated.

Sincerely
Beverly Browne
Trade Network Systems (TNS) Intnl.
PO Box 456
Pickering, ON. Canada  L1V 2R7

* Mona Andrée Rainville

Hello Dr. Van Cotthem,

I heard your interview, this week, on CBC where you explain what you are
doing in Africa and how anyone can help by sending you seeds. The idea is brilliant!  I have taken the liberty of sharing this information with the recycling group I belong to, Freecycle-Montreal, and got an overwhelmingly positive response.  Someone has volunteered to be the drop-off point in Montreal and will be mailing you an envelope once a month. Is there specific seeds you need more than others, seeds you don’t want at all, or guidelines you think we should follow for the mailing.  If so, please let me know and I will pass it along to our group. Thank you again for giving us the opportunity to share.

Mona Andrée Rainville
15 McLaughlin
Lachine, (Montréal), Québec H8S 2P7
CANADA

* Tema Frank

Just heard about your seeds for food project – great idea!! My daughter has decided to get her friends to contribute as part of a volunteer project. We just wanted to check on what kinds of seeds work, other than melons and pumpkins. I’m assuming that apples wouldn’t grow. What about oranges?

Tema Frank
http://www.temafrank.com <http://www.temafrank.com&gt;

* Bhaskar T Hankey

Good morning sir, last night I heard your interview with CBC in Canada and I was very impressed about your project. I have some land in western part of Gujarat near the city of Porbandar India and the land is dry .  I want to grow Oranges in this land I can grow limes but not sure about Oranges.  Can you please help in this regard.  I have seeds of custard apples which gives fruits all year around I got the original seeds from Egypt few years a go.  If you are interested I can send you these seeds.  The fruit is big in size and the crop is year around. Nice to email you.  Please stay in touch.  I do not mind to join your group as part of western India section.  Let me know if you are interested.  I am 61 years old retired person. I have some farm land in India.

* Patti Scott

Hello,  I am very interested in participating in your program, thanks to your recent interview on As It Happens, the CBC program. I have viewed the website, and fruits seem to be what you need most, but what about vegetables, such as kale, peas, beans, lettuce, etc.?  Also, do you accept commercial seeds if I would like to send some of them?

Patti Scott,
Vancouver Island, BC
Canada

* Sunny James

Dear Prof Dr. Willem Van Cotthem;

Heard your story yesterday on cbc, great news in a troubled world!!! If I can be of any assistance please let me know asap!!! I am a researcher and developer of SOLAR energy!!! Think SOLAR the sun is freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee every day and very HEALTHY too eh!!! vitamin ddddddddddddddddddddd!!!

Yours truly;
Sunny

* Joan Chandler

Hello Professor,

I heard you on the CBC radio program here in Canada and was intrigued with your project. I want to help. These are the types of initiatives which I think can really empower people. Would purchased seeds be useful to you? Which are best?

Warm Regards,
Joan Chandler
C&C Software Solutions Inc.
Canada

* Caroline

Good morning,

Could you please send me a list of the seeds that you need/would like.  I tried looking on the website and all I could fine was a short list in the introductory letter.  Is that all the type of seeds that you take or are there more?? It can be in French or English, I read both.

Thank you,

Caroline
Montreal, Québec, Canada

* Christine McCarthy

Hello Dr. Van Cotthem,

I hear your story on CBC radio last night and am interested in participating in your FABULOUS project.  Please tell me you are still accepting seeds.  If so are there any seeds that you would not want to have. Unfortunately being in Canada we don’t have too many tropical species, but as summer is upon us I’m sure to be buying lots of them from the supermarket. Congratulations on such a great project, so simple and so effective.

Keep up the good work!
All the best,

christine

Christine McCarthy, MSc.FS
Forensic Scientist, Chemistry Section
Centre of Forensic Sciences
25 Grosvenor Street, Toronto, ON  M7A 2G8

* Linda and Ed Farkas

Dear Dr. Van Cotthem,

I heard about your “Seeds For Food” programme on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio programme, “As It Happens.”  This was a very fascinating and worthwhile story which you described. Just this past weekend, here in Iowa City, Iowa, USA, my wife and I attended a forum on Backyard Gardening.  Of course, I thought of this program when I heard your story.  If you would contact the “Seed Savers Exchange” directly, you might be able to obtain some free seeds for your ventures in Africa and elsewhere! The main objective of the Seed Savers Exchange is to preserve America’s garden heritage.  They are also conducting this in Canada.  This would be another wonderful way to perserve Mother Earth’s endangered species and feeding people around the world!!! Here is the Seed Savers Exchange contact information, Heritage Farms location:

Website:  http://www.seedsavers.org <http://www.seedsavers.org/&gt;
Location:  Seed Savers Exchange, 3094 North Winn Road, Decorah, Iowa, 52101 USA

By the way, my wife and I love the city of Ghent and Belgium as a whole!    We have been in Ghent two times and Brugge at least three times!!!  We wish you the best of luck in your endevour!

Cheers!

Linda and Ed Farkas

* Laura Hornby

Hi Everyone,

We recently heard about a great initiative called “Seeds for Food”.  It all started when an individual named Dr. Willem VAN COTTHEM was invited by UNICEF Algeria as an advisor for the project “family gardens” and “school gardens” in the Saharawi refugee camps in South-East Algeria. At the camps he was told by the people that he worked with that the seeds needed to plant these gardens were very expensive. Upon returning home to Belgium, he decided to keep all the seeds from the tropical fruits and vegetables that he and his family were eating and invited his friends and neighbours to do the same. When he returned to the refugee camps he brought all the seeds he had collected and helped to start many gardens. His story can be found at http://www.seedsforfood.org <http://www.seedsforfood.org&gt; . We have decided to follow his example and collect, rinse and air dry seeds from specific fruits and vegetables (melons, watermelons, pumpkins, peppers, avocados, papayas and eggplants) and send them to the address he has provided. We also would like to share this great idea with you and hope you can help too. On a regular basis, seeds from the above mentioned fruits and vegetables can be rinsed off and left to dry and then placed in a labelled envelope. The seeds can be brought to our house (252 Markham Place, Beaconsfield) and we will collect and mail them out.

This wonderful idea has already helped many families. With your help we do even more!!

Thank you so much!

Gilles, Laura, Jacob, Sam and Aaron

* Susan Walker

Hello

I just heard you on CBC radio here in Canada tonight.  I was thinking I could get the students at the school where I teach to save their seeds.  Where do we send them?  I do not see an address on your website.

Susan Walker
Windsor, Ontario

* Janice Blain

Hello Willem,

I heard your interview in CBC radio this evening and went to your website which I then sent to all my friends asking them to send seeds.  However, I cannot locate the address you want the seeds sent to and I guess they will have the same question. Please advise of address in Belgium where seeds are to be sent. Thank you, and congratulations on such a simple yet successful project.

Janice Blain

Blog Action Day: And the Garden Shall Feed Us (Google / Reading Dirt)

Excellent publication !

Read at : Google Alert – gardening

http://readingdirt.blogspot.com/2008/10/blog-action-day-and-garden-shall-feed.html

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day: And the Garden Shall Feed Us

This is a world of action, and not for moping and groaning in. ~ Charles Dickens

It’s Blog Action Day, and the theme this year is poverty. This got me pondering the connection between gardening and poverty. In a world where increasingly “gardening” is something the professionals do while the homeowner is a way, and in some posh districts, the nurseries refrain from referring to their customers as “gardeners,” where is the connection between the garden and the poor and hungry of this world? The obvious connection is via the kitchen garden. Ever since the first creative person poked a seed in the earth in the understanding that a useful plant would emerge from it — I picture women who had been observing waste middens and the food plants that grew from them, or children playing with their food as children will do — people have been gardening as a means of staving off hunger. The coleworts grown alongside peasant cottages in Europe, kitchen gardens of the great estates, maize fields of the native people of the Americas, rice paddies in Asia, wheat and barley fields and date palms of the Middle East, all yielded food in concentrations that could be stored, sometimes for years, to fend off starvation in times of famine. Continue reading Blog Action Day: And the Garden Shall Feed Us (Google / Reading Dirt)

Vegetable Gardening Popular (Google / NYT)

Read at : Google Alert – gardening

http://muskogeephoenixonline.com/blogs/MollyDay/2008/06/nyt-vegetable-gardening-popular.html

NYT – Vegetable Gardening Popular

Banking on Gardening

(picture)

SWEATING FOR DINNER Doreen Howard, of Roscoe, Ill., has quadrupled the size of her vegetable plot because of the economy.

Published: June 11, 2008

CASSANDRA FEELEY prefers organic ingredients, especially for her baby, but she finds it hard to manage on her husband’s salary as an Army sergeant. So this year she did something she has wanted to do for a long time: she planted vegetables in her yard to save money. “One organic cucumber is $3 and I can produce it for pennies,” she said.

For her first garden, Ms. Feeley has gone whole hog, hand-tilling a quarter acre in the backyard of her house near the Fort Campbell Army base in Kentucky. She has put in 15 tomato plants, five rows of corn, potatoes, cucumbers, squash, okra, peas, watermelon, green beans. An old barn on the property has been converted to a chicken coop, its residents arriving next month; the goats will be arriving next year.

“I spent $100 on it and I know I will save at least $75 a month on food,” she said.

She is one of the growing number of Americans who, driven by higher grocery costs and a stumbling economy, have taken up vegetable gardening for the first time. Others have increased the size of their existing gardens.

Seed companies and garden shops say that not since the rampant inflation of the 1970s has there been such an uptick in interest in growing food at home. Space in community gardens across the country has been sold out for several months. In Austin, Tex., some of the gardens have a three-year waiting list. Continue reading Vegetable Gardening Popular (Google / NYT)

Family gardens, school gardens and urban gardening against the actual food crisis (Willem)

Family gardens, school gardens and urban gardening against the actual food crisis

Drought is described as a very important environmental constraint, limiting plant growth and food production. The World Food Program (WFP) has recently indicated drought in Australia as one of the major factors for the difficulty to deliver food aid to millions of people suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Drought is seen as the force driving up wheat and rice prices, which contributes directly to food shortage, social unrest and disturbances at the global level. Therefore, mitigating drought and limiting water consumption seems to be essential factors for resolving the actual food crisis and to find long-term solutions to malnutrition, hunger and famine, particularly in the drylands.

Application of water stocking soil conditioners, keeping the soil moistened with a minimum of irrigation water, and seeding or planting more drought tolerant species and varieties will definitely contribute to solve the food crisis. Scientists in China and the USA have recently discovered important genetic information about drought tolerance of plants. It was thereby shown that drought tolerant mutants of Arabidopsis thaliana have a more extensive root system than the wild types, with deeper roots and more lateral roots, and show a reduced leaf stomatal density. My own research work on the soil conditioning compound TerraCottem has led to similar conclusions : treatment with this soil conditioner induced enhancement of the root system with a higher number of lateral roots. More roots means more root tips and thus a higher number of water absorbing root hairs, sitting close to the root meristem. As a result, plants with more roots can better explore the soil and find the smallest water quantities in a relatively dry soil.

As the world’s population is growing by about 78 million people a year, it affects life on this earth in a very dramatic way. Droughts have caused a rise of food prices many times before, but the present situation is quite different, because it is based on specific trends and facts : the faster growing world population and a definite change in international food consumption trends and habits.

Some experts claim that “major investments to boost world food output will keep shortages down to the malnutrition level in some of the world’s poorer nations“, and that “improving farm infrastructure and technological boosts to farm yields can create a lot of small green revolutions, particularly in Africa”.

It seems quite difficult to believe that “major investments to boost the food output” will be able to “keep the food shortages down to the malnutrition level“, wherever in this world. Indeed, the world’s most famous research institutes have already developed very effective technologies to boost food production in the most adverse conditions of serious drought and salinity. Yet, not one single organization has ever decided, up to now, to use “major investments” to apply such technologies in large-scale programs, which would most certainly change the food situation in the world’s poorest nations.

It seems also difficult to believe that “improving farm infrastructure and technological boosts to farm yields” will be able to create “small green revolutions, particularly in Africa”. It is not by improving a farm’s infrastructure that one will manage drought. Although a number of technological solutions to boost farm yields have already been developed, only those tackling the drought problems are an option to create significant changes.

I do not believe that such changes can be realized at the level of large-scale farms. On the contrary, I am convinced that application of cost-effective, soil conditioning methods to enhance the water retention capacity of the soil and to boost biomass production in the drylands, is the best solution to help the poor rural people to avoid malnutrition and hunger, giving them a “fresh” start with a daily portion of “fresh vegetables”. These rural people, forming the group most affected by the food crisis, do not need to play a role in boosting the world’s food production. They simply need to produce enough food for their own family (“to fill their own hungry stomach“). Application of cost-effective technologies should therefore be programmed at the level of small-scale “family gardens” or “school gardens” and not at the scale of huge (industrial) farms, where return on investment is always the key factor for survival of the business.

Preferentially, major investments to boost the food output in the drylands should be employed to improve food production in family gardens and school gardens, in order to offer all rural people an opportunity to produce more and better food, vegetables and fruits, full of vitamins and mineral elements, mostly for their own family members or kids, partly for the local market.

Splendid examples of long-term combating food shortage with family gardens can be seen since 2006 in the refugee camps in S.W. Algeria (UNICEF project). One can only hope that such a success story will soon be duplicated in many similar situations, where hungry people wait for similar innovative and well-conceived practices, with a remarkable return on investment, laying solid foundations for further sustainable development.

Recently, a number of initiatives have been taken to enhance urban gardening space, not only with allotment gardens, but also with “guerilla gardening” and transformation of open, underused spaces into small-scale garden plots for downtown dwellers, apartment dwellers and even for university students like those at the McGill University in Montreal. Many poor urban people are very keen on harvesting their own crops in such small gardens or applying container gardening on balconies, terraces, rooftops or other unused open spaces. Support for urban agriculture or urban gardening can be seen as a priority for decision-makers to reverse the world’s food crisis.

Food aid, be it with billions of dollars, can only be very effective if priority is given to local food production for the poor rural or urban people, who can not afford to buy the expensive commercial food products in shops or supermarkets. Small-scale family gardens, school gardens, allotment gardens and urban gardens in unused open spaces should be our strategic counter-attack against the actual food crisis.

Back from my mission in Algeria

Dear visitors of my blogs,

It took me a while to tackle all the classical problems of a longer absence : correspondence, reports to write, reply to emails, etc. But now I am back at my blogs and hope to catch up as soon as possible.

For now, let me tell you something about the success of our UNICEF project in Algeria “Construction of family gardens and school gardens in the refugees’ camps of Tindouf (S.W. Algeria – Sahara desert)“.

The Sahrawi people are extremely motivated to get their small gardens ready as soon as possible. From 208 gardens in 2006, the number of gardens grew to more than 1200. These gardens are treated with our soil conditioner TerraCottem (<www.terracottem.com>) to stock a maximum of saline irrigation water in the upper 20-30 cm of sandy soil. Seeds of vegetables are provided by UNICEF ALGERIA. Young trees are offered by the Forestry Services of Tindouf. Local schools are also participating in the project. Follow-up is assured by a Technical Committee and several agronomists.

In August 2007, I launched an action of seed collection in Belgium. With the help of the media (newspapers, radio, television), I invited my compatriots to send me the seeds of tropical fruits, which are normally thrown in the garbage bin (melon, watermelon, pumpkin, papaya, avocado, sweet pepper etc.). There was a massive and remarkably positive reaction of the Belgians ! For the first time, someone is not asking money for development cooperation, but only garbage seeds.

I received already more than 100 kg of seeds, half of which were already taken to the refugee camps on my last trip, or send by the Algerian Embassy for use in Algerian school gardens (another nice UNICEF project, called : “Schools, Friends of the children”).

It is really fantastic to see, for the first time in 30 years in these camps of the Sahrawis, vegetables growing in small desert gardens. What a splendid contribution to human health in those extremely difficult conditions ! This is the best way to provide continuously fresh food and fruits with vitamins and mineral elements, in particular for the children.

You look for success stories ? This is one of the best ! I will soon show you some more pictures.

Team with UNICEF seeds   Family garden Layoun  Family garden Layoun 2  watermelons in Dahla

(Click on the pictures to enlarge)

Unicef team and Sahrawis engineers carrying seeds from UNICEF / Some of the family gardens at the end of October 2007.