Use plastic bottles instead of polybags for planting tree saplings


Photo credit: WVC 2010-03-02 P1030537.JPG

Avocado sapling growing in a plastic bottle.  Roots developing very strongly.

See the aso my video :


by Willem Van Cotthem (Ghent University – Belgium)

Instead of using polybags for growing saplings, we grow young trees in plastic bottles.  After cutting off the bottom part of the bottle, thus setting the young roots free,  we plant the sapling with the remaining part of the bottle still around the rootball.  Thus, the roots remain undisturbed.  They continue their growth, even in very adverse conditions.  Survival rate is almost 100 % and reforestation a complete success.

PHOTOS : Young avocado sapling grown in a plastic bottle.  Bottom of the bottle cut to set the young roots free.  Then the sapling with the rest of the bottle planted to let the rootball undisturbed in the plant pit.  The sapling continues its growth almost immediately.  Survival rate is maximal. (Photo WVC 2010-08-02 BOTTLE REFORESTATION P1040322 copy.jpg).

2010-08-02 BOTTLE REFORESTATION P1040322 copy

Photo WVC 2010-08-02 BOTTLE REFORESTATION P1040323 copy.jpg 2010-08-02 BOTTLE REFORESTATION P1040324 copy

Here is an avocado sapling, grown in a small bottle until the roots touched the bottom, then planted after cutting the bottom part of the bottle off, leaving the top part above the soil to enable watering in the bottle.  Thereby, irrigation water is running directly down to the youngest roots and keeping them moistened.

2010-08-02 BOTTLE REFORESTATION P1040327 copy.JPG
Photo WVC 2010-08-02 BOTTLE REFORESTATION P1040327 copy.JPG

Once the sapling continues its growth after transplant (new leaves are formed), one can easily pull the plastic bottle out of the soil and offer the young tree full chances to develop without the classical transplant shock.

Photo WVC 2010-08-02 BOTTLE REFORESTATION P1040328 copy.JPG
Photo WVC 2010-08-02 BOTTLE REFORESTATION P1040328 copy.JPG

Did I make clear that this method offers more chances to get high survival rates for reforestation projects than with the classical black polybags ?  If not, why don’t you try it and convince yourself ?

Originally published at:

Photo credit: SciDevNet

Copyright: Julio Etchart/Panos

Dam project proves power of science crowdfunding

“The success of the campaign shows that the general public cares about science, and it sends a powerful message to the government.” – Suzana Herculano-Houzel

by Barbara Axt

Speed read

  • Public agree to fund environmental report into Brazilian mining disaster
  • US crowdfunding site has raised US$3 million in five months
  • Method engages public and allows them to shape research agenda

Just weeks after two dams collapsed in Brazil, releasing a flood of toxic mining waste, a crowdfunding campaign to pay for an independent environmental report into the disaster’s impact has exceeded its target.

“This is one of the biggest environmental disasters that ever happened in Brazil, involving rivers and local populations,” says the crowdfunding page of the researchers behind the campaign, which asked the public to pay what they could.

The dams, owned by mining companies Vale and BHP Billiton, burst on 5 November, killing at least 11, leaving 12 missing and 750 homeless, and contaminating the waters of the Rio Doce.

“Considering the vague response of the public institutions and the economic power of the parties involved, it is extremely important to have an independent and impartial report,” the researchers add. So far, the campaign has raised 144 per cent of its 50,000 real (US$13,300) target.

More and more scientists in developing countries are turning to crowdfunding to get research off the ground. Not only is it a way to fill gaps in traditional research funding, but it can also be a valuable way to engage the public and attract funding from other sources, researchers say.

Read the full article: SciDevNet

The formation of small groups of rural women is vital to alleviate global poverty

Photo credit : Ellen Meulenveld – 20A Ellen eerste reeks 393 copy.jpg – Creation of a school garden in Gambia


To grow out of poverty in small groups

This morning, January 12, 2007, I read the following abstract at the “Development Gateway” :
1. NEW HIGHLIGHT: Group approach to poverty reduction

The poor (destitute, isolated, risk averters with low-income and poor infrastructure) can grow out of poverty provided their basic rights are re-stored and other civil society opportunities are made available to them. One successful approach to grow out of poverty is to organize poor into small groups, then organizations and finally federations or networks.

Why group approach to poverty reduction has been successful?
– Groups bring solidarity, strength, mutual help, pooling their resources, empowerment, emergency help, remove being helpless and takes them out of isolation
– Like minded people to share experiences, problems and successes
– Poor can learn from and adapt to their piers
– Seeing progress made by their piers make them progressive

The group approach also provides several benefits to the poverty reduction worker such as bringing the poor together, pooling of learning resources, higher efficiency of training, more accessible, etc. So much so all successful poverty reduction initiatives are based on group principles.


I couldn’t help thinking at our multiple initiatives with the Belgian TC-Dialogue Foundation, with which we organized humanitarian projects within the framework of combating desertification and alleviating poverty.

First of all, it should be clear that desertification is strongly linked to poverty. Indeed, it are generally the poorest rural people in the drylands suffering the most of drought and desertification. That is why we have mostly been setting up community gardens for women and school gardens.

Photo WVC-2004- 112-Girl-bringing-water copy.jpg: Community garden, a TC-Dialogue project in Toubacouta (2004, S. Senegal).
Photo WVC-2004- 112-Girl-bringing-water copy.jpg: Community garden, a TC-Dialogue project in Toubacouta (2004, S. Senegal).

In both cases our main objectives correspond completely with the point of view expressed in the Development Gateway abstract above : “One successful approach to grow out of poverty is to organize poor into small groups“.

Photo WVC 2007-04 - Dahla School #99E43 copy.jpg - Creation of a school garden in a refugee camp - A UNICEF project in Tindouf area, S. W. Algeria.
Photo WVC 2007-04 – Dahla School #99E43 copy.jpg – Creation of a school garden in a refugee camp – A UNICEF project in Tindouf area, S. W. Algeria.

The general impression is that groups are formed by one or more people from outside the village community, e.g. non-governmental organizations. However, small groups should be formed by the local people themselves to meet their needs and expectations. Nevertheless, outsiders can facilitate the group formation process without influencing to much the actual formation, which is the exclusive responsibility of the local people.

When setting up a community garden for women, the organization of the village community into small groups takes place almost automatically. Instead of growing food crops (vegetables) in traditional, small individual gardens, scattered over the area around the villages, all women of the small group (20-40 women) can work together in the same community garden, constructed around one or two wells. You see the advantages ? Women organized in a small group will have more opportunities to embark on diverse efficient situations and income generating activities : availability of water for each woman, daily social contacts in the garden, motivation to produce a maximum of food, possibility to set up a cooperative system for purchases of equipment, seeds, fertilizer etc., for marketing their products (cash income) and other income earning activities.

Formation of small groups provides more access to different rural services, such as knowledge sharing, training in agricultural practices, health care etc. It will be very interesting to assess later on the advantages and the sustainability of women’s associations constructed around community gardens.

Women in a small group can save more money than those working as individuals. Working in a cooperative system, group savings may help to overcome urgent needs, e.g. through provision of micro-credits. In a cooperative, women can make their work more efficient and improve their daily living standards. Many organizations agree that the formation of small groups of rural women is vital to alleviate global poverty. At a later stage, linking of smaller groups into larger organizations or federations (networking) will offer the women more bargaining power.

Moreover, we are taking into consideration that regrouping individual areas for cultivation into one single community garden is also a very positive measure taken to limit the destruction of natural habitats. Traditionally, individual gardens are installed at the “best” places (availability of water, fertility of the soil, limited distance to the house, etc.). In most cases, this results in a gradual destruction of the “best parts” of the environment around the village. Therefore, a community garden is also protecting the environment in many ways.

The end result of having rural women working in smaller groups in community gardens will be that they are able to move out of poverty much quicker than as an individual and all this in a sustainable way. Therefore, community gardens are an excellent tool for sustainable rural development and poverty reduction. The same goes for school gardens, where youngsters can practice working in small teams (e.g. classes) for better achievements and a better future.

Originally published at:

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Community garden for women

Photo credit WVC 2000-07-02-Sorghum.jpg

During the rainy season the landowner occupies the field to plant Sorghum.  As the soil in the community garden (background) has been conditioned with TerraCottem in 1997 and the village women have since that year laboured the garden, sorghum production is significantly higher in the garden than in the surrounding fields.  See the 2-3 meter high sorghum in the background and the 50 cm high one in the foreground.


Community garden (Horticulture) in Burkina Faso

by Willem Van Cotthem (Ghent University – Belgium)

Together with my team of the Ghent University and in cooperation with the Dutch Committee Maastricht-Niou, I have set up different development projects in Burkina Faso since 1988. Reforestation and creation of community gardens for women have been the main topics (see other postings).

In 1997, we started the application of the soil conditioner TerraCottem (TC), as a project of the Belgian TC-DIALOGUE Foundation. In the community garden for women of the village of Niou (Kourweogo Province, Burkina Faso), some 2500 square meter of the vegetable garden were treated with that water and fertilizer saving soil conditioner. A smaller part of the garden remained untreated (control plot).

Capacity building
Photo WVC 1997-07: Capacity building in the garden : members of the local women’s association Gueswende got information about TC-application and its role (Photo Monique Van Endert 1997)

First labour phase : preparing the garden beds (1 m broad to make cultivation actions from both sides more easy). The hard, sun dried soil is broken to a depth of 20 cm, a very difficult job because of the small and simple tools.

Preparing garden 01
Photo WVC 1997-07: Breaking the hard and dry soil was a very painfull job for every woman

Second phase : spreading the granular TC over the surface at the right rate (100 g TC per square meter equals 3 handfulls).

Photo 1997-07: Gueswende’s president showed the female members and some young men of the village how to distribute TC over the cultivation beds (Photo Monique Van Endert 1997)

As the application is really easy, all local women soon started to cover their garden beds with the white TC-granules.

Distribution TC 02
Photo WVC 1997-07: Every garden bed was treated with the optimal dosage of TC

Third phase : once the garden beds covered with TC, the women started mixing it with the soil by turning it over to a depth of 20 cm with their handmade digging hoes. They sustained their labour rhythm with a traditional song.

1997-07-Preparing garden 03
Photo WVC 1997-07-Preparing garden 03: Women singing while doing the hard work

In December 1997, we visited this community garden of Niou again, accompanied by Luc VAN LOON, journalist of the Belgian FLAIR magazine, who wrote different articles on development cooperation in Burkina Faso. Nice pictures were taken by photographer Monique VAN ENDERT. The desertified poor garden was totally transformed into a lush green oasis, surrounded by some trees, e.g. Eucalyptus trees, acidifying the soil underneath.

1997-12-01-General view 01 copy
Photo M. VAN ENDERT 1997-12-01-General view 01 copy – Five months after the start of the project, the community garden is like an oasis in the extremely dry area

Fourth phase : in this garden, each of 36 local women cultivated many beds with a number of vegetable species : tomato, cabbage, lettuce, onion, egg plant, raddish, red beet, potato etc. Some irrigation water was at hand in two garden wells and distributed with buckets. Thanks to the presence of the water stocking TC in the soil, only 50 % of the normal irrigation volume was needed to keep the garden beds in good condition, sufficiently humid to avoid hydric stress for the vegetables. Less irrigation needed, also means less labour and more time free for the family or other duties. Plant growth was remarkably good. With half of the irrigation water, production went up to the double.

1997-12-02-General view 02 copy
Photo M. VAN ENDERT 1997-12-02-General view 02 copy: The TC-treated garden was very productive and well kept (almost no weeds)

Each woman decided for herself what kind of vegetables to cultivate. Some produced tomatoes and potatoes, others onions and radishes, cabbages and egg plants or juicy lettuce. What a pleasant feeling to see the splendour of this garden and to listen to the happy women, chatting around the wells.

General view 04Photo M. VAN ENDERT 1997-12-04-General view 04: Garden beds in excellent condition, continuously moistened with the TC up to 20 cm deep

A community garden, where a large number of local women can work together, is also a daily meeting place to improve social contacts. Central point of such a garden is the well. Babies accompany their mother to the garden and stay in the shadow of the trees, where also mint tea is cooked.

General view 07Photo WVC 1997-12-07: Watering the vegetables only takes half of the normal time (50 % irrigation is sufficient to keep the soil humid).

The importance of TC-application in horticulture was easily shown when comparing the vegetable production with that in the non-treated part of the garden. Significant differences in plant production were registered.

1997-12-Non-treated part
Photo WVC1997-12-Non-treated part of the community garden: Less production of vegetables, significantly poorer than the TC-treated part.


Moreover, the women had to irrigate these untreated beds twice a day to keep the soil moistened. Only half of the production with a double volume of irrigation water ! Again a success story in the combat of desertification and the alleviation of poverty. Indeed, the women took a certain part of the vegetables to the local market, thus enhancing their annual income.

Originally published at:

Planting tree seedlings with TerraCottem soil conditioner (TC)

Photo credit: WVC 2005-12-RABOUNI-MIN.-SANTE-PUBL-05 copy.jpg


Success with TerraCottem (TC) in Algeria

by Willem Van Cotthem (University of Ghent, Belgium)

Photo WVC: 2005-10-RABOUNI-MIN.-SANTE-PUBL-01B.jpg
Photo WVC: 2005-10-RABOUNI-MIN.-SANTE-PUBL-01B.jpg – Just reaching to our knees ! : A young Prosopis seedling treated with TC in presence of the Minister of Public Health of the R.A.S.D. (center) and the Representative of Unicef Algeria, Mr. Raymond Janssens (right).

In 2005, Unicef Algeria invited me as a scientific consultant to study possible improvement of the living conditions in the refugee camps of the Sahraouis people in Southern Algeria (Sahara desert), looking for ways to enhance local food production. The main objective was to look for new possibilities to grow vegetables in small family gardens in the refugee camps in the desert with a minimum of brackish water, taken from the subsoil.


Photo WVC: 2005-12-RABOUNI-MIN.-SANTE-PUBL-04.jpg
Photo WVC: 2005-12-RABOUNI-MIN.-SANTE-PUBL-04.jpg – Excellent growth of the young tree in 3 months time : from 30 cm to more than 100 cm.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the Belgian TC-DIALOGUE Foundation, through which a project was set up to construct a large number of family gardens in different refugee camps. In these gardens, the soil conditioner TerraCottem (TC) was used to limit the consumption of fresh water for irrigation and to limit the application of fertilizers.

Photo WVC: 2005-12-RABOUNI-ARBRE-SANS-.jpg
Photo WVC: 2005-12-RABOUNI-ARBRE-SANS-.jpg – Control plant still small : from 30 cm to 40 cm, although getting the same amount of water as the TC-treated plant and at the same moment !

In agreement with the Sahraouis authorities, first of all a small test was set up in October 2005, in which TC was applied to a young tree seedling (Prosopis juliflora) in front of the Ministry of Public Health of the Democratic Arabic Sahraouis Republic (RASD). Other young Prosopis plants functioned as control plants. As all young trees got the same limited amount of irrigation water from time to time, differences in outgrowth showed the effect of TC.

Pictures taken in December 2005, only 2 months after planting, showed undeniably the positive influence of TC on tree growth : the TC-treated Prosopis (30 g of TC mixed in the plant pit of 30 x 30 x 30 cm) were already remarkably taller than all the control plants. This was a very promising situation in view of possible plantation of fruit trees in the refugee camps (local production of food, fruits, vitamins etc.).

Originally published at:



On November 14th, 2006, I posted on this blog a short message on the success booked with TerraCottem soil conditioner (TC) in Algeria (see above).

I told you that Unicef Algeria invited me in 2005 as a scientific consultant to study possible improvement of the living conditions in the refugee camps of the Sahraouis people in Southwestern Algeria (Sahara desert), looking for ways and means to enhance local food production. The main objective was to look for new possibilities to grow vegetables in small family gardens in the refugee camps in the desert, irrigating them with a minimum of brackish water, taken from the subsoil.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the Belgian TC-DIALOGUE Foundation, through which a project was set up to construct a large number of family gardens in different refugee camps. In these gardens, the soil conditioner TerraCottem (TC) was used to limit the consumption of fresh water for irrigation and to limit the application of fertilizers.

Already in 1983-1992, I have developed a soil conditioning method (called “TerraCottem” ( at the University of Ghent (Belgium). With this granular soil conditioner one is able to stock a lot of water and nutrients in the rooting zone of the soil and to improve the microbiological activities and the formation of a larger root system. The result of all this : a better plant growth with less water and less fertilizer.

In October 2005, a small demonstration test was set up in front of the Saharawis Ministry of Public Health in Rabouni (Tindouf area, Algeria). One out of 10 already planted seedlings of the Prosopis tree was treated with 30 g of the TerraCottem product. In November 2006, I published a number of pictures showing the effect of TerraCottem (TC) on that seedling (see above).

Today, I am publishing a new series of pictures, showing the remarkable effect of the TerraCottem (TC) soil conditioner on plant growth under dry conditions.

2006-05 RABOUNI-01 copy
Photo WVC 2006-05 RABOUNI-01 copy.jpg : Due to construction works, most of the control plants had to be destroyed. Only one control tree subsisted (right one).

2006-05 RABOUNI-02 copy
Photo WVC 2006-05 RABOUNI-02 copy.jpg : The two surviving trees : Left, the TC-treated one already 150 cm high and growing higher than the metal fence around it.  Right, the control one only 45 cm high.

2006-05 RABOUNI-04 copy
Photo WVC 2006-05 RABOUNI-04 copy.jpg : The surviving control tree : poor growth (15-20 cm in 7 months time).

TC-treated Prosopis

2006-05 RABOUNI-05 copy
Photo WVC 2006-05 RABOUNI-05 copy.jpg : The TC-treated Prosopis : splendid growth (120 cm in 7 months).


2006-12-RABOUNI-PROSOPIS-04 copy
Photo WVC 2006-12 2006-12-RABOUNI-PROSOPIS-04 copy.jpg : In 14 months time the TC-treated Prosopis is already more than 250 cm high. The Saharawi Minister of Public Health, two of his staff members and two consultants of UNICEF ALGERIA confirmed the remarkable effect of TerraCottem on the growth of this tree. 


2006-12-RABOUNI-PROSOPIS-06 copy
Photo WVC 2006-12 2006-12-RABOUNI-PROSOPIS-06 copy.jpg : This beautiful young tree is not watered anymore ! In order to promote stem formation it was decided to prune it.


Photo WVC 2006-12 2006-12-RABOUNI-PROSOPIS-09 copy.jpg : Pruning all lower branches to create better stem formation. All pieces of branches put around the stem on the soil for composting.


2006-12-RABOUNI-PROSOPIS-10 copy
Photo WVC 2006-12 2006-12-RABOUNI-PROSOPIS-10 copy.jpg : The TC-treated Prosopis is pruned and ready for continuing its outgrowth.

We had full expectations for a fantastic outgrowth in 2007. The demonstration test was a complete success : with only 30 g of TC soil conditioner and minimal irrigation this young tree reached 250 cm in 14 months. The control plants did not develop well and unfortunately the last control plant died in August 2006.  At the end of 2007 this TC-treated Prosopîs was taller than the walls behind.

This demonstration experiment showed clearly how easy it is to book successes with reforestation if one applies a small quantity of TerraCottem in each plant pit.

Reforestation the easy way

Photo credit: Photo WVC 1998-12 Fraternisation 10 copy

Bois de la Fraternisation – Arbolle – Burkina Faso

Remarkable reforestation in Burkina Faso

by Willem Van Cotthem (Ghent University – Belgium)

In 1988, I was invited by the Dutch Committee Maastricht-Niou to carry out a reforestation project with my team of the University of Ghent (Belgium) in the village of Niou (Kourweogo Province, Burkina Faso). I will describe the success of that project later. Today, attention is paid to a similar reforestation project, set up in 1988 together with the Canadian Cooperation in Arbolle (Passoré Province, Burkina Faso).

It was decided to plant seedlings of a number of tree species with different dosages of TerraCottem soil conditioner (TC) on a clayey soil, completely barren in 1988 due to heavy deforestation by the local villagers during the preceeding years.

Start project
Hard clayey field completely denuded, due to firewood collection

First, plant pits were created and the excavated soil was mixed with different dosages of TC to study the optimal dosage under these local conditions. Some plant pits functioned as control plots (no TC was added to the local soil).

1988-07 Participation of local people in plant pit preparation
1988-07 Participation of local people in plant pit preparation

At the start of the project in July 1988, the young saplings were 40-50 cm high on average. Thanks to some good rains during the rainy season (June-October), the hydrogels of the TC soil conditioner could stock a large quantity of water and they delivered this water gradually to the growing young trees during the 8 months long dry season. Thereby, the saplings continued their growth without any need for irrigation.

In December 1988, six months after planting, the growth of the individual trees was measured to compare growth differences due to a difference in TC-dosage.

Measuring growth
1988-12 Measuring growth of individual trees

Very soon, it became quite clear that TC had an interesting positive effect on tree growth. A dosage of 100 g of TC per plant pit showed to be close to optimal in these conditions. Due to our activities on the field, the soil was scarified by trampling and seeds of grasses and other weeds germinated and developed into a sparse vegetation cover.

Young acacias
1988-12 Young trees already show differences in outgrowth

Acacia nilotica saplings developed remarkably well, in particular with the optimal dosage of 100 g TC per plant pit.

Acacia nilotica
Acacia nilotica saplings continued to grow in the dry season without any irrigation

In April 1989, we returned to the project to carry out new measurements. What a splendid view it was ! Almost all trees, except the control ones (without TC in the soil), were still brightly green with developing young leaves, a very exceptional situation during the dry season. Some saplings had disappeared, not because of the drought, but destroyed by locusts and termites.

tree growth
1989-04 Green saplings in the dry season

In July 1990, two years after the start of the project, the original barren field was already transformed into a green area. Young trees were developing, accordingly to the dosage of TC in the plant pit. Another interesting aspect was the development of different species of weeds around the individual trees. Indeed, seeds of these weeds were blown in by the wind and those falling on the plant pit surface found relatively humid conditions in which they could germinate and grow (see green disks around the trees).

Young wood
1990-07 Two years after plantation, the young trees were developing splendidly without any supplementary irrigation or fertilization

Some of the Acacia nilotica trees already had exceptional dimensions. It was almost unbelievable that these trees had grown to a height of more than 2 meters without any additional treatment. The only thing we did, was to plant the seedlings in July 1988 with a certain dosage of TC and let the rain make the TC functioning as a reservoir of water and nutrients. Such a growth was never seen before in these circumstances.

Acacia nilotica
1990-07 I was so happy seeing these fantastic two years old trees

The general aspect of the plantation was changing gradually. Not only the young trees were continuously growing all year long, but the originally barren soil became slowly covered with grasses and other weeds. This “nature restoration” was an important secondary effect of the soil conditioning with TC.

Acacias growing
1990-07 Quickly changing general outlook of the plantation

In July 1994, six years after the start of the project, a splendid young wood was formed. Tree canopies were closing and the vegetation cover on the surface was also closing more and more. Of course, the flowering plants started to attract numerous animal species : insects, birds, mice, squirrels etc. Biodiversity enhanced significantly.

Wood 01
1994-07 Splendid young wood in 6 years time

In 1998, 10 years after plantation, nothing can be seen anymore of the original barren area : a remarkable success was booked with this reforestation project. Trees were already several meters high and the vegetation on the surface became very dense.

Wood 10 years
1998-12 Remarkable success of the reforestation project

It is nice to know that since 1998 the same successes were booked with TC-reforestation projects in many other countries.

Originally published at: