Your seeds for small family gardens in desertified areas (Willem)

Your seeds in garbage bins or in family gardens ?

In August 2007 I developed a new website in the Dutch language (<>) to invite Dutch speaking people not to throw seeds of some plant species (vegetables and fruits) in their garbage bin anymore, but to wash them, dry them and send them to me.  The main objective is to use these seeds in family gardens, school gardens, allotment gardens and the like in drought and desertification affected countries.  Thus, we will be able to help the poor people deprived of food, vitamins and other necessary nutrients.

Currently, a lot of actions are programmed to combat hunger and poverty.  In most cases, it are large-scale actions for which development programmes are spending huge amounts of money.  It is rather well-known that such massive initiatives are difficultly understood by the rural people, so that they do not automatically lead to sustainable development.  Large-scale programmes and project tend to slow down and even stop completely when external aid is halted.  Local rural people stay behind in a sort of impossibility to manage the remains of such huge projects.

I am convinced that small-scale projects offer more chances to be successful, in particular because the local population is in a better position to manage them, e.g. their own family garden versus larger community gardens. During years of field work in drought affected countries on all continents, I noticed that the basic problem of hunger and poverty is caused by a continuous lack of support for the construction of small family gardens, school gardens or allotment gardens, both in rural and in urban areas.

Family garden Layoun 2
Family garden in the Sahara desert (refugee camp of the Sahrawis in S.W. Algeria) with different vegetables and young fruit trees.
If only every family could have its own family garden of 30-40 square meter, and every school could construct its own school garden, where every pupil would have a few square meter to practice production of vegetables and seedlings of fruit trees,  hunger and poverty would gradually be alleviated, until they disappear thanks to the continuous efforts of the poor themselves, registering every day their progress.  They would no longer be permanently dependent on external aid, but slowly become  self-sufficient.  Investment in such small gardens, where the local people can take care of their own food production, is significantly cheaper than investing in massive, but temporary food aid programmes.

(Click on the picture to enlarge it)
This small garden is producing enough food for a family of five.  The small plastic greenhouse at the right contains tomatoes.
There is a Chinese proverb saying : “Don’t give this man fish, but teach him how to fish !“.  Here is my version of it : “Don’t send continuously food to hungry people, but teach them how to garden, even in the driest conditions !“.

In every village of the developing countries where we have constructed family gardens and school gardens in the past, there is now less risk of famine.  Indeed, we have shown the people and the children how to produce their own vegetables and fruit trees with a combination of traditional methods and modern technologies, e.g. soil conditioning to keep a garden soil moistened with a minimum of irrigation water.  Such things are never forgotten, even if these people move to urban areas, where they will try to set up a tiny little garden.


That is the reason why I make this appeal upon you : please help us to collect seeds of vegetables and tropical fruits that can be grown in family gardens and school gardens in desertified regions.

2003-03 Escola Pretoria 2002-02 Toubacouta2007-01 Dahla
Left to right : A school garden in Cabo Verde (TC-Dialogue project, Island of Sal 2003) / A community garden in Senegal (project of private sponsors and TC-Dialogue, Toubacouta 2002) / A family garden in Algeria (UNICEF-project, Tindouf area 2007)

I suppose you eat from time to time a tropical fruit like melon, watermelon, pumpkin, papaya, avocado, passion fruit, cherimoya (Annona), etc.  We all throw the seeds of these fruits in the garbage bin.  But, these are viable seeds, out of which new plants can easily grow in developing countries.

Since August 2007 I am collecting all the seeds sent by my Belgian compatriots and even by people from The Netherlands, France, Porugal, Germany etc.  Last October, I took some 30 kg of seeds to the UNICEF-project in Algeria (see former messages on this blog), where they will now germinate and produce new fruits in more than 1000 small gardens constructed in the refugee camps of the Sahrawis.

It suffices to wash these seeds (to take the pulp away), to dry them on a plate (not on a paper to avoid sticking) and to send them to me :  Prof. Dr. Willem VAN COTTHEM – Beeweg 36 – B9080 ZAFFELARE (Belgium).  We are taking all the necessary phytosanitarian precautions before taking the seeds to Algeria or to other humanitarian projects, e.g. in India.
For the first time in their life, the refugees are now in a position to grow vegetables and fruit trees in their own small family garden.  An interesting complement of the daily food basket, offered by the World Food Programme (WFP), is now produced by the Sahrawi refugees themselves.  Fresh food is produced for daily consumption, directly from the garden to the kitchen, thus contributing to the public health, in particular of that the children, containing lots of vitamins and nutrients like iron and iodine.
Therefore, I am counting on your generosity : send me the seeds you would otherwise throw in your garbage bin.  In the name of all deprived people, I am thanking you very sincerely.

Smara with TC
Family garden in the Smara refugee camp, visited by a UNICEF ALGERIA delegation with Mr. Raymond JANSSENS,  Representative, showing the gardening tools offered by the project to every family having constructed a garden.

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

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

3 thoughts on “Your seeds for small family gardens in desertified areas (Willem)”

  1. Thank you for realising this enormous resource that is being thrown away, I save most of the seeds from the vegetables and fruit I use, to give to kindergartens and community gardens, but there is usually an excess, in which I am grateful for realising abundance. Please send me information of where i can deliver seeds to.
    I applaud you in reducing nutritional poverty and helping people realise their ability to help themselves.

    Yours sincerely Alisha

    USA: TX, MS, FL, CA, AR, NM; Mexico, Rep. Dominicana, Côté d’Ivoire, Nigeria,
    Nicaragua, Honduras, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Haiti, England, India, Uzbekistan
    Workshops in organic, no-till, permanent bed gardening, mini-farming and mini-ranching worldwide in English & Spanish

    Proven Practices for Family Food Production TW

    These are based on the internet, US & international agriculture magazines, experiences teaching agriculture in many countries, research and farmer experiences in those countries and a demonstration garden. They are ecologically sustainable, environmentally responsible, socially just, economically viable, humanely managed and Biblically based There is unlimited, documented proof. On mini-farms the following will double the yields and reduce the labor by half compared to traditional methods. There are 90,000,000 no-till hectares worldwide.

    Fukaoka Farm, Japan, has been no-till [rice, small grains, vegetables] for 70 years. Dripping Springs Gardens, AR, has been no-till [vegetables, flowers] for 8 years. An Indian farmer has been no-till [vegetables] for 5 years. A Malawi farmer has been no-till [vegetables] on permanent beds for 25 years. A Honduras farmer has been no-till [vegetables & fruit] on permanent beds on the contour (73° slope] for 8 years. Ruth Stout [USA] had a no-till garden for 30 years and 7,000 people visited her garden.

    No technique yet devised by man has been anywhere near as effective at halting soil erosion and making food production truly sustainable as 0-tillage (Baker, 1966)

    1. Open mind.
    2. Willing to make changes [first, in the mind and then, in the garden and farm]
    3. Restore the soil to its natural health. [Contamination: inorganic pesticides, insecticides & fertilizers,]
    4. Maintain the healthy soil: Healthy soil produces healthy crops, with high yields, to have healthy animals and to have healthy families and prevents most of the diseases, pests and weeds.
    5. Feed the soil; not the plants.
    6. Increase the soil’s organic matter every year
    7. Maintain plant diversity [with crops and/or green manure/cover crops]
    8. Little or no external inputs [It is not necessary to buy anything, from anybody. Certain things are recommended]
    9. Plant every hectare every year [no fallow land]
    10. Leave crop residue on top of soil [no burning]
    11. 0-tillage: no digging, no plowing, no cultivating [No hard physical labor is needed so children and the elderly can garden this way ]
    12. Permanent beds [crops & green manure/cover crops]
    13. Permanent paths [walking]
    14. Sloped-land [beds on the contour; no trees, grasses, no alley cropping, no terraces, no SALT]
    15. Hand tools and power-hand tools
    16. 12-months production [economical in nearly all climates.]
    17. Organic fertilizers [Probably not needed with healthy soil]
    18. Organic disease control. [Probably not needed]
    19. Organic herbicides. [Probably not needed]
    20. Organic pesticides. [Probably not needed]
    21. Biological pest control.
    22. Attract beneficials [bats, birds, insects, toads, spiders, non-poison snakes, lizards, grasshopper mice]
    23. Protect pollinators [honey bees, native bees, wasps, yellow jackets, dirt daubers, butterflies]
    24. Protect soil organisms [worms, micros, dung beetles]
    25. Soil always covered
    26. Use mulch/green manures/cover crops
    27. Feed the soil through the mulch.
    28. Organic matter [Use as mulch]
    29. Composting: Not necessary. Too much work. Use organic matter for mulch in beds. Pile up excess to use later.
    30. Vermicomposting: Not necessary. Too much work. Worms in the beds will compost everything.
    31. Bucket drip irrigation [Imported bucket drip kit, US$15 or drip system using local tubing made by farmer, $3]. A drip kit will irrigate a row of vegetables, 33 meters long, with only 20 liters of water per day.
    32. Seed [open-pollinated]
    33. Cassava–[plant & harvest; no hilling
    34. Crop rotation.
    35. Inter-cropping
    36. Rice [SRI-System of Rice Intensification]
    37. SRI practices [applied to sugar cane, finger millet, cotton]
    38. Coffee [shaded]
    39. Muscovy ducks & guineas [should be on every farm]
    40. Grass-fed livestock
    41. Legume and grass forages
    42. Rotational grazing on pastures
    43. Small livestock in moveable pens over beds
    44. Micro-livestock
    45. Confined livestock [not tied in stalls] using cut and carry
    46. Holistic animal health care
    47. Bicycle with trailer [units for cargo, passengers, small livestock, etc]
    48. Imitate nature. Most farmers fight nature. ¡Nature always win!

    Ken Hargesheimer

    When Soil is Tilled
    Dr. Elaine Ingham, describes an undisturbed grassland—where a wide diversity of plants grow, their roots mingling with a wide diversity of soil organisms—and how it changes when it is plowed.
    A typical teaspoon of native grassland soil contains between 600 million and 800 million individual bacteria that are members of perhaps 10,000 species. Several miles of fungi are in that teaspoon of soil, as well as 10,000 individual protozoa. There are 20 to 30 beneficial nematodes from as many as 100 species. Root-feeding nematodes are quite scarce in truly healthy soils. They are present, but in numbers so low that it is rare to find them.

    After only one tilling, a few species of bacteria and fungi disappear because the food they need is no longer put back in the system. But for the most part, all the suppressive organisms, all the nutrient cyclers, all the decomposers, all the soil organisms that rebuild good soil structure are still present and trying to do their jobs.

    But tillage continues to deplete soil organic matter and kill fungi. The larger predators are crushed, their homes destroyed. The bacteria go through a bloom and blow off huge amounts of that savings-account organic matter. With continued tillage, the “police-men” (organisms) that compete with and inhibit disease are lost. The “architects” that build soil aggregates are lost. So are the “engineers”—the larger organisms that design and form the larger pores in soil. The predators that keep bacteria, fungi, and root-feeding organisms in check are lost. Disease suppression declines, soil structure erodes, and water infiltration decreases because mineral crusts form. Dr. Elaine Ingham, BioCycle, December 1998. (From ATTRA News, July 06)

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