India : Kitchen gardens and fruit tree afforestation to combat drought, desertification and poverty (SCAD)

On all continents success stories in the combat of desertification have been booked in different fields of soil management and conditioning, water conservation, harvesting and management, plant production in agriculture and horticulture, afforestation and reforestation. Mitigation of drought, combat of desertification and alleviation of poverty are the main battlefields of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Excellent practices for achieving the Millennium Development Goals have been described. The best of these practices should now be applied at the largest scale in order to “attack” those problems in the most efficient way.

In cooperation with SCAD (Social Change and Development), an Indian NGO in Tamil Nadu (South India), trials on kitchen gardens and afforestation with fruit trees have been set up in January 2008. The main objectives of these trials are :

  • To show that drought and desertification can successfully be combated with the soil conditioning TerraCottem-method.
  • To show that productive kitchen gardens can be installed on poor soils.
  • To show that massive production of vegetables with a minimum of irrigation water and fertilizer is possible.
  • To show that afforestation with fruit trees in the drylands is possible without excessive irrigation.
  • To organize workshops for the local farmers on these technologies and techniques .
  • To organize training sessions for the local Women’s Self Help Groups (SHG).

Thanks to initiatives taken at the level of Rotary Antwerp (Belgium) and Rotary Duisburg (Germany), Dr. Stany PAUWELS and his wife Kiki have conducted a Belgian group of 20 to SCAD Headquarters in Cheranmahadevi in January 2008.

A donation of 500 kg TerraCottem soil conditioner and 40 kg of seeds, collected in Belgium and The Netherlands with the action “Zaden voor Leven – Seeds for Life” (, enabled the setting up of trials at the Agricultural Center SCAD-KVK and at the SCAD headquarters.

More trials and a workshop for farmers were organized by SCAD.

SCAD Engineers and Administrators, under the able leadership of Dr. Cletus BABU, President of SCAD, and his wife Amali, produced the following report on the results of this project in February – June 2008. Interesting observations have already been made.

All people concerned are now looking forward for interesting conclusions of these trials. They will certainly contribute to the sustainable development of the farmers and the many Women’s Self Help Groups, living in the drylands of Tamil Nadu.

Kitchen gardens and orchards with different species of fruit trees are very promising tools in the combat of drought, desertification and poverty.

SCAD’s illustrated report on the trials

Observations in January-February 2008

S.No : 10
Photo Numbers : DSCN 6770 , 6773
Date : January-February 2008
Place : SCAD-KVK
Type of Activity : Trial Kitchen garden / Trial on individual plant pits
Beneficiaries : Farmers & Self Help Groups (SHG)
Plants & observations :

SCAD-KVK – near the school premises (February 2008)

Part 1 : Kitchen garden – The sweet pepper seeds from Belgium, sown in the beds on 12.1.08 took 4 days to germinate. Now the seedlings are 12-15cm height. As instructed by Prof. Van Cotthem, the watering schedule is going on in the control bed as well as in the TerraCottem (TC)-treated bed. In general, the seedlings are healthy and vigorous. We are planning to do the thinning operation once the seedlings attain 25-30 cm height.

2008-02 : India/Tamil Nadu/SCAD-KVK – Sweet pepper trial. Left : TC-treated bed. Right : Control bed (extreme right : TC-trial on individual pits, see below).

2008-02 : India/Tamil Nadu/SCAD-KVK – Sweet pepper trial.

Part 2 : TC-treatment of individual pits
– In the pits, except papaya, all other 3 seeds have germinated well and till date (9.2.08) there is no sign of the papaya germination. Though plants are healthy and vigorous, a minor leaf pest attack has been noticed. In the watermelon, crinkling of leaves has been noticed. To control the above said two things, we are planning to give 2% neem oil spray or 1% neem seed kernel extract spray in the coming weeks.

2008-02 : India/Tamil Nadu/SCAD-KVK – Kitchen garden – Trial on TC-treatment in individual pits (melon, watermelon, pumpkin, papaya).

2008-02 : India/Tamil Nadu/SCAD-KVK – Kitchen garden – Trial on TC-treatment in individual pits – Musk melon : 1st row TC-treated – 2nd row control.

Part 3 : Avocado trial in the garden land

The avocado seeds sown in the pits are not yet germinated. It seems that the seeds may take one more week to emerge.

Part 4 : Cheranmahadevi site

The lentil seeds sown in the beds have germinated well and it took just 3 days to emerge. All the seedlings sown on lines are healthy and the seedlings are 15cm high. Here also, there is no sign of germination of avocado seeds yet.

Part 5 : Other activities

After the discussion with Mr.G.Nagarajan, Project Leader, it has been decided to conduct a field trial in 30 kitchen gardens and 20 community garden with TC (one centiare each).

A detailed on campus training has been planned to our field level animators who are in touch with the rural people continuously, to train them on TC.

We have also planned to promote the TC among the farmers in the ensuing months after conducting a thorough field survey both in the wetland and in the dry garden land.


Observations in March – April 2008

S.No : 11
Photo Numbers : TCI, TCII
Date : April 2008
Place : SCAD-KVK
Type of Activity : Trial kitchen garden – Trial individual plant pits
Beneficiaries : Farmers – SHG
Plants & observations :

Part 1 : Sweet Pepper trial

We had received heavy rains in the last 15 days which is very unusual for this part of the year in this region. In these heavy rains the beautiful sweet pepper plants could not withstand and started wilting. In this also we could appreciate the ability of the TC-treated plant in withstanding the damping effect which is visible in the pictures.

2008-04 : India/Tamil Nadu/SCAD-KVK – Kitchen garden beds after the exceptional heavy rains.

Part 2 : Watermelon trial in individual pits

The water melon seeds germinated well but its branches were not growing beyond 2 feet before flowering resulted in poor or no fruit setting . May be the seed variety from Belgium that has been planted was not suitable for our climatic conditions.

Part 3 : Avocado Trial (
Persea americana Mill.)

Out of the 40 seeds sown in both control and treated only 4 seeds germinated yet and they are in 4 to 6 leaf stage at present. So far, these seeds were given frequent irrigation and they need to be observed in the ensuing summer for the effect of the TC.

2008-04 : India/Tamil Nadu/SCAD-KVK – Kitchen garden – Trial on TC-treatment in individual pits – Avocado seeds

Arrangements for field trials

To conduct field trials in kitchen garden and tree planting in villages, at present the training programmes are going on and our field staff are discussing with the Self Help Group members for identifying the persons who are interested to take part in the microcredit programme involving Terracottem.

Compiled and reported by

Dr. V. Srinivasan (Director) and P. Velmurugan (Engineer)


Part 4 : Cheranmahadevi site

* All the celery seeds sown with Terracottem germinated vigorously and all plants were good. Before harvesting unprecedented rain received during Feb-March months at Cheranmahadevi, which is unusual in our part, completely damaged the crops. The left-over plants were pulled out and used for making nice curry.

Comment Willem : Excellent news showing that TC had its beneficial effect on celery growth.

* The pumkin seeds sown in the pits also germinated well and at the time of flowering, the rain received there spoiled the crops completely.

Comment Willem : What a pity ! There must be more seeds available to set up a new trial.

* Besides rain, mosaic virus symptoms were also noticed, which stopped the plants to attain their full vigour and growth.

* The almond seeds sown in the pits with Terracottem failed to germinate. After 47 days only two seeds germinated and we are continuously monitoring the growth of the trees

Comment Willem : This may show that almond can not be used in Tamil Nadu

* After the harvest of celery we have planted beets in the same plot and the plants are healthy now.


S.No : 1
Photo Numbers : DSCN 6977, 6978, 6997
Date : 15.03.2008
Place : FX Engineering College / World Women’s Day Function
Type of Activity : Exhibition stall arranged by SCAD-KVK
Beneficiaries : Women Self Help Group (SHG) of SCAD, Students & Lecturers from FX Engineering College
Plants & observations : Exhibited the Terracottem (TC) with demo to 20,000 SHG members

2008-03-15 : Franciscus Xaverius Engineering College / World Women’s Day Function – SCAD-KVK Exhibition stall.


S.No : 6
Photo Numbers : DSCN 7320, 7321, 7324, 7325
Date : 16.04.2008
Place : SCAD-KVK conference Hall with Farmers club
Type of Activity : On campus training on TerraCottem (TC) to the farmers and members from Farmers Club
Beneficiaries : Farmer families, Farmers Club
Plants & observations : TC supplied to the farmers at the end of the training session

2008-04-16 : SCAD-KVK Conference Hall – Workshop with Farmers club – On campus training on TerraCottem (TC) and distribution of bags with TC.


Observations in May-June 2008

S.No : 2
Photo Numbers : DSCN 7225, 7227, 7229, 7230, 7232
Date : 03.05.2008
Place : SCAD-KVK – Behind the main building
Type of Activity : Trial Plot, Kitchen Garden with and without TerraCottem (TC)
Beneficiaries : Farmers, SHG members
Plants & observations : Bhendi and cluster beans were sown. Photos were taken at the time of TC-application.

2008-05 : India/Tamil Nadu/SCAD-KVK – Kitchen garden – Preparation of kitchen garden with TC-treatment .


S.No : 3
Photo Numbers : DSCN 7540, 7541
Date : 02.06.2008
Place : SCAD-KVK – Behind the main building
Type of Activity : Trial Plot, Kitchen Garden with and without TC
Beneficiaries : Farmers, SHG members
Plants & observations : One month old Bhendi and Cluster Bean seedlings sown in the same area.

2008-06 : India/Tamil Nadu/SCAD-KVK – Kitchen garden – Remarkable difference between TC-treated beans (background) and control plants.


S.No : 4
Photo Numbers : DSCN 7542, 7543
Date : 06.06.2008
Place : SCAD-KVK – Building left side
Type of Activity : Kitchen Garden Trial plots with TC
Beneficiaries : Farmers, SHG members
Plants & observations : To show the merits of TC to the beneficiaries. These trial plots are established at KVK. The plants are 20 days old now.

2008-06 : India/Tamil Nadu/SCAD-KVK – Kitchen garden – The effect of TC-treatment becomes visible after a couple of weeks.


S.No : 5
Photo Numbers : DSCN 6811, 6813, 6814, 6816, 6817
Date : 06.06.2008
Place : SCAD-KVK – near the Guest house
Type of Activity : Pits taken to sow Jamun trees in the pits with TC
Beneficiaries : Farmers, SHG members
Plants & observations : Pits were filled with TC as per the instruction given by Prof. Van Cotthem. Saplings are 45 cm height now.

2008-06 : India/Tamil Nadu/SCAD-KVK – Trial to show the effect of TC-treatment on seeds of the Jamun tree (Syzygium cumini L. or Eugenia jambolana), sown in the pits.

S.No : 7
Photo Numbers : DSCN 7492, 7493, 7494, 7496, 7497, 7498
Date : 05.06.2008
Place : Sawyerpuram
Type of Activity : Kitchen Garden
Beneficiaries : Mr. Rajkumar
Plants & observations : Area 400 Sqm, crops, Bhendi, Cluster Bean, Radish & Gourds

2008-06 : India/Tamil Nadu/SCAD – Sawyerpuram : Preparation of kitchen garden with TC-treatment.


S.No : 8
Photo Numbers : DSCN 7501, 7502, 7503, 7504
Date : 07.06.2008
Place : Umarikottai
Type of Activity : Kitchen Garden
Beneficiaries : Mr. Velu
Plants & observations : Gourds, Radish, Amaranthus greens and Drumstick

2008-06 : India/Tamil Nadu/SCAD – Umarikottai : Preparation of kitchen garden with TC-treatment.


S.No : 9
Photo Numbers : DSCN 7233, 7234
Date : 15.05.2008
Place : SCAD-KVK – Greenhouse
Type of Activity : Germination Test in Protray system
Beneficiaries :
Plants & observations ; Cauliflower, Sugar Beet, Cabbage / seeds received from Belgium

2008-05 : India/Tamil Nadu/SCAD -KVK – Greenhouse : Preparation of trays – Potting soil treated with TC.


(To be continued)

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

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

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