Hurrah for allotments

In January 2010 I wrote:

by Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem (Ghent University, Belgium)

Benefits of growing your own food in allotment gardens (Sheffield Univ. / Willem Van Cotthem)

Read at : Sheffield Univ. – Environment Division


Producers of ‘home grown’ food can gain psychological and physiological benefits through physical activity and improved nutrition, as well as through self empowerment, engaging with nature, and participating in communal activities. Lack of physical activity and low intake of fruit and vegetables is linked to poor health, but little is known about how the health benefits of physical exercise and fruit and vegetable consumption relate to their environmental setting. Studies of these benefits have often focused on particular social groups such as the elderly or those with mental illness.



The paragraph above describes the major benefits of growing your own food in allotment gardens.  Key words are :

  1. Physiological benefits: physical activity, improved nutrition, improved health
  2. Psychological benefits: self empowerment, engagement with nature, participation in community.

In fact, these benefits also go for family gardens (kitchen gardens), school gardens and hospital gardens.  One can imagine that extraordinary improvement in nutrition and health can be achieved if people in the drylands and in refugee camps would be enabled to grow their own food, be it in allotment gardens or in community gardens.

I remain confident that international aid organizations and NGOs, sooner or later, will set up programmes and projects to install these types of gardens to combat hunger and malnutrition and to assure food security in hostile environments.

Back in 2009: If they do it in Washington, D.C. and Sulphur, LA, why don’t we do it in the drylands ? (Google / GW Hachet)


In September 2009 I wrote:

by Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem (Ghent University, Belgium)


If students of the George Washington University in Washington D.C. can do it in the street “to teach people who and where their food comes from through service learning.“, and people in Sulphur, LA are laying out a community garden, why don’t we construct a vegetable garden for every hungry family in the drylands?  Wouldn’t that be the best investment ever to combat desertification and hunger in this world?

I hope this idea will be picked up by many student organisations and NGOs before the international agencies are taking the initiative to launch a “world programme on vegetable gardens“.

After all, if all over the world the so-called “guerilla gardening“-movement, allotment gardening and community gardening (see some former postings on this blog) shows that people react upon the food crisis by creating their own vegetable gardens at any available open space in the cities, time has come for decision makers to officialise this guerilla movement and multiply the small vegetable gardens at the largest possible scale.

As no special skills are needed, small kitchen gardens can be created everywhere in rural areas, but also in urban environment.

All those in favour, raise your hand (and your voice).

Willem Van Cotthem

‘Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the totality of those acts will be written the history of this generation.’

John F Kennedy


Read at : Google Alert – gardening



Read at : Google Alert – drought




Fighting hunger

Posted by Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem (Ghent University – Belgium)

image copy

Having participated in all the meetings of the INCD (1992-1994) and all the meetings of the UNCCD-COP, the CST and the CRIC  in 1994-2006, I was able to collect a lot of interesting books on drought and desertification published in that period.

Book Nr. 07

Please click: Fighting Hunger

Creative ways to work together and overcome drought.


Photo credit: FoodTank

Farmers in Mozambique are finding creative ways to work together and overcome drought.
Timothy A. Wise

Looking for Food in All the Wrong Places

I spent another week in Mozambique looking for ProSAVANA, the much-touted, much-reviled Japanese-Brazilian-Mozambican agriculture project that has spectacularly failed to turn Mozambique’s savannah-lands in the Nacala Corridor into a giant soybean plantation modeled on Brazil’s Cerrado region. I was there doing follow-up research for a book.

I hadn’t found much evidence of ProSAVANA two years ago (see my previous articles here and here) and I didn’t find much now. Government officials wouldn’t talk about it. Japanese development cooperation representatives spoke only of pathetically small extension services to a few small-scale farmers. Private investors were scarce. Civil society groups debated whether it is worth cooperating in the wholesale redesign of the program.

I wondered why anyone would bother. Like many of the grand schemes hatched in the wake of the 2007-2008 food price spikes, this one was a bust, by any measure. Still, ProSAVANA remains the Mozambican government’s agricultural development strategy for the region. While farmers defend their hard-won land rights, it seems they will have to look elsewhere for agricultural development.

I decided to look elsewhere as well. I didn’t have to go far. I arrived in Marracuene, 45 minutes outside Maputo, just after the rainy-season harvest and as the irrigation-fed winter season was beginning. Marracuene didn’t get much rain or much of a harvest due to the drought that has parched much of southern Africa.

One farmer in the village of BoBole told me he’d earned barely one-quarter what he had the previous year from farm sales, and almost none of that was from maize, the Mozambique staple. Across the region, production is down, prices are up, and hunger is widespread. In Mozambique, 1.5 million people are facing food insecurity, according to UNICEF, with 191,000 children expected to be severely malnourished in the next 12 months.

Diversity the key to surviving drought

In Marracuene, the maize harvest was almost a total bust. Fortunately, the farmers there grow a wide variety of crops, for home consumption and for sale. And they have irrigation, rehabilitated from an old colonial plantation, so they have a second season. I saw healthy crops in the fields – cabbage, carrots, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and cassava.

And I saw young maize plants on what turned out to be the association’s collective plots, the small portion of the community’s 250 acres that this 280-member association agrees to set aside and farm collectively. They work it together every Thursday morning. I watched as women, and a few men, prepared fields, watered new plants, and sprayed for pests.

Read the full article: FoodTank


Photo credit: China National Committee for Implementation of the UNCCD (CCICCD)

Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem (Ghent University, Belgium) demonstrating his soil conditioner TerraCottem at the TPN3 workshop for rangeland management in Tehran, Iran, 2002-12.

2002-12 CHINA DES 3 copy 2

Combating desertification in China

Posted by Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem (Ghent University – Belgium)

image copy

Having participated in all the meetings of the INCD (1992-1994) and all the meetings of the UNCCD-COP, the CST and the CRIC  in 1994-2006, I was able to collect a lot of interesting books on drought and desertification published in that period.

Book Nr. 06

Please click: Combating desertification in China

Sustainable land management in drylands

Photo credit: WVC 2007-11-TINDOUF-PEPIN-FOREST-P1010348_2

Growing seedlings in plastic bottles: seedlings will be planted with their bottle.


Lessons learned in sustainable land management in drylands

Seedlings at a tree nursery in Burkina Faso. Photo Credit: Cheikh Mbow/ICRAF –

It’s now a well-established fact that land degradation costs the world an estimated US$40 billion annually, according to FAO and the UNCCD. This figure does not take into account other hidden costs associated with the increased use of fertilizers, the loss of biodiversity and the rapid disappearance of unique landscapes. Extreme weather conditions such as drought and floods, a changing and more variable climate, and the unsustainable use of the natural resources are amongst complex factors that drive land degradation. This in turn negatively affects land productivity, food security, socio-economic stability, health and wellbeing, and the provision of other ecosystem goods and services for billions of people worldwide. In drylands, these negative effects are felt ever more strongly given the already limited natural resources that characterize these regions.

Last year, 195 signatory countries to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) agreed in Ankara to set a new environmental target to achieve “Land Degradation Neutrality” by 2030. The concept had already been endorsed by UN General Assembly a month earlier in New York as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and reflected in SDG 15 for Life on Land. This landmark agreement commits countries, albeit on a voluntary basis, to restore or rehabilitate degraded lands every year and sets in motion a framework whereby this target might be achieved.

The achievement of a degradation-neutral World by 2030 is a huge challenge requiring effective and well-coordinated efforts on the part of many stakeholders, which must be supported by appropriate assessment and monitoring strategies. To date, interventions to halt or reverse land degradation, undertaken at national scales, have often been fragmented or affected by poor integration and limited assessment of impact. The effective scaling up of sustainable land management and restoration practices is vital to achieving this target. Scientific reviews of existing knowledge – both indigenous and technical, and global datasets such as the one amassed by the World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies (WOCAT) – which is a top global database recommended by the UNCCD, constitute an important asset that the international community can benefit from.

Read the full article: CGIAR