Hurrah for allotments

In January 2010 I wrote:

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

Benefits of growing your own food in allotment gardens (Sheffield Univ. / Willem Van Cotthem)

Read at : Sheffield Univ. – Environment Division


Producers of ‘home grown’ food can gain psychological and physiological benefits through physical activity and improved nutrition, as well as through self empowerment, engaging with nature, and participating in communal activities. Lack of physical activity and low intake of fruit and vegetables is linked to poor health, but little is known about how the health benefits of physical exercise and fruit and vegetable consumption relate to their environmental setting. Studies of these benefits have often focused on particular social groups such as the elderly or those with mental illness.



The paragraph above describes the major benefits of growing your own food in allotment gardens.  Key words are :

  1. Physiological benefits: physical activity, improved nutrition, improved health
  2. Psychological benefits: self empowerment, engagement with nature, participation in community.

In fact, these benefits also go for family gardens (kitchen gardens), school gardens and hospital gardens.  One can imagine that extraordinary improvement in nutrition and health can be achieved if people in the drylands and in refugee camps would be enabled to grow their own food, be it in allotment gardens or in community gardens.

I remain confident that international aid organizations and NGOs, sooner or later, will set up programmes and projects to install these types of gardens to combat hunger and malnutrition and to assure food security in hostile environments.

Back in 2009: If they do it in Washington, D.C. and Sulphur, LA, why don’t we do it in the drylands ? (Google / GW Hachet)


In September 2009 I wrote:

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


If students of the George Washington University in Washington D.C. can do it in the street “to teach people who and where their food comes from through service learning.“, and people in Sulphur, LA are laying out a community garden, why don’t we construct a vegetable garden for every hungry family in the drylands?  Wouldn’t that be the best investment ever to combat desertification and hunger in this world?

I hope this idea will be picked up by many student organisations and NGOs before the international agencies are taking the initiative to launch a “world programme on vegetable gardens“.

After all, if all over the world the so-called “guerilla gardening“-movement, allotment gardening and community gardening (see some former postings on this blog) shows that people react upon the food crisis by creating their own vegetable gardens at any available open space in the cities, time has come for decision makers to officialise this guerilla movement and multiply the small vegetable gardens at the largest possible scale.

As no special skills are needed, small kitchen gardens can be created everywhere in rural areas, but also in urban environment.

All those in favour, raise your hand (and your voice).

Willem Van Cotthem

‘Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the totality of those acts will be written the history of this generation.’

John F Kennedy


Read at : Google Alert – gardening



Read at : Google Alert – drought

Creative ways to work together and overcome drought.


Photo credit: FoodTank

Farmers in Mozambique are finding creative ways to work together and overcome drought.
Timothy A. Wise

Looking for Food in All the Wrong Places

I spent another week in Mozambique looking for ProSAVANA, the much-touted, much-reviled Japanese-Brazilian-Mozambican agriculture project that has spectacularly failed to turn Mozambique’s savannah-lands in the Nacala Corridor into a giant soybean plantation modeled on Brazil’s Cerrado region. I was there doing follow-up research for a book.

I hadn’t found much evidence of ProSAVANA two years ago (see my previous articles here and here) and I didn’t find much now. Government officials wouldn’t talk about it. Japanese development cooperation representatives spoke only of pathetically small extension services to a few small-scale farmers. Private investors were scarce. Civil society groups debated whether it is worth cooperating in the wholesale redesign of the program.

I wondered why anyone would bother. Like many of the grand schemes hatched in the wake of the 2007-2008 food price spikes, this one was a bust, by any measure. Still, ProSAVANA remains the Mozambican government’s agricultural development strategy for the region. While farmers defend their hard-won land rights, it seems they will have to look elsewhere for agricultural development.

I decided to look elsewhere as well. I didn’t have to go far. I arrived in Marracuene, 45 minutes outside Maputo, just after the rainy-season harvest and as the irrigation-fed winter season was beginning. Marracuene didn’t get much rain or much of a harvest due to the drought that has parched much of southern Africa.

One farmer in the village of BoBole told me he’d earned barely one-quarter what he had the previous year from farm sales, and almost none of that was from maize, the Mozambique staple. Across the region, production is down, prices are up, and hunger is widespread. In Mozambique, 1.5 million people are facing food insecurity, according to UNICEF, with 191,000 children expected to be severely malnourished in the next 12 months.

Diversity the key to surviving drought

In Marracuene, the maize harvest was almost a total bust. Fortunately, the farmers there grow a wide variety of crops, for home consumption and for sale. And they have irrigation, rehabilitated from an old colonial plantation, so they have a second season. I saw healthy crops in the fields – cabbage, carrots, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and cassava.

And I saw young maize plants on what turned out to be the association’s collective plots, the small portion of the community’s 250 acres that this 280-member association agrees to set aside and farm collectively. They work it together every Thursday morning. I watched as women, and a few men, prepared fields, watered new plants, and sprayed for pests.

Read the full article: FoodTank

Agriculture is the sector most vulnerable to the seasonal nature of drought


Photo credit: FAO

With irrigation use becoming more widespread in the Caribbean, countries’ fresh-water supplies will become increasingly important.

Caribbean region must prepare for increased drought due to climate change

Climate change is expected to increase the intensity and frequency of droughts in the Caribbean, so countries in the region must enhance their capabilities to deal with this and other extreme weather-related challenges to ensure food security and hunger eradication, FAO stresses in a new report.

The Caribbean region faces significant challenges in terms of drought, the FAO report said. The region already experiences drought-like events every year,  with low water availability often impacting on agriculture and water resources, and a significant number of bush fires.

The region also experiences intense dry seasons particularly in years when El Niño climate events are present. The impacts of this are usually offset by the next wet season, but wet seasons often end early and dry seasons last longer with the result that annual rainfall is less than expected.

The Caribbean region accounts for seven of the world’s top 36 water-stressed countries, while one of them, Barbados is in the top 10. FAO defines countries like Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Kitts and Nevis as water-scarce with less than 1000 m3 freshwater resources per capita.

“Drought ranks as the single most common cause of severe food shortages in developing countries, so this is a key issue for Caribbean food security”, said Deep Ford, FAO Regional Coordinator in the Caribbean.

The impacts of drought on agriculture and food security

With droughts becoming more seasonal in nature in the Caribbean region, agriculture is the most likely sector to be impacted, with serious economic and social consequences.

This is particularly important since most of Caribbean agriculture is rainfed. With irrigation use becoming more widespread in the region, countries’ fresh-water supply will become an increasingly important resource.

Drought can affect the agriculture sector in several ways, by reducing crop yields and productivity, and causing premature death of livestock and poultry. Even a dry spell of 7-10 days can result in a reduction of yields, and thus negatively affecting the livelihoods of farmers.

Small-scale, family farmers, are particularly vulnerable to drought – low rainfall threatens  rainfed crops  and  low water levels result in increased production costs due to increased irrigation.

Read the full article: FAO

No-till conservation agriculture to become the norm for agriculture development in the future.


Photo credit: CGIAR

Soil compaction and loss in water infiltration ability caused by regular soil tillage leads
to impeded drainage and flooding after a thunderstorm in the ploughed  field (right) with sugar beet, and no flooding in the no-till Conservation Agriculture field (left).
Photo Credit: Wolfgang Sturny

Reversing agricultural land degradation worldwide

Agricultural land degradation and its end result of desertification have been receiving considerable attention by the international community in recent decades. However, the general lack of understanding and awareness about the root causes of land degradation persists, thus the slow progress in reversing the alarming trends of land degradation and land abandonment. Worldwide, empirical and scientific evidence clearly shows that soil degradation in agricultural land use and decreasing productivity are closely related to the prevalence of mechanical soil tillage, the agricultural method of using mouldboard ploughs, disc harrows, tines, rotivators, hoes and other mechanical tools to prepare the field for crop production. The reasons behind these practices are to:

  • prepare a seedbed for crop establishment;
  • control weeds, insect pests and pathogens;
  • aerate the soil and distribute plant nutrients; and
  • facilitate other farm cultural practices.

Generally associated with the term conventional tillage agriculture, these practices contribute over the long term to:

  • destruction of soil structure, loss of soil organic matter, soil biodiversity and soil health;
  • exposed soils and landscapes, surface sealing, decreased water infiltration, increased runoff and soil erosion;
  • disruption of many important soil-mediated ecosystem functions; and
  • loss in productivity, resilience and eventual abandonment of land.

In developing countries, the combination of all these elements is a major driver of food and nutrition insecurity and a host of other related challenges, such as poverty reduction, effective adaptation to climate change, and sustainable and equitable development in general. In industrialized countries, the poor condition of soils and sub-optimal yields due to conventional tillage agriculture are further exacerbated by:

  • over reliance on the application of mineral fertilisers, as the main source of plant nutrients; and
  • reduction or doing away with crop diversity and rotations, including legumes.


Read the full article: CGIAR

A Recipe to Feed the World

Photo credit: FoodTank

A new report by Friends of the Earth examines how we can create a food system that feeds all people, now and into the future.

Dirt, Democracy, and Organic Farming: A Recipe to Feed the World

How many scientists does it take to debunk the myth that we need more food to feed the world? In the past decade, hundreds of scientists and experts have made it clear: Feeding the world is not about increasing how many bushels of grain we can grow, it’s about dirt, democracy, and our diets.

A new report from Friends of the Earth, Farming for the Future, compiles the data and details how we can create a food system that feeds all people, now and into the future.


Scientists estimate that farmers already produce enough food to feed 10 billion people — far more than the current population of roughly 7.3 billion. Still, at least 800 million go hungry every day and many more are undernourished. Why? Because hunger is not caused by a scarcity in food, it’s caused by a scarcity in democracy and unequal access to land, water, credit, and fair markets.

Small farmers are the backbone of world food supply, making up 90 percent of farmers worldwide and providing more than 80 percent of the food consumed in much of the developing world. Increasing their access to resources is fundamental to food security and poverty reduction.


The great plenty of the United States grain belt is not “feeding the world.” It is primarily feeding cars, cows, chickens and pigs; 40 percent of U.S. corn goes to biofuels and another 35 percent is used for animal feed. These trends are replicated globally. Reducing meat consumption in line with standard dietary guidelines could free up land and resources to grow nutritious food directly for people. It could also save up to US$31 trillion globally by reducing healthcare costs and environmental damage associated with livestock production, according to one analysis.

Reducing food waste is also key; one-third of food produced globally is lost to waste, spoilage or left in the field, creating scarcity out of abundance.


To grow food, we need good soil, clean water, abundant pollinators, and a stable climate. Our ability to feed ourselves and future generations depends on healthy ecosystems.

Read the full article: Food Tank