Jamaican Farmer Field Schools and drought


Photo credit: Foodtank

Surviving the Drought with Jamaican Farmer Field Schools

Since winning the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition’s YES! Competitionlast year, Shaneica Lester and Anne-Teresa Birthwright now run a knowledge transfer project for small-scale farmers in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. Lester and Birthwright’s program, which focuses on irrigation conservation education, provides farmers with skills and education necessary to combat drought-related issues that impact their lands.

Lester and Birthwright’s Irrigation Farmer Field Schools (IFFS) include lessons on water conservation, understanding climate change, soil and water management, and ecosystem analysis. Through participating in the IFFS program, Jamaican farmers learn about technologies and techniques that can be directly applied to their fields and adapted to suit their needs, providing farmers with agency to decide how to manage their land and allocate their resources.

“We wanted to avoid a top-down approach and instead encourage self-empowerment within rural communities. A participatory approach allows farmers to be a part of their own solution by contributing their knowledge and expertise, as well as their perception and understanding of climate change,” Lester and Birthwright said in an interview with Food Tank.

Small farmers drive Jamaica’s agricultural sector and ensure the nation’s food security. When researching the challenges experienced by small rural farmers, Lester and Birthwright discovered that drought was the primary leading factor causing Jamaicans to quit farming and preventing young people from wanting to farm.

Read the full article: Foodtank


How to change lives with school vegetable gardens

Photo credit: Trish Travel Food

Please read:




School meals and ending hunger

Photo credit: WVC 2003 SCHOOLGARDEN-SAL CABO VERDE 02.jpg

A schoolgarden, one of the best solutions to improve the school meals

FAO joins celebrations for International School Meals Day

International School Meals Day, celebrated around the world today, is a timely reminder of the need to promote healthy eating habits for all children through sustainable policies, including sourcing food from family farmers.

Every day around 370 million children around the world are fed at school through school meals programmes that are run in varying degrees by national governments.

Each programme is different: beans and rice in Madagascar, spicy lentils in the Philippines, vegetable pastries and fruit in Jordan. In some countries it may be a healthy snack, or it could include take-home food such as vitamin A-enriched oil for the whole family.

School meals have proved successful in providing educational and health benefits to the most vulnerable children. School meals boost school attendance, and a full stomach can help students concentrate on their lessons.

Communities, particularly in rural areas, also benefit when family farmers and small and medium enterprises are the main source of healthy food for the schools.

International School Meals Day marks these achievements and helps raise greater awareness of the value of school meals globally.

A generation of well-nourished children

FAO believes that consistent global investments in school meals will lead to a generation of children who develop healthy eating habits and who benefit from a diverse diet. Ultimately this effort will contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger.

Read the full article: FAO

You may also read:




What smallholders in the drylands should know


How to grow fresh food in all kinds of recipients that can hold soil

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

Grow your vegetables and herbs at home in pots, buckets, bottles, cups, barrels, bags, sacks, whatever can hold soil.  See some of my photos below:

Massive production of vegetables and herbs in a small space. Pots and buckets on pallets to limit infection. Photo WVC 2013-07-28 MY NEW EXPERIMENTAL PALLET GARDEN P1100559.
Cherry tomatoes all year long, zucchinis and bell peppers in pots and buckets with a drainage hole in the sidewall. Maximal production with a minimum of water and fertilizer (compost or manure). Photo WVC 2013-07-28 MY NEW EXPERIMENTAL PALLET GARDEN – P1100561
Zucchinis in a bucket, as simple as can be. Photo WVC 2013-07-28 MY NEW EXPERIMENTAL PALLET GARDEN – P1100565.
Tomatoes and zucchinis, not in the field (where they would be infected), but in buckets and pots. Photo WVC 2013-07-28 MY NEW EXPERIMENTAL PALLET GARDEN – P1100568.
Bell peppers in abundance, not in degraded soil, but in a bucket with a mix of local soil and animal manure. That can be done everywhere, even in Inner Mongolia, the Australian bushland, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Cabo Verde, Arizona, the pampas and in all the refugee camps on Earth. Photo WVC 2013-07-28 MY NEW EXPERIMENTAL PALLET GARDEN – P1100579
Eggplants, tomatoes, zucchinis, marigolds (to keep the white flies away). See the drainage hole in the sidewall. Photo WVC 2013-07-28 MY NEW EXPERIMENTAL PALLET GARDEN – P1100581 copy.
Chilli peppers in a bucket. Photo WVC 2013-07-28 MY NEW EXPERIMENTAL PALLET GARDEN – P1100602.

Imagine every family in the drylands, every school, every hospital, every maternity would have a container garden like the one below: wouldn’t you believe that we can alleviate malnutrition and hunger ?  Wouldn’t we have a serious chance to ameliorate the standards of living of all the people living in desertified areas.

Problems ?  What problems ?

Teach the people how to set up a small kitchen garden with some containers and do not forget:


They do not have containers ?  Offer them the necessary quantity at the lowest cost, or even for free, because that would be sustainable development in the purest sense.

Let them make their own potting soil by mixing local soil with manure.

Offer them some good quality seeds and teach them how to collect seeds afterwards.

Before rejecting this idea, have a last look at the photo of my experimental garden below and consider the potentialities of this method.

Photo WVC 2013-07-28 MY NEW EXPERIMENTAL PALLET GARDEN – P1100656, set up to show that production of fresh food with simple and cheap means is so easy that it can be applied all over the world. With some goodwill, of course.


Shall we go for the rehabilitation of 2 billion hectares of degraded land in Africa (and how much on the other continents ?), or shall we go for a feasible support of the poorest and hungry people on Earth?

With my warmest wishes for 2017 to you all !





Bottle towers for alleviating malnutrition


Photo credit WVC P1080581.JPG

Planting seedlings of vegetables and herbs in the recycled plastic bottles.


It’s so simple and easy. Why wouldn’t hungry and malnourished people build some themselves ?

One of the best practices for development cooperation.

See: Building a bottle tower for container gardening


Soon after planting the seedlings, young vegetables and herbs are growing quickly and harvesting can start, e.g. lettuce leaves at the right. – * Bottle Towers WVC 322133_101112709993771_100002851261908_2439_2626124_o.jpg
Bottle towers standing upright on pallets. – * Bottle towers on a pallet – Photo WVC – P1080463.JPG
Bottle towers with strawberries.Underneath each tower a bottle is collecting the surplus of irrigation water, loaded with nutrients. That water can easily be recycled by pouring it on top of the tower. – * Bottle towers – strawberries – Photo Pauline Nelson – 565435_283588941760201_1896170039_n.jpg
Wouldn’t it be nice if parents could offer these strawberries to their kids in the drylands ? – * Bottle towers – strawberries – Photo Pauline Nelson – 565290_283588961760199_1317560849_n.jpg
Strawberries, herbs and lettuce growing against the wall. That’s one of the best practices to combat malnutrition – * Bottle towers – Phpto Sendanatura Jimdo – – sembrando-en-pet.jpg
Different vegetables growing on bottle towers – * Bottle towers – Photo Scuola Dantelafalda – DSCN2839.JPG
Massive production of vegetables – * Bottle towers – Photo Scuola Dantelafalda – DSCN2837.JPG
This is not a dream, but reality: food aid in its purest form. This water saving method can be multiplied all over the world, even in the driest places. – * Bottle towers – Photo Scuola Dantelafalda – DSCN2514.JPG

See our video:

Building a bottle tower for container gardening


Plastic bottles stacked into a bottle tower can be recycled to set up a vertical kitchen garden at home. The bottle towers are used for container gardening of vegetables and herbs. How to build such a tower is shown in different steps.


Ten thousands of shady tunnels in all the drylands: only a dream ?



Tunnels of drought-tolerant plants in the drylands to combat desertification and feed people and livestock.

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

When I tell people that this is feasible, they ask me if it’s only a dream.  And yet, it would be easy to construct ten thousands, even one hundred thousands of living tunnels.  It suffices to choose available wooden species (trees and shrubs), native or adapted to the region.  Here is a non-limited series of examples for the drylands of Africa, but one can certainly make a list of Asian, Australian or American species too:

Acacia sieberiana var.woodii (Paperbark),

Acacia baileyana (Bailey’s Acacia)

Olea europaea subs. africana (Wild olive),

Moringa oleifera (Moringa)

Brachylaena discolor (Wild silver oak),

Salix matsudana var. Navajo (globe willow),

Combretum spp. (Bushwillow)

Quercus agrifolia (Coast Live Oak)

Cussonia paniculata (Highveld cabbage tree),

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Rosea’ (Crape Myrtle ‘Rosea’)

Ligustrum (Privet)

Hymensporum flavum (Sweetshade Tree)

Vachellia drepanolobium (Whistling thorn),

Populus (Cottonwood)

Sutherlandia frutescens (Cancer bush),

Coleonema pulchellum (Confetti bush),

Portulacaria afra (Elephant bush),

Acanthosicyos horrida (Nara Plant)

Rhus lancea (African Sumac)

In 2003, I brought home from Arizona a couple of cuttings of the drought-tolerant Navajo willow (Salix matsudana var. Navajo) and planted them in my garden in Belgium.  They were rooting and growing extremely quickly (as Belgium is far from being a dryland).  Today in 2016, they reach a height of 14 meter.  In April 2011, I started building a teepee with cuttings of my “Belgian” Navajo willows. It soon became a nice “living hut”, which brought me to the idea that it would be possible to construct “living tunnels” with similar cuttings of drought-tolerant trees or shrubs.

Photo WVC: P1080833.JPG – 2012-08-17 – My teepee in Belgium

Without exaggeration I can tell that I always get a sort of happy feeling under the canopy of trees or in a tree tunnel. Most trees can easily be sculpted by pruning into many forms, thus altering their growth.  One of these forms is a tunnel.  One can use it as an excellent construction for a shady walk, but my thoughts are oriented upon an application as a fantastic location for family gardening (a kitchen garden) in the drylands.

Let us have a look at some examples and thereby imagine that a family in the drylands could use these as a “garden”, where, in the shadow inside the tunnel vegetables and herbs, even fruits, can be grown to feed the family.

Google: http://www.northwaleswildlifetrust.org.uk/sites/default/files/willow_tunnel_barmouth_1.2_17.jpg
Google: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/c5/6d/4d/c56d4d086a837dd99490c7f9f2f3d9fe.jpg
Google: The first buds shooting on the cuttings – https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/74/d7/7e/74d77ef8ba227d12d4f60019ac693b6e.jpg
Google: http://www.naturalfencing.com/images/additional2/169_resized.jpg
Google: living willow tunnel – mike dodd artworks mike dodd artworks604 × 400Search by image I created a serpentine living willow tunnel for the exhibition ‘Fauna and Flora’ at Burghley Sculpture Garden, Burghley House, Lincs, UK. – http://mike-dodd.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/5-604×400.jpg
Google: http://www.rickneal.ca/travelblog/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Willow-Walk.jpg
Google: http://www.schoolscapes.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/8109-01-720×800.jpg
Google: https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2740/4256103075_05557f932e_z.jpg?zz=1
Google: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-85auYauO7Dw/UTTOiK-pgYI/AAAAAAAASCk/P8xMC5NAxi8/s1600/DSC01955.JPG
Google: https://baileyinterior.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/greenery-tunnel.jpg
Google: Many years after planting the tunnel is still an ideal place to grow fresh food in the shade. – http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_SnirMVbJI_U/TLXA6_T2MGI/AAAAAAAAAeo/9SErfgm1Ucg/s1600/Aberglasney+Tunnel.jpg
Google: A dream ? No Sir, reality ! – https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/5e/f3/8c/5ef38c23577b8e6bc7a5f5d2fc4db76f.jpg

Now, let this be a dream for nomadic people: living houses here and there along the track.  Nevertheless, even this dream can be realized !

Google: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/f7/f1/5c/f7f15cbdae5fd029d089eeceb1f0fbde.jpg

From survival to victory !


PHOTO CREDIT: WVC – 2002-07-OUALIDIA – MOROCCO 22 copy.jpg

Local farmers discussing the results of a scientific experiment on enhancement of food production by application of the soil conditioner TerraCottem


By Prof. Dr. Willem VAN COTTHEM – Ghent University, Belgium

In 2012 I read an article published by Dean FOSDICK in The Seattle Times, entitled: ‘Survival gardens’ can help save cash

Patches deliver high yields from small spaces and produce wholesome foods that store well

Food production by local farmers in small family gardens Guatemala – Photo Fincas Buenas – df74f7a7026b4f36e1d0173d27d84106.jpg


I took note of the following important parts in this interesting article:

(1) Many cash-strapped families are turning to “survival gardens” to help dig out from the recession.

(2) ‘They were called ‘victory gardens’ during the world wars because they helped ease shortages, ‘…… ‘We call them ‘survival gardens’ now because they help families cut spending.’

(3) The term is part of a larger do-it-yourself trend toward growing more backyard veggies and eating locally grown food.

(4) Survival gardens are used mainly to raise the kind of produce that you can grow for less than what you would pay at a grocery store – …………..

(5) People new to gardening can get help from county extension offices, churches and community groups. Some offer training, others provide growing sites and a few distribute supplies — all for little or no charge.

(6) Survival gardens can do more than put fresh, nutritious food on the table, ……….  ‘Families have told us they sell some of their overage (from the starter kits) to pay bills and get medicines,’ ……….

(7) …………sells ‘survival seed’ packets, and said their sales have more than doubled in the past year. Each package contains 16 easy-to-grow heirloom vegetables, from beets to pole beans, cabbage to sweet corn. They come triple-wrapped in watertight plastic, designed to increase storage life.

(8) ………… gardening with seed is one way to save on food dollars, particularly if it’s the right kind of seed.


The fact that more than 800 million people on this world are hungry or malnourished is generally attributed by the international media to the economic crisis (the food crisis), all those poor people supposed to be unable to afford the expensive food at the market. That’s probably why nowadays “Many cash-strapped families are turning to “survival gardens” to help dig out from the recession”.

During World Wars I and II, not the food prizes, but simply the lack of food caused huge hunger problems.  All the war-affected countries reacted on these emergencies in exactly the same way: by offering the hungry population small spaces or allotments for gardening.  Those allotment gardens or ‘victory gardens‘ helped ease the food shortages, people eating their locally grown food.  Do you know that most of those allotment gardens still exist all over the world and that millions of people still avoid malnutrition and hunger, producing fresh vegetables and fruits in their ‘victory garden’?  A success story, don’t you think?

I appreciate very much the term ‘survival gardens‘ used in this Seattle Times’ article, as these small patches really help families to cut spending by producing food in a cheaper way than the one at the market or the grocery store.

The applicability of this ‘survival garden strategy‘ at the global level is clearly shown (see above) by:

(5) People new to gardening can get help from county extension offices, churches and community groups. Some offer training, others provide growing sites and a few distribute supplies — all for little or no charge.

If county extension offices, churches and community groups can help these people, it should also be easy for international organizations and foundations to do this – all for little or no charge – for the 800 or more million hungry people of this world.

Let us keep in mind that ‘Survival gardens can do more than put fresh, nutritious food on the table, ...’, but that families can also enhance their annual income by taking their ‘overage’ of vegetables or fruits to the market, particularly in developing countries.

To offer a ‘survival or victory garden‘ to all the hungry families of this world, it’s such a noble task that no one can ever believe that aid organizations remain blind for the value of the experience of World Wars I and II, the extraordinary success of allotment gardens or ‘victory gardens’ to alleviate hunger and child malnutrition in times of crisis.

May the light come for hungry adults and undernourished children ….! From survival to victory !