Desertification, Financial Times, Somerset Gardens Trust and Seeds for Food (Willem)

One can combat desertification and alleviate poverty in many different ways. My latest initiative in this field is to collect and recuperate seeds of vegetables and fruits, in order to send these cheap, but extremely valuable “sources of life” to development projects, where people living in difficult circumstances, have only limited ways and means to grow fresh food and fruit trees themselves. Seeds, normally landing in our garbage bins, can make them less dependent on exterior help.

To send seeds to them, also means “to send new life”, for every viable seed contains a living embryo, able to improve people’s life by delivering important vitamins and mineral elements, particularly in drought and desertification affected regions.

My “SEEDS FOR FOOD” action was launched in August 2007 (see


where more details can be found on the English page “Seeds for Food“).

(click to enlarge)

In Joanna CRUDDAS’ article “SEEDS OF HOPE”, published in THE FINANCIAL TIMES

support for my initiative was recommended. This is a significant step forward towards worldwide solidarity between people in developed countries and those in desertified, developing rural and urban areas. My sincere acknowledgement is going to The Financial Times and to Mrs. CRUDDAS for this most appreciated contribution to our good cause.

The message in the Financial Times was clearly understood by Anthony PUGH-THOMAS, Chairman of the Somerset Gardens Trust, who sends the following message :

“The interesting article in yesterday’s FT about allotments has prompted me to propose flagging both the Saving Seeds Project and the Allotments in Siberia project in one of our newsletters – but can you tell me a little more about these projects and do they have a website to which I could refer our members. A mention in the newsletter may not bring forward a large response but I thought that in both cases members might be encouraged to offer seed.
A Pugh-Thomas. Chairman. Somerset Gardens Trust.”

I convey my sincere thanks to Mr. Anthony PUGH-THOMAS for his interest in our seeds project and his promise to flag it in the Trust’s Newsletter. It goes without saying that publication in a newsletter will convince a number of people of the high value of this idea to use seeds to bring life”.

More details on this action are posted on my blog

with a number of contributions in Dutch language, but also with different contributions on the English page : Seeds for Food.

(click to enlarge)

Please pass the good message to all your friends: dry seeds of vegetables and fruits are welcome at my personal address :

Prof. Dr. Willem VAN COTTHEM
Seeds for Food
Beeweg 36

Seeds of Hope and Seeds for Food (J. CRUDDAS / Financial Times / Willem)

My personal initiative to collect and recuperate seeds of “tropical” fruits that are eaten by Europeans has become a considerable success. Here is my general descriptive text on that initiative :

Seeds for Food

Let us ban hunger and poverty from the World




In 2005 I 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”.

A preliminary study of ours gave evidence that we were able to teach families and schools of these refugees (most of them nomads and fishermen), who have lived in those Sahara camps for more than 30 years, how to layout small kitchen gardens. We can also show them how to grow fruits and vegetables with a minimum of water and fertilizers, using a water stocking soil conditioner.

In this part of the Sahara (the area around the city of Tindouf) there are two seasons:

(1) the autumn-winter season (from September till January) in which various vegetables can be grown: lettuce, beetroots, carrots, onions, parsley …

(2) the spring-summer season (from February till August) in which it is too hot for vegetables, but in which they can grow various tropical fruits such as melons, watermelons, pumpkins, peppers, avocados, papayas and eggplants (aubergines).

2008-07 – André ROMBAUT (Ghent, Belgium) in his allotment garden at Slotenkouter (St. Amandsberg), one of the supporters of SEEDS FOR FOOD

The planning and layout of family and school gardens is no major problem, since there is plenty of space. If one uses a soil conditioner that can store irrigation water, a very small amount of water will do to create sufficient moisture in the soil for granting a continuous growth. Unfortunately, there is lack of seeds of tropical fruits and vegetables. Commercial seeds are much too expensive. Vitally important to these people is not to grow special high quality varieties, but to have at their disposal some juicy food in the hottest period of the year, when nothing else is growing in the desert.

Therefore we call on you to show your solidarity with those poverty-stricken refugees or with this poor rural population of India.

We don’t ask you any money

Only send, when it suits you, the seeds you find in the fruits you eat yourself: melons, water melons, pumpkins etc.

Just rinse these seeds in water and dry them on a plate (not on a piece of paper as it would stick to the seeds). As soon as the seeds are thoroughly dried, put them in a paper envelope and put the name of the species on it.

The more we gather seeds the more families we can help.

2008-07 – André DHOOGHE inspecting his fine allotment garden in the Slotenkouter Park (St. Amandsberg, Belgium).

One thing we know for sure: this project can turn out to be a world initiative, since we, citizens of the developed countries, young or old, (grand)parents, children and grandchildren, we can work together. However small your contribution, however small the parcel of grains you send us, we can assure you that it will contribute to improve the standard of living of the poor, since YOUR SEEDS GET TO THE PEOPLE without any go-between.

This way we will contribute together to fight hunger and poverty in the world.


Friends of the Belgian Allotment Gardens Association are contributing splendidly to this action. They collect a lot of seeds of vegetables and fruits. They even introduced my action to the International Allotment Gardens Association.

Recently, journalist Joanna CRUDDAS contacted me for more detailed information in order to incorporate it in an article to be published in the FINANCIAL TIMES.

Yesterday, August 16, 2008, Joanna CRUDDAS’ article “Seeds of Hope” was published. Please enjoy reading her excellent story :


Seeds of hope

By Joanna Cruddas

Published: August 16 2008 03:00 | Last updated: August 16 2008 03:00

I stand in my allotment plot, surrounded by beans, carrots, courgettes, sweet peas and a glut of bolting lettuces. It is just three months since we gathered for the annual blessing of London’s Fulham Palace Meadows Allotments, praying that they would yield a rich harvest in the months to come, that we would be protected from whatever threats might arise from the increasing pressure for the council to find building land in one of the world’s largest cities. “Now thank we all our God,” our hymn-joined voices had rung out. I do thank Him. Amateur gardener as I am, I haven’t had to buy a vegetable in weeks. My home has been filled with flowers I’ve grown.


“We plough the fields and scatter . . . ,” we sang at the service and, as plants are now going to seed, this is the time to respond to a request from Professor Willem Van Cotthem, a Belgium-based botanist and consultant for The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), for allotment holders around the world to collect and scatter their seeds as far as the refugee camps in the Sahara.

The Saving Seeds Project was conceived in 2005 to help set up family and school gardens in refugee camps in south-east Algeria. Van Cotthem’s paper, attached to the 2008 International Allotment Gardener’s Congress agenda, encourages plot-holders to collect their seeds and send them to him for distributing to famine-struck zones. After discovering wild melons growing in the heat of the desert summer, he introduced cultivated ones, then papaya, peppers, avocados, watermelons, aubergines and other tropical plants and they thrived. In winter, vegetables such as beetroot, carrots, onions, parsley and lettuce grow well.

“Rinse the seeds in water, dry them on a plate and once quite dry put them in a paper envelope with the name of the species on it,” he asks. “The more we gather seeds, the more families we can help.” Allotment holders from the UK to Australia, from Japan to the famous Schrebergartens in Germany are the obvious source.


Saving Seeds Project,

Copyright <; The Financial Times Limited 2008


My sincere thanks go to Joanna CRUDDAS and the FINANCIAL TIMES for their valuable support. I hope many people from all over the world will send seeds to show their solidarity with this inexpensive project.


Mongolia : planting trees in the SouthGobi desert (Kh. BILGUUN)

Today, I received a very interesting message from Mr. Khurelbaatar BILGUUN, Environmental Officer Southgobi Sands LLC, a Subsidiary of SouthGobi Energy Resources Ltd.

“I am writing to you from Ovoot coal mine, located at Gurvantes soum of Umnugobi aimag, Mongolia, to tell you about one local herder.

There is one local herder Mr. Davaa who lives 10 km to the southeast of our main camp. He started tree planting activity in 1991-s to make a green shield for his ger and livestock animals.


He used ordinary 20 cm long branches of poplar, willow and some seedlings of elm to create them. Today, it became a little forest and it looks beautiful. It now protects his family and livestock animals from the wind.

Green shield and herder camp

I am an environmental officer here and have some hydro-geological information of these areas (the complete study of which was made by a wellknown western company). All the surface water sources here flow from the underground water table and many springs in this area are relatively stable even in drought years. And this area has many springs in contrary to other desert regions of Mongolia.

Mr. Davaa uses the water and water fed wet lands of the Sukhant spring to create his grove. And this is a desert region. Annual precipitation is 80 mm or less. I saw that his little forest started to help him solve even some firewood problems. That is why, in my opinion, his little forest gave courage to many other local herders in Gurvantes soum to plant trees, who also live near the spring waters.

Inside Mr. DAVAA’s grove

He is still continuing to plant trees, but faces many problems from harsh nature. For example, waterflow of heavy rain washes away his little trees. During last year he lost some ten thousand seedlings… And what Mr. Davaa wants is to make the water management for this area
better, so that he can grow trees without any worries.

When I meet him, he always asks if there are organizations or people able to help the herders and farmers to plant trees, to give advice and, maybe, to support them financially for buying equipment for the work, like water pumps etc.

I am happy to have found your website, because next time when I meet him, I am going to tell him that I sent this letter to many good people.

Wish you all good luck.


Bilguun Khurelbaatar
|Environmental Officer|Southgobi sands LLC|
|A Subsidiary of SouthGobi Energy Resources Ltd.|
|| “



My sincere thanks go to Kh. BILGUUN for his valuable information.

This is a very nice example of “best practices” to combat desertification. Generally speaking, people think that huge and costly programs are needed to afforestate or reforestate a region. Yet, very simple actions can be extremely successful.

Already in 1996, I had the honour of meeting Mrs. WANG Guoxiang, former Vice-Governor of Dalate County (Inner-Mongolia, P.R. China). Together with the villagers she has been continuously planting trees in the drylands of her county. Nowadays, the area is completely green. She became one of the “heroes” of the P.R. China and has been invited a couple of times to address the Conference of the Parties of the UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification). A remarkable lady, indeed, who, with almost no means, has afforestated an impressive area.

Here, Mr. DAVAA’s is visibly on the same way to achieve wonderful things for the environment in Mongolia. He deserves to be helped in his efforts. Within the limits of my personal possibilities, I want to help him. I will see with Kh. BILGUUN what we can do to carry these valuable actions forward.

But I am sure that other people with a lot of field experience can contribute to such a “small scale” project. Who will join us ? Please let us know !

Lebanon : combating desertification with an agro-forestry project (Makhzoumi Foundation / Willem)

The Lebanese Makhzoumi Foundation, the Greek NGOs INARE and KEDE and the former Belgian NGO TC-Dialogue Foundation have set up in 2001 an interesting agro-forestry project in Northern Lebanon with the financial support of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A well-structured tree nursery was constructed in Akkar (N. Lebanon).

Nowadays, thanks to the endeavour of the Makhzoumi Foundation, trees and other plant species are still produced in this main nursery and transported to smaller village nurseries and school nurseries. From there, the agro-forestry project is carried out by villagers and school children.

It is a successful way to contribute to the reforestation, afforestation and the combat of desertification in Lebanon. The Makhzoumi Foundation is fully committed with the actual and future activities of this project.

2003-05 : Thousands of tree seedlings under a fine shelter in Akkar (N. Lebanon)

Mrs. May MAKHZOUMI has sent a summary of their last report on the project:

Tree planting

A total of 6500 trees were planted from April-08 till June-08. Numbers and species of plants planted:

Mesembryanthemum : 3000
Lamprathus : 2000
Acacia : 1500
Total : 6500

Tree distribution

A total of 7000 plants were distributed from April 08- till June 08;

Number of distributed plants among 5 Mohafazats

South Lebanon : 200 = 3 %
Bekaa : 300 = 4 %
North Lebanon : 500 = 7 %
Beirut : 6000 = 86 %


Tree Planting in cooperation with schools

Two tree-planting activities in Damour (April 8th) and Rechmaya (June 6th) took place in cooperation with two schools: Lebanese International School (LIS) and Zahiya Kaddoura Public School-Beirut respectively. A total of 800 trees from the Akkar nursery were offered and “Thank you Letters” were received from both schools.


2003-05 : Plantation of Leucaena leucocephala trees in Tripoli. Seedlings were produced in the Akkar nursery.

For more detailed information on this interesting project, please contact Mrs. May MAKHZOUMI at :

May Makhzoumi <>

Vertical gardening in containers against urban desertification (J. HOGAN-DONALDSON / LA Times / Willem)

Message from Jazmine Hogan-Donaldson :

Many thanks for your Desertification blog. Last year I volunteered in Burkina Faso for Helen Keller International. I’m always looking for news about Burkina and came across your blog from a Google search. I saw the following article in today’s Los Angeles Times and thought you might find it of some interest:,0,872568.story

Best regards,


Food garden blooms on skid row wall

Fruits, vegetables and herbs tended by formerly homeless residents cover urban gray.

By Cara Mia DiMassa, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 14, 2008


Very interesting article in the LA Times, showing how important container gardening on city walls can be in these times of food crisis, particularly for people living in difficult circumstances.

Combating hunger, offering ways of improving public health, alleviating poverty, combating urban desertification with vertical gardening in containers, it is simple and efficient.

Some people find solutions in “guerilla gardening”, a descriptive term with rather negative connotations, although it carries a lot of positive elements in its objectives.

Growing vegetables in containers on a grid against a wall opens new doors : food production in our cities, embellishment of our neighborhood, creation of a team spirit, …

This Los Angeles example should be followed and multiplied in many other towns and cities. Why shouldn’t it be adopted by the “Green Movement”, the “Ecologists”, the supporters of “Biological Gardening”, etc.

I feel like a fan for this idea. Thanks, Jazmine, for informing me !


Unusual container gardening : Young walnut tree growing in a PET bottle of which the lower part is used as a water tank, the inversed upper part as a substrate (with potting soil). This is a water saving device (less evaporation and top of soil can be covered with a mulch layer, e.g. sand or little stones). The same “bottle gardening” is used for vegetable production (see bottles in the background standing against the black wall of my birds cage). More info on bottle gardening against a vertical wall can be found on my second blog :


Value of Indian organic fertilizer confirmed (Willem)

In June and July 2008 I had the pleasure of posting a couple of very positive messages on this blog :

“My Indian correspondent Yogesh PATEL has sent a sample of an Indian organic fertilizer. My friends of the Allotment Gardens Park Slotenkouter in B9040 ST. AMANDSBERG (GENT, Belgium) have set up a number of small trials in which it was clearly shown that this organic fertilizer has a very positive effect on plant growth (vegetables and flowers). Here are a number of pictures taken today, June 19th, 2008. One can compare with earlier postings on this blog and on (French) (Dutch, with chapters in different languages).”

Today, I can confirm all the good news about that Indian organic fertilizer. Please have a look at the pictures below, taken on August 9th, 2008 and read some interesting comments made by the Belgian gardeners:

2008-08 : Gardener Gino PAUWELS proudly showing the effect of the Indian fertilizer on his Brussels sprouts. Left : 1 dosage, Center : 2 dosages, Right : control (no fertilizer). (Click on the pictures to enlarge them).

Left : Front view, Right : Back view

2008-08 : Two tomato varieties in the allotment garden of Eddy CLAEYS. Left : a variety with big tomatoes (control, 1 dosage, 2 dosages of fertilizer), showing the stimulating effect on leaf biomass – Right : a variety of Cherry tomatoes (1 dosage, 2 dosages, control died).

2008-08 : Left : 1 dosage of fertilizer : excellent production of cherry tomatoes – Right : 2 dosages of fertilizer : probably nitrogen dosage too high, stimulating leaf formation.

2008-08 : 1 dosage of fertilizer stimulates growth of pumpkin in Eddy CLAEYS’ garden.

2008-08 : Eddy CLAEYS also applied the fertilizer on different species of cabbage with significant success. Right : cauliflower. (Click on the images to enlarge them).

On June 21st, 2008, Edward VUEGHS showed the remarkable difference in outgrowth of his young carrots, the Indian organic fertilizer clearly stimulating the seedling development.

One and a half month later, when starting to harvest the carrots, he notice that there was no big difference between the carrots with 2 and 1 dosage of fertilizer and the control ones. Seemingly, the high nitrogen dosage of the fertilizer is very favorable for leaf production of the young carrots.

2008-08 : Allotment garden of Anne-Marie REGNIERS : Significant difference in outgrowth of French dwarf beans. (Click on the pictures to enlarge them).

2008-08 : Anne-Marie REGNIERS’ sweet peppers show the positive effect of the fertilizer. Foreground : 2 dosages, Center : 1 dosage, Background : control (no fertilizer).

back in 2008-07 : Edward VUEGHS and André ROMBAUT showing the significant difference in growth of young beans. Foreground : 1 dosage of fertilizer, Background : 2 dosages.

Today, André ROMBAUT harvested the beans and found a very positive effect of the fertilizer on pod production :

1 dosage of fertilizer : 4 kg of pods
2 dosages of fertilizer : 6 kg of pods.

Only one gardener (André DHOOGHE), who has applied the fertilizer on leek (Allium porrum L.), did not see any difference between the treated and the untreated plants. We will wait to see the full development towards the end of 2008.

It goes without saying that all gardeners, participating in this trial, have a positive impression on the value of this Indian organic fertilizer. It can certainly be recommendas an amendment for soils with a low organic of nitrogen content.

id21NRNews, Number 50, July 2008 (id / IISD)

Read at : <>

*** id21NRNews, Number 50, July 2008 ***

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