Container gardening against hunger and child malnutrition (Willem Van Cotthem)

These are some interesting quotes from an article published by Dean FOSDICK for the Associated Press: Container gardens for vegetables are growing in popularity


(1) Two of the hottest trends in gardening are containers and cultivating fresh food, and savvy families are beginning to combine the two. They’re growing their vegetables in pots.

(2) “It’s so easy to put a tomato into a pot. It almost grows itself,” Crawford says. “It’s a whole different ballgame than putting one in the ground. There’s less weeding involved and fewer insects to fight. Container gardens are more productive and involve less work.” (Pamela Crawford, a landscape architect who has written four books about container gardening. Her latest is “Easy Container Combos: Vegetables and Flowers” (Color Garden Publishing, 168 pp., 2010).

(3) “I’ve been able to harvest as many as 236 small spicy peppers all at once from four plants in a 16- to 20-inch container,” Crawford says, referring to habaneros. “I’ve also been able to get my fill of tomatoes from a pot that included a few ornamental sweet potato vines with their large root systems. It’s amazing how little ground space plants need to be productive. They can tolerate being crowded.

(4) “I’ve had good experience with clay pots and plastic pots,” says Joseph Masabni, an assistant professor and horticulturist with Texas A&M University. “If you live in a hot area, I don’t recommend black or dark containers. They can overheat plants. I prefer clay because it breathes if it isn’t coated. (Plant) roots are never starved for oxygen.

(5) Vegetable gardening in containers is also a good way to involve children.

(6) “Older people who are still gardeners at heart but who live in apartments also can grow their fill of vegetables or small fruiting shrubs in pots,” he says.


MY COMMENT (Willem Van Cotthem)

No one denies that container gardening is “an easier ballgame” than growing plants in the ground, particularly in the drylands. There are many advantages in avoiding plant growth in a poor dryland soil by using a better substrate in containers (improved soil without any pests, bigger water retention capacity by limiting evaporation, less weeds, more oxygen, etc). Most people are not aware of the fact that plants can do with limited ground space, even grown in competition with other species in a container.

Not only “savvy families” are beginning to combine container gardening and cultivating fresh food. It is more and more recognized that this type of gardening is a key for combating hunger and child malnutrition.  Indeed, everyone on this globe, in rural areas and in urban ones, can grow his own fresh vegetables and some fruits in all kinds of containers (pots, bottles, boxes, bags…).

Many city dwellers, thinking they are excluded from gardening, will appreciate the reward of vegetable gardening in a condo or apartment.  For them, container gardening can open up a new world of producing their own food.

Clay pots being too expensive for people in developing countries is a wrong argument, sometimes used against container gardening.  There are plenty of plastic pots and bottles, plastic and metal boxes, plastic shopping bags and woven bags everywhere.  One sees them littered all over the world.  So, why not using them for food production?

In Belgium, I am growing continuously plants in bottles and pots, thus reducing irrigation for at least 50 %.  My plants do not need special care: I can leave them for weeks and weeks without “labouring my garden”.  See my blog:

2009-11-08 - Germinating avocado seed in yogurt pot
2010-03 - Simple mini-greenhouse made of a plastic tray and a plastic bag
2007-06-03 - Producing strawberries in a PET-bottle
200-08-13 - Container gardening display (yogurt pots and bottles)

Let us hope that this handful of photos makes it clear that anyone in the developing countries can copy these experiments and multiply the type and number of containers to produce a sufficient quantity of fresh food and seedlings of fruit trees.  This can be done (even by children at school) at almost no cost.

Today, I was reading at the blog of AfricaFiles (Africa InfoServ <>) the article No. 23615:

Africa can feed itself: green revolution takes root”

See also: <>.

Under Summary & Comment I found: “Kofi Annan poses challenges for Africa’s Green Revolution and gives recent examples of success, supported by AGRA. He emphasizes the importance of small-holder farmers and “partnerships”, skips over the controversial issue of GMOs, and encourages the spread of best practices in farming, marketing and finance for agriculture. But first he summarizes the current connections between climate change, water scarcity, poverty and other factors which lead to Africa being currently „the only continent unable to feed itself.” J.Stamp.

I cannot agree more with Mr. Kofi ANNAN, emphasizing the importance of small-holder farmers and encouraging the spread of best practices in farming.  I am profoundly convinced that container gardening is one of these best practices for small-holder farmers, particularly in all areas affected by drought and desertification, be it in rural areas or in the cities.  With this type of gardening there is even no need for drip irrigation!

If “Africa really is the only continent unable to feed itself“, “partnerships” should be encouraged to apply container gardening at the largest possible scale by farmers and citizens, but also by their children at school.  In doing so, Africa will soon be able to feed itself.  Hunger and child malnutrition will be banned forever from that beautiful continent.

Why don’t we set up a large-scale test in one of the areas affected by hunger to show once again what is already known?  Why continuously importing expensive food if every single person can produce it very easily at home? Let us not forget that there is also a certain pride when one knows that one can grow his own fruits and vegetables, not being dependent anymore on food aid from international organizations or NGOs.

That reality is “jumping into our eyes”.  Let us not close them now for that reality!

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

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

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