By Prof. Dr. Willem VAN COTTHEM (Ghent University, Belgium)

Nutritional deficiencies in the third world affect the daily life of almost all the poor, mostly hungry people. If one wants to alleviate those deficiencies, recurrent food aid will never be a solution. That’s where kitchen or family gardens get in the picture, not to produce more rather cheap carbohydrates, but to grow vitamin-rich, nutritious vegetables and fruits, generally quite expensive on the local market.

Low-tech kitchen gardens, simple and cheap like the successful, very efficient container gardens of the Urban Farmers Club in The Philippines, do provide the useful supplementary nutrition to poor families and their malnourished children. Moreover, container gardeners are recycling all kinds of discarded containers. They are composting household waste to enrich their potting soil and are reducing the volume of irrigation water by limiting evapotranspiration in containers.

Their kitchen gardens play an important role in their daily life.. They are not just an expensive hobby for poor households. Knowing that almost 1 billion poor people on earth suffer from continuous hunger or malnutrition, taking into account that the trillions of dollars spent every year at food aid are not fundamentally changing the global hunger problems, it sounds almost inacceptable to argue against kitchen gardens with “mixed feelings” about their effectiveness, mentioning problems like costs of gardening “doodads”, extra workload, lack of irrigation water, lack of extra income, wrong choice of vegetables etc.

Ask the thousands of people in The Philippines about the effect of their container garden on the families’ nutrition and you will notice that it is never seen as an expensive hobby, but as a real need to create changes in the structural food deficit issues.


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

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


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