Which way would you go to stop an unfolding food crisis for children ? (Willem Van Cotthem)

Did you read my former posting on this blog ?

UNICEF CHIEF URGES ACTION TO STOP UNFOLDING CRISIS FOR CHILDREN IN THE SAHEL.

Yes?  Then you know that UNICEF’s Executive Director Anthony Lake “called today on the global community to take action to prevent one million children in the Sahel region of West and Central Africa from becoming severely malnourished.

He said : “We must begin at once to fill the pipeline with life-sustaining supplies to the region before it is too late.” and “underscored the urgency to act before the ‘lean season’ when food runs out due to inadequate rain or poor harvests, which can start as early as March in some of the countries across the Sahelian belt.

I fully agree that UNICEF and its partners must be prepared to get sufficient amounts of ready-to-use therapeutic foods to treat severe acute malnutrition.  I also agree that “each child has the right to survive, to thrive and to contribute to their societies.

Indeed, “we must not fail them” !

Nice children in the Sahara desert getting healthier food with vitamins and micronutrients thanks to UNICEF’s family gardens (Photo WVC)

However, the real question is if the best way of solving the problem of child malnutrition is getting sufficient therapeutic foods to intervene when the need increases.

Or, could it be that a well-prepared programme of vegetable and fruit production by the Sahelian families themselves is a better cure ?

One may doubt about the feasibility of such a programme, but knowing that UNICEF itself was successful with its own “Family gardens project for the Sahrawis families in the Sahara desert of Algeria“, there can not be any doubt anymore.  If family gardens, school gardens and hospital gardens can be productive in the desert, they can certainly be in the Sahel, where a better rainfall offers more chances to use the minimum of water needed.

Many families in the Sahara desert avoid malnutrition of their children by producing fresh vegetables and fruits in their small UNICEF garden (Photo WVC)

It should not be extremely difficult to accept that it is better to produce fresh food and fruits for the children in the threatened countries of the Sahel (like everywhere on this world !) than to have to spend billions of dollars at purchasing therapeutic foods for children already malnourished.

Yes, “we must not fail them“, and we will surely not fail them by offering them chances to take care of their own family gardens and school gardens.

There are in the drylands tenthousands of successful small gardens.  We have the necessary knowledge and technical skills to duplicate these “best practices” wherever we want, even in the desert.  Who would still hesitate to take initiatives to gradually “submerge” the Sahel with small family gardens and school gardens ?

If there is a pipeline to be filled, it should be filled with the necessary materials to create family gardens and school gardens.

Shall we continue to appeal on “solidarity” for raising billions of dollars for responding to the successive crisis periods in the drylands ?  Or shall we, once and for all, spend a minor part of that money on enabling sustainable food production by the local people themselves ?

You Madame, you Sir, which way would you go ?

Do I still have to confirm that I admire the nice work of UNICEF for children in real need ?

UNICEF ALGERIA representative Raymond JANSSENS, tool in hand, visiting one of the family gardens in the Sahara desert.  Wherever a kitchen garden flourishes, there is no more child malnutrition ! (S.W. Algeria) – (Photo WVC)

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

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