Managing groundwater – Gestion de la nappe aquifère


Le nombre de forages construits dans des régions arides grandit continuellement et provoque une baisse considérable de la nappe aquifère. Il est donc nécessaire d’appliquer une gestion efficace de cette nappe afin de ne pas créer des grands problèmes de tout genre. Nous recommendons donc de se concentrer aussi sur la collecte de l’eau de pluie et sur le stockage de la pluie dans la zone de l’enracinement des plantes (20-30 cm), p.ex. avec le conditionneur de sol TerraCottem.


I have been reading an interesting article on “Managing groundwater for dry season irrigation”, written by I.M. FAISAL, S. PARVEEN and M.R. KABIR ( Should you look for the full text, please find it in “id21 natural resources highlights – water – 2006“, an annual publication of the Institute of Development Studies – University of Sussex, Brighton, UK ( to which you can easily subscribe.

The article mentioned above tells us first:

Using groundwater for dry season irrigation has been the preferred strategy of the Bangladesh govenment for many years. For example, the privatisation of irrigation in the 1990s led to huge growth in the number of shallow tube-wells. However, groundwater must be managed carefully: there is not enough information available on national groundwater resources to understand or predict long-term environmental impacts of continued use“.

Having noticed myself the dramatic fall of the groundwater level over the years 1975-2005 in many African Sahel countries, I could not agree more with the statement above. Most probably, this fall is not only caused by the well-known continuous drought in that region, but also to the ever growing number of wells and pumps. It would be wise to ring the alarm bell for any proliferation of the well-intended “humanitarian” projects to drill more and deeper wells to “bring water to people and animals“. On the contrary, it would be wiser to take better care of water harvesting and to look for more efficient water use, like these authors say.

The authors also tell us: “Most water projects in Bangladesh have a narrow focus, such as flood control, drainage or irrigation. Social, economic and environmental factors are largely ignored and there is little monitoring or evaluation. The Barind Multipurpose Development Project (BMDP) consciously tries to overcome these problems to meet the challenges of creating the physical and social infrastructure necessary for groundwater irrigation in a semi-arid area. For example, the project encourages maximum use of carefully spaced deep tube-wells (DTWs), which minimises water wastage.


The BMDP also constantly monitors quality and quantity of groundwater and aquifer levels. Thousands of poorly maintained rainwater collection tanks have been renovated.


Several positive features of this approach are mentioned:

° Water use groups, consisting of users from many different social groups and institutions, give feedback to BMDP managers to improve project performance.



° A large reforestation campaign and distribution of medicinal plant seedlings are examples of the project’s environmental improvement activities.

According to the authors several problems are encountered, the most significant being when hand wells, used to collect drinking water, began to dry up in DTW target areas. It has highlighted a need to integrate the planning of irrigation projects with drinking water supplies. This phenomenon is also widespread in semi-arid areas in Africa, and probably on other continents too.

It brings me to the following question:

Why are many people so careless about water harvesting and water stockage in the soil?

Rainwater that comes free from the sky runs off, infiltrates deep or evaporates without any human action to stop this. Oh yes, we will construct dams (or even little dikes – diguettes) and we will install expensive tube-wells and pumps. In other words, first we do nothing and then we spend a lot of energy (and money) to bring the water back where it belongs, i.e. in the rooting zone of the cultivated fields.

It would be more logic and more efficient to collect that free rainwater mechanically (in drums or bigger reservoirs/tanks) or chemically (with water stocking substances that can easily be mixed with the soil, let us say 20-30 cm/ 1 foot deep).

Ever heard about the TerraCottem soil conditioner developed at my laboratory at the University of Ghent, Belgium? Please have a look at the website and learn something about efficient use of rainwater.

Smara sans TC
Vegetable garden in the Sahara desert (Smara refugee camp, Algeria). Soil is pure desert sand without any amendment. Drip irrigation every day. Very poor production.

Jardin de légumes au Sahara (camp des réfugiés à Smara, Algérie). Le sol est du sable du désert pur sans aucun amendement. Irrigation goutte-à-goutte tous les jours. Production très pauvre.

Smara with TC
Neighbour’s garden in the same Smara refugee camp. Desert sand mixed with 50 g of TerraCottem soil conditioner/25 cm deep. Drip irrigation every two days. Magnificent production.

Le jardin du voisin dans le même camp de Smara. Sable du désert mélangé avec 50 g de conditionneur de sol TerraCottem/25 cm de profondeur. Irrigation goutte-à-goutte tous les 2 jours. Production magnifique.

Instead of letting all the rainwater become groundwater, let us use it for keeping our fields moistened for a longer period. And don’t miss that important information: TerraCottem soil conditioner is only applied one single time ! It stays active in the soil for many years.

You don’t believe it? Give it a try !

Communicating international development research (id21): Forestry

Natural Resource Highlights” are published annually by id21, which is hosted by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) of the University of Sussex in Brighton, BN1 9RE (UK). It is supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

id21 publishes these highlights on agriculture, conservation, fisheries, forestry, land, rural livelihoods and water. On the website you will find the full range of over 2000 research highlights.

I read the 2006 issues on all the above fields of interest and found very interesting contributions:


1. Tribal rights and conservation practice in India’s forests.
2. Does the privatisation help poor people?
3. Forest trade in the Asia-Pacific region.
4. Community forestry in Nepal: are poor people winners or losers.
5. Supporting community forest management in Lao PDR.
6. From poachers to tour guides: a forest management story.

A number of useful websites are mentioned. These offer new possibilities for collecting information:

Continue reading “Communicating international development research (id21): Forestry”

Nourriture et reboisement – Food and reforestation


In his comment on my former post about school gardens Dr. Mohamed Saadi says that reforestation is more important than constructing some scattered school gardens. As almost all countries have suffered from deforestation during the last decades, I agree fully that reforestation is very important. However, I am convinced that in desertied areas reforestation and food production are equally important in the combat of desertification. They can easily be combined in a school garden project, aiming at food production for the school kitchen, combined with the creation of a school nursery for production of young trees to be planted by the children. Every National Ministry of Education, cooperating with international agencies like UNICEF, WFP or FAO, could easily set up an interesting program to involve all schools in the creation of a school garden and a tree nursery. A National Tree Planting Day could certainly help. It seems to me that this is the best way to motivate all youngsters of a country to contribute to the improvement of their living conditions and the ecological situation of the nation.


La désertification rampante et la pollution est la conséquence de la méconnaissance du milieu dans lequel nous vivons. L’irresponsabilité des structures chargées de l’urbanisation principalement ont grandement contribué à la désertification de la bande Nord de l’Algérie, bande de 80 km environ du littoral vers la chaîne de l’Atlas Tellien. Une des solutions est un reboisement ” à outrance “, planifié et efficace qui tend à réconcilier l’homme et son environnement. L’école et l’enfant constituent un passage obligé pour reconstituer ce que nous avons détruit et replanter ce que nous avons défriché.

Je pense que plus important que quelques jardins parsemés par-ci par-là est que nous lançons un projet (par exemple à Boumerdès où, dès qu’un enfant naisse, ses parents plantent un arbre. Ainsi je propose un projet sous l’égide de l’Unicef en coordination avec une association dédiée à ce but, les services des communes, les écoles et la direction des forêts, pour reboiser des zones d’abord urbaines, puis à la lisière des cités.

Je serais prêt à participer à un tel projet.




Comme presque tous les pays ont durement souffert d’un déboisement à outrance pendant les dernières décennies, je suis du même avis que le Dr. Saadi : le reboisement de grandes surfaces est très important pour tous les pays en voie de désertification, même dans les zones humides.

Néanmoins, je suis convaincu que dans les pays désertifiés des zones arides et semi-arides, même sub-humides, le reboisement et la production de nourriture sont d’une importance quasi égale. Pourrions-nous penser que des jeunes avec un estomac presque vide seraient intéressés par un programme de reboisement ? À chaque fois que j’ai proposé un projet de reboisement dans les pays Sahéliens, j’ai eu les mêmes réponses : “Comment produire les efforts pour créer des trous d’implantation d’arbres avec un estomac qui gronde de faim ?” et “Donnez-nous à manger d’abord et nous planterons des arbres par après !”.

Nous avons alors réagi à ces observations pertinentes de la population rurale par le lancement de projets de jardins communautaires, qui réunissaient toutes les femmes d’un village pour la culture maraîchère dans un jardin entouré d’une ceinture d’arbres. Ainsi, la production alimentaire était combinée avec le reboisement. Bien sûr, tout ceci n’était qu’à une toute petite échelle. Mais les résultats excellents auraient dû suffire pour convaincre les autorités à multiplier ces efforts splendides à l’échelle nationale. C’est là que notre lobbying n’a pas connu de succès, car la politique est une chose totalement différente du travail de terrain. Et je ne suis qu’un chercheur qui apporte une solution pour les problèmes de sécheresse et de désertification. C’est aux décideurs de s’en servir à l’échelle nationale ou même internationale. Hélas !

Continue reading “Nourriture et reboisement – Food and reforestation”

“La forêt Algérienne”

Lors de ma dernière mission en Algérie (janvier 2007) dans le cadre du projet UNICEF pour la construction de jardins de famille dans les camps des réfugiés Sahraouis, j’ai visité évidemment mes amis des Services de la Conservation des Forêts à Tindouf.

A cette occasion, M. Abdelmoumène MOUZAOUI m’a remis une quantité de graines d’arganier (Argania spinosa) en vue d’une étude de méthodes pour faciliter la germination. Ces expériences sont actuellement en cours.

Il m’a remis aussi quelques exemplaires d’une revue très intéressante. Il s’agit de “La forêt Algérienne“, Revue d’information et de vulgarisation, éditée par l’Institut National de la Recherche Forestière (Baïnem-Alger). Comme il ne s’agit pas de numéros récents de cette revue, je ne peux pas vous assurer qu’elle est encore éditée à ce jour. Mais les articles que j’ai lu dans des numéros de l’an 2000 et de l’an 2003 sont tellement intéressants, que j’espère que cette revue existe toujours. A recommander fortement à tous ceux qui s’intéressent à la recherche forestière.

Désertification, information, coopération.


Receiving more and more comments on former posts, I confirm hereby my intention to strive for closer cooperation between all people active in the field of combating desertification. Let us join hands and start exchanging information on success stories and best practices, even if we don’t speak the same language.

Here is an example concerning the construction of family gardens in S.W. Algeria (the refugee camps of the Sahraouis). My comment is in French, but I can provide an English translation to all interested people.


yahiaoui fouzia | | IP:


J’ai trouvé ce site en cherchant des informations sur l’arganier et je félicite tous les acteurs qui ont travaillé pour le projet des jardins dans la région de Tindouf. C’est une très belle initiative pour la lutte contre la désertification et l’intégration des femmes dans les programmes de développement durable. Ce projet est un exemple à suivre pour l’immensité des régions arides et semi-arides.

Aussi, est ce possible d’avoir un peu plus d’informations sur la méthode utilisée ou des orientations pour la réalisation de ces jardins.

Autre chose: est ce qu’il est possible d’avoir des informations par l’intermédiaire de l’ingénieur forestier de Tindouf sur la répartition et la quantité des spécimens d’arganier qui se trouvent à Tindouf.


Yahiaoui Fouzia
Ingénieur écodéveloppement des zones arides et semi-arides.
Conservation de la nature.


Cher Yahiaoui Fouzia,

Merci pour votre appréciation pour le projet UNICEF ALGERIE, avec lequel nous essayons de compléter le panier alimentaire des réfugiés Sahraouis vivant déjà 30 ans dans des camps près de Tindouf (S.W. de l’Algérie). Vous savez sans doute que ce panier des Nations Unies vient d’être réduit considérablement. Ainsi, les réserves nutritionnelles des Sahraouis ont été épuisées et la malnutrition se fait de plus en plus sentir, en particulier chez les enfants.

C’est la raison pourquoi nous voulons, aussitôt que possible, offrir à toutes les familles des camps un petit jardin familial de 20 à 30 mètres carrés seulement. Nous avons calculé qu’un tel petit jardin est suffisant pour compléter le panier alimentaire des Nations Unies, en particulier pour l’approvisionnement en vitamines et éléments minéraux.

Continue reading “Désertification, information, coopération.”

Espèce intéressante : Argania spinosa

Voici une espèce végétale qui peut jouer un rôle assez important dans la lutte contre la désertification dans certaines régions semi-arides, par exemple dans les pays maghrébiens. Elle est connue sous quelques noms vernaculaires : arganier, argane, argan, bois de fer.

Mes amis les forestiers de Services de la Conservation des Forêts à Tindouf (S.W.Algérie) s’intéressent particulièrement à la production de jeunes pieds de l’arganier (Argania spinosa (L.) Skeels), qui appartient à la famille des Sapotacées. Nous avons l’intention de contribuer à la plantation de l’arganier dans la région de Tindouf, notamment dans les camps des réfugiés Sahraouis au S.W. de l’Algérie, car c’est une plante qui est adapté parfaitement à l’aridité.

L’arganier est une espèce d’arbre endemique de la plaine du Souss au S.W. du Maroc, où l’huile d’arganier est très populaire. Il y couvre près de 900.000 hectares. L’espèce est aussi présente en Algérie, mais sa dispersion y est plus restreinte.

Continue reading “Espèce intéressante : Argania spinosa”

Tree growth with TC in Algeria

On November 14th, 2006, I posted on this blog a short message on the success booked with TerraCottem soil conditioner (TC) in Algeria (see “Success with TC in Algeria“).

I told you that Unicef Algeria invited me in 2005 as a scientific consultant to study possible improvement of the living conditions in the refugee camps of the Sahraouis people in Southwestern Algeria (Sahara desert), looking for ways and means to enhance local food production. The main objective was to look for new possibilities to grow vegetables in small family gardens in the refugee camps in the desert, irrigating them with a minimum of brackish water, taken from the subsoil.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the Belgian TC-DIALOGUE Foundation, through which a project was set up to construct a large number of family gardens in different refugee camps. In these gardens, the soil conditioner TerraCottem (TC) is used to limit the consumption of fresh water for irrigation and to limit the application of fertilizers.

Already in 1983-1992, I have developed a soil conditioning method (called “TerraCottem“, see the website with that name ) at the University of Ghent (Belgium). With this granular soil conditioner one is able to stock a lot of water and nutrients in the rooting zone of the soil and to improve the microbiological activities and the formation of a larger root system. The result of all this : a better plant growth with less water and less fertilizer.

In October 2005, a small demonstration test was set up in front of the Sahraouis Ministry of Public Health in Rabouni (Tindouf area, Algeria). One out of 10 already planted seedlings of the Prosopis tree was treated with 30 g of the TerraCottem product. In November 2006, I showed you already a number of pictures showing the effect of TerraCottem (TC) on that seedling.

Today, I am publishing a new series of pictures, showing the remarkable effect of the TerraCottem (TC) soil conditioner on plant growth under dry conditions.

Continue reading “Tree growth with TC in Algeria”

Successful reforestation in Burkina Faso

In 1988, I was invited by the Dutch Committee Maastricht-Niou to carry out a reforestation project with my team of the University of Ghent (Belgium) in the village of Niou (Kourweogo Province, Burkina Faso). I will describe the success of that project later. Today, attention is paid to a similar reforestation project, set up in 1988 together with the Canadian Cooperation in Arbolle (Passoré Province, Burkina Faso).

It was decided to plant seedlings of a number of tree species with different dosages of TerraCottem soil conditioner (TC) on a clayey soil, completely barren in 1988 due to heavy deforestation by the local villagers during the preceeding years.

Start project
Hard clayey field completely denuded, due to firewood collection

First, plant pits were created and the excavated soil was mixed with different dosages of TC to study the optimal dosage under these local conditions. Some plant pits functioned as control plots (no TC was added to the local soil).

1988-07 Participation of local people in plant pit preparation
1988-07 Participation of local people in plant pit preparation

At the start of the project in July 1988, the young saplings were 40-50 cm high on average. Thanks to some good rains during the rainy season (June-October), the hydrogels of the TC soil conditioner could stock a large quantity of water and they delivered this water gradually to the growing young trees during the 8 months long dry season. Thereby, the saplings continued their growth without any need for irrigation.

In December 1988, six months after planting, the growth of the individual trees was measured to compare growth differences due to a difference in TC-dosage.

Measuring growth
1988-12 Measuring growth of individual trees

Very soon, it became quite clear that TC had an interesting positive effect on tree growth. A dosage of 100 g of TC per plant pit showed to be close to optimal in these conditions. Due to our activities on the field, the soil was scarified by trampling and seeds of grasses and other weeds germinated and developed into a sparse vegetation cover.

Young acacias
1988-12 Young trees already show differences in outgrowth

Acacia nilotica saplings developed remarkably well, in particular with the optimal dosage of 100 g TC per plant pit.

Acacia nilotica
Acacia nilotica saplings continued to grow in the dry season without any irrigation

In April 1989, we returned to the project to carry out new measurements. What a splendid view it was ! Almost all trees, except the control ones (without TC in the soil), were still brightly green with developing young leaves, a very exceptional situation during the dry season. Some saplings had disappeared, not because of the drought, but destroyed by locusts and termites.

tree growth
1989-04 Green saplings in the dry season

In July 1990, two years after the start of the project, the original barren field was already transformed into a green area. Young trees were developing, accordingly to the dosage of TC in the plant pit. Another interesting aspect was the development of different species of weeds around the individual trees. Indeed, seeds of these weeds were blown in by the wind and those falling on the plant pit surface found relatively humid conditions in which they could germinate and grow (see green disks around the trees).

Young wood
1990-07 Two years after plantation, the young trees were developing splendidly without any supplementary irrigation or fertilization

Some of the Acacia nilotica trees already had exceptional dimensions. It was almost unbelievable that these trees had grown to a height of more than 2 meters without any additional treatment. The only thing we did, was to plant the seedlings in July 1988 with a certain dosage of TC and let the rain make the TC functioning as a reservoir of water and nutrients. Such a growth was never seen before in these circumstances.

Acacia nilotica
1990-07 I was so happy seeing these fantastic two years old trees

The general aspect of the plantation was changing gradually. Not only the young trees were continuously growing all year long, but the originally barren soil became slowly covered with grasses and other weeds. This “nature restoration” was an important secondary effect of the soil conditioning with TC.

Acacias growing
1990-07 Quickly changing general outlook of the plantation

In July 1994, six years after the start of the project, a splendid young wood was formed. Tree canopies were closing and the vegetation cover on the surface was also closing more and more. Of course, the flowering plants started to attrack numerous animal species : insects, birds, mice, squirrels etc. Biodiversity enhanced significantly.

Wood 01
1994-07 Splendid young wood in 6 years time

In 1998, 10 years after plantation, nothing can be seen anymore of the original barren area : a remarkable success was booked with this reforestation project. Trees were already several meters high and the vegetation on the surface became very dense.

Wood 10 years
1998-12 Remarkable success of the reforestation project

It is nice to know that since 1998 the same successes were booked with TC-reforestation projects in many other countries.

Here is an important comment on my article:

Martin H. Staplesays:March 20, 2007 at 20:00 

Stumbled across this page entirely by chance this evening (20.03.2007) while searching for something else – what a brilliant project! What has the response of the local people and the authorities been? Have there been no problems with people foraging for firewood, or with grazing goats etc.?
Success stories like this deserve to be made much more well-known.

Growing conifer seedlings in Spain

I already reported on an interesting experiment on growing tree seedlings, set up in Zanona (Cadiz/Andalucia/Spain). You may find this message in the November 2006 postings under Archives.

In May 1995, we showed the effect of the soil conditioner TerraCottem (TC) on seedlings of conifers. Seedlings were acquired in a nursery. Half of them were kept as control plants, the other half were treated with the TerraCottem soil conditioner (TC) at a dosage of 5 g TC per kg of potting soil. All plants got the same small volume of water at the same moment, so that a certain hydric stress was created for the seedlings under very dry conditions in this area of Southern Spain.

Six weeks later the dimensions of the seedlings were compared : length of the stem, length and volume of the root system.

Growing conifer seedlings in Spain

Already after a few weeks, a remarkable difference is observed between the TC-treated seedlings (left) and the control ones (right)

Continue reading “Growing conifer seedlings in Spain”

Success with TC in Algeria

Young Prosopis TC-treated
Just reaching to our knees ! : Young Prosopis treated with TC in presence of the Minister of Public Health of the R.A.S.D. (center) and the Representative of Unicef Algeria, Mr. Raymond Janssens (right).

In 2005, Unicef Algeria invited me as a scientific consultant to study possible improvement of the living conditions in the refugee camps of the Sahraouis people in Southern Algeria (Sahara desert), looking for ways to enhance local food production. The main objective was to look for new possibilities to grow vegetables in small family gardens in the refugee camps in the desert with a minimum of brackish water, taken from the subsoil.

Continue reading “Success with TC in Algeria”

Success story with TC in Spain

An interesting experiment

In May 1995 an experiment was set up in Zanona (Cadiz/Andalusia/Spain) to show the effect of the soil conditioner TerraCottem (TC) on seedlings of conifers.

A number of seedlings was acquired in a nearby nursery. Half of them were kept as control plants, the other half were treated with TerraCottem soil conditioner (see at a dosage of 5 g TC per kg of potting soil. All plants were watered in the same way (all the same day, all the same small volume of water to create a certain hydric stress for the seedlings under very dry conditions in the area).

Success story with TC in Spain
Comparison of TC-treated conifer seedling (left) with control one (right).

Continue reading “Success story with TC in Spain”

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