Will they choose best practices to grow their own food or a free cell phone ?


Photocredit: DE STANDAARD Oct.30-Nov.01, 2010

From hunger, via best practices to produce fresh food, to ICT

by Prof. Dr. Willem VAN COTTHEM

(Ghent University, Belgium)


All over the world people are starting container gardening at home to react upon the high food prices and/or, in the drylands, upon the effects of drought and desertification.  Growing vegetables and herbs at home is nowadays so widely spread, that one can only admit that this is one of the best practices to combat hunger and malnutrition.

I therefore wonder what would be the answer of the African, Asian or South African (female) farmers if they would have the choice between a starting kit for container gardening or a cell phone, “the modern ICT challenge for poor farmers at the global level”.

Shall we first invest in ICT or give priority to local production of food for all those hungry families ?  Shall we opt for spending billions in new ICT technologies for malnourished children or shall we first offer them a chance to grow their own vitamins and minerals at school and at home, instead of providing ICT access?

Here are facts, not hopes or speculations: many success stories of container gardening are well known at the universal level, even in the poorest parts of the world, and the best practises are affordable by any poor family. Even for reforestation programmes, like the Great Green Wall in Africa (GGW), production of saplings in containers can lead to successes of survival rate with a minimum of water and thus accelerate the progress of this nice initiative.

Shall the farmers of today get a free cell phone, a free rechargeable battery, never an invoice for the use of their cell phone ?  Or shall they be enabled to pay for it ? To whom ?

Even if “ICT helps in the monitoring of crop growth, utilization of new techniques, field management and harvests” (FAO’s Director General Graziano da Silva, see former posting), priority should be given to the cheapest, but most effective way to create food security for the millions of hungry people on all continents, and that is CONTAINER GARDENING.

I keep wondering where the decision makers are heading to !

At this very moment I receive this message on my Facebook page ‘Container gardening and vertical gardening)::

Something that weighs heavy on my heart… I read all these posts where people in America are dying of starvation and the vast majority are underprivileged children.What makes me just … crazy … is that there are free(ish) resources to help. We could have every single school working on a garden program and giving kids food. We could be legislating that all yards could be, should be gardens. We could be and should be legislating that all of the trees planted for city “beauty” be it parks or just sidewalks, be fruit bearing trees. But how do we go about doing this? I’d so much rather see people picking apples or tomatoes to eat than see them bone skinny and miserable – thinking the only way to get ahead is to lie and steal. Am I the only one that bears this weight?

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

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

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