First help the local people to decent food

Photo credit: WVC 1997

Photo taken at the start of the community garden photographed 12 years later by Willemien (see photo of 2009-02 in Niou). At the first training session, the local women learn how to apply the soil conditioner TerraCottem.

Do hungry people need trees or a garden?

by Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem – University of Ghent (Belgium)

Four years ago, a friend has sent a message, in which a short paragraph got my special attention:

The …………………… (name) Movement started a project in the Senegal many years ago. I participated in the information campaign. The field workers planted about 20.000 Acacia trees. Visiting the project one year later they saw that all the little trees dried out.  The local people answered that they had not enough water for the trees; they used it for their cows and goats.  But how could we plant 20.000 trees with …………. (name of a technology)?  It would be too expensive!

Here is my reply to him:

Dear Friend, You are completely right.  All those big projects are doomed to be unsuccessful, simply because a number of limiting factors (like water) will always hinder the achievement of the goals.

Instead of spending all the good money at reforestation without taking care of the hunger and poverty of the local people, foreign aid should concentrate on agro-forestry, creating small family gardens and surround these with fruit trees (these are TREES too).

Photo credit: Willemien Maastricht
Photo credit: Willemien Committee Maastricht-Niou

2009-02 – Burkina Faso, Niou village, Jardin des Femmes: community garden combined with mango trees, created in 1997 by the Belgium TC-Dialogue Foundation in cooperation with the Committee Maastricht-Niou for the local village women’s association Gueswende.

We should not look first at economic return on our investment, e.g. planting trees and shrubs for biofuel, but first of all eliminate hunger and diseases in a region, which is a conditio sine qua non to count on the collaboration of the local population at bigger reforestation projects in the future.

How can we ever justify that we ‘help‘ the local people if our main objective is to gain ‘something’ for ourselves?

For me, there is only one solution: first help the local people to decent food and then see how they can really help us to create return on investment.

Photo credit: Willemien Committee Masstricht-Niou
Photo credit: Willemien Committee Masstricht-Niou

2009-02 Burkina Faso: Jardin Kabouda, a community garden created with the support of the Committee Maastricht-Niou. A splendid example of combating hunger, child malnutrition and poverty.

Unfortunately, it has been and still is always business as usual, even for some international organizations, surviving thanks to the unsolved problems like hunger, child malnutrition and poverty, for which billions of dollars are repeatedly collected, without changing much at the grassroot level.

I get tears in my eyes, thinking at all those poor people out there, seeing how billions are spent year after year at what is called combating the problems.

Hunger, child malnutrition and poverty should be combated in the field itself, at the grassroot level, by offering people a chance to grow their own fresh food and fruits in a private family (kitchen) garden or in a community garden (see photos above).

We will never win that war if we continue to ship only food (the ammunition) to the frontline, not the necessary weapons (a fence, fertilizers, seeds, …) to create small gardens, the ideal platform for self-sufficiency.

For sure: victory can be ours!  Let us make the right strategic move.

 

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

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