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 !

Just a reminder: The role of urban gardens, family gardens and school gardens.


My publication in January 2010:

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

The role of urban gardens, family gardens and school gardens (Willem Van Cotthem / IRIN / FAO)

For years we have been promoting family gardens (kitchen gardens) and school gardens, not to mention hospital gardens, in the debate on alleviation of hunger and poverty.  We have always insisted on the fact that development aid should concentrate on initiatives to boost food security through family gardens instead of food aid on which the recipients remain dependent. Since the nineties we have shown that community gardens in rural villages, family gardens in refugee camps and school gardens, where people and children grow their own produce, are better off than those who received food from aid organizations at regular intervals.

2007 – Family garden in Smara refugee camp (S.W. Algeria, Sahara desert), where people never before got local fresh food to eat

Locally produced fresh vegetables and fruits play a tremendously important role in the daily diet of all those hungry people in the drylands.  Take for instance the possibility of having a daily portion of vitamins within hand reach.  Imagine the effect of fresh food on malnutrition of the children.  Imagine the feelings of all those women having their own kitchen garden close to the house, with some classical vegetables and a couple of fruit trees.

No wonder that hundreds of publications indicate the success of allotment gardens in periods of food crisis.  See what happened during World War I and II, when so many  families were obliged to produce some food on a piece of land somewhere to stay alive.  In those difficult days allotment gardens were THE solution.  They still exist and become more and more appealing in times of food crisis.

2008-10-25 – Allotment gardens Slotenkouter (Ghent City, Belgium) at the end of the growing season

There was no surprise at all to read, since a few years that is, about a new movement in the cities : guerilla gardening.  Sure, different factors intervene in these urban initiatives, be it environmental factors (embellishing open spaces full of weeds in town) or social ones (poor people growing vegetables on small pieces of barren land in the cities).

Today, some delightful news was published by IRIN :”Liberia: Urban gardens to boost food security” :

“MONROVIA, 19 January 2010 (IRIN) – Farmers are turning to urban gardens as a way to boost food security in Liberia’s Montserrado County, where just one percent of residents grow their own produce today compared to 70 percent before the war.


The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is targeting 5,000 urban residents of Montserrado, Bomi, Grand Bassa, Bong and Margibi counties, to encourage them to start market gardens or increase the amount of fruit and vegetables they grow on their farms. Participants had to have access to tools and some land.  The aim is to improve food security and nutritional status while boosting incomes, said project coordinator Albert Kpassawah. Participants told IRIN they plant hot peppers, cabbage, calla, tomatoes, onions, beans and ground nuts. Health and nutrition experts in Liberia say increasing fruit, vegetables and protein in people’s diets is vital to reducing chronic malnutrition, which currently affects 45 percent of under-fives nationwide.


FAO assists primarily by providing seeds and training in techniques such as conserving rainwater and composting. The organization does not provide fertilizer, insecticides or tools – a concern to some participants. “You cannot grow cabbage without insecticide. It doesn’t work,” Anthony Nackers told IRIN.  Vermin, insects and poor storage destroy 60 percent of Liberia’s annual harvest, according to FAO.  And many of the most vulnerable city-dwellers – those with no access to land – cannot participate at all, FAO’s Kpassawah pointed out. But he said he hopes the project’s benefits will spread beyond immediate participants, since all who take part are encouraged to pass on their training to relatives, neighbours and friends.  And there is ample scope to expand techniques learned from cities to rural areas, he pointed out. Just one-third of Liberia’s 660,000 fertile hectares are being cultivated, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.


Let us express our sincere hopes that FAO will soon be able to show to all aid organizations that sufficient food production can be secured by the population of any developing country.  What is possible in urban areas of Liberia can be duplicated in any other country.  What can be achieved in urban gardens, can also be done in rural family gardens.  Why should we continue to discuss the alarming problem of those vulnerable children suffering or even starving from chronic malnutrition, if  school gardens can be a good copy of the successful urban gardens in Liberia?

Don’t we underestimate the role container gardening can play in food production (see and the pleasure children can find in growing fruit trees and vegetables in plastic bottles.  Pure educational reality !

We count on FAO to take the lead : instead of spending billions on “permanent” food aid, year after year, it would be an unlimited return on investment if only a smaller part would be reserved to immediate needs in times of hunger catastrophes, but the major part spent at the world-wide creation of urban and rural family gardens.

We remain in FAO’s save hands. We wonder what keeps United Nations to envisage a “Global Programme for Food Security” based on the creation of kitchen gardens for the one billion daily hungry people who know that we have this solution in hand.  Let us spend more available resources on “Defense”, the one against hunger and poverty!

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

We are all small farmers (IRIN News / UN News / Willem Van Cotthem) )

Read at :

Joined-up thinking on water, energy and food


Unleash potential of small farmers to improve food security, says Ban


A full kitchen garden on one square meter can be produced with recycled materials in any small space at the lowest cost. Without investment of trillions of dollars, billions of people can be enabled to set up such a family garden all over the world. Unleash the potentials NOW (Photo WVC)

Please read the two articles above and then combine the basic ideas of both :

  • IRIN NEWS : The nexus approach seeks to find solutions based on the interconnections between various sectors or disciplines and is being widely regarded along with “resilience” as a term that could revive sustainable development.  The term “sustainable development” – given currency by the 1992 Earth Summit – is a “nexus” between environment and development.
  • UN NEWS : Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called for unleashing the potential of small farmers and food producers worldwide, the majority of whom are women, to ensure food security is guaranteed for all.

I like to underscore some parts of BAN KI-MOON’s appeal :

  1. Let us unleash the potential of small farmers and food producers worldwide, mostly women, to ensure food security.
  2. Every household must be able to afford safe, nutritious foods.
  3. Women and 200 million children need better nutrition to avoid the hidden disgrace of stunting.
  4. Needy people should get social protection that will not let them go hungry.
  5. Let us encourage the production of more, and more nutritious, food, recognizing the important links between food, water and energy (see also IRIN News).
  6. Agriculture needs to become more resilient and climate-smart.
  7. We need to stop wasting food.
  8. Governments, farmers, businesses and consumers must choose the most sustainable options for food security.
  9. All stakeholders should be involved in decision-making.
  10. We need a “21st century Green Revolution” to increase productivity while reducing resource intensity and protects biodiversity.

I like to retain from the IRIN NEWS article the following :

  1. At the November 2011 Bonn conference, experts proclaimed “nexus” as a bridge that could close the gap between the social, environmental and economic pillars of sustainable development.
  2. “The key word – nexus – signifies the challenge of Rio, which is to connect the dots between financial, social and environmental aspects of sustainable development.”

It is my conviction that the main problem to be solved, before even thinking at sustainable development, is that of hunger and malnutrition.  Hungry people and malnourished children will never be able to see their hopes for sustainable development growing.  Whatever the amount of food aid brought to them, there will not be a significant change in their standards of living, unless they get a sustainable exit for their personal hunger situation.

Therefore,  there is no better strategy for creating sustainable development than to close the gap between the best practices in the domains related to hunger and malnutrition.  In order to bridge that gap between agricultural practices and the environmental, economic and social aspects of food production, one should first define which agricultural practices deserve priority.

Two key issues are taken into account :

  1. There are “emergencies”, where famine threatens the life of many people.
  2. There are “chronic” situations, where hunger has become part of the daily life of people.

Nobody will deny that in the case of emergencies decisions have to be taken to bring urgent food aid to the starving people.

But for the chronic situations of hunger and malnutrition other strategies to solve the problem are necessary.

Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON shows us the way : unleash the potentials of small farmers and food producers, enable every household and every child to afford safe, nutritious food, offer needy people social protection to avoid hunger,  …

Remains one important question : “Among the best practices to unleash the potentials of small farmers and rural and urban food producers, which offers maximal chances to yield the best results in the shortest time with minimal costs ?“.

For me, and many others, there is only one good answer to that question : “Offer small farmers a chance to set up a family (kitchen) garden or to participate in food production in a community garden or allotment“.

Bottle tower gardening, a simple and cheap method to produce vegetables in a small space, even on a balcony (Photo WVC)

Read the multitude of reports on container gardening, vertical gardening, urban gardening, allotment gardening, community gardening, school gardening, … and you will find out that these are the best examples of bridging agricultural, environmental, social and economic aspects of food security.

I thank Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON and IRIN NEWS for clearing the way towards “unleashing the potentials of small farmers”, the millions of rural and urban people hoping to be once enabled to produce themselves safe, nutritious food at home or in their neighbourhood.

Food security with towers of recycled bottles, pots, buckets, sacks, etc. The potentials of all citizens unleashed ! (Photo WVC)

With all the “small farmer-families” up to “sustainable development” !

Don’t wait for people to bring you food, start growing fresh food at home, wherever you live, and you will contribute to food security.

It’s simple, it’s easy, it’s healthy, it makes you safe money, it’s fun, even for your children.

HALT THE FOOD CRISIS : Break new ground (City Farmer News)

Read at :

The Victory Garden of tomorrow

Linked by Michael Levenston

The Victory Garden of Tomorrow is an original self-commissioned poster campaign designed to channel the bold energy of historical poster propaganda while building on the idea that there is power in small places. It is committed to civic innovation and social progress– better food, better gardens, better cities. It is artful advocacy for the modern homefront.

The campaign’s distinct style and wit draws from my fascination with World War II-era propaganda posters. Looking at them now, I feel they say so much about America’s core identity. I’ve combined these styles with the NYC World’s Fair of 1939 and its “World of Tomorrow” theme which had its own set of compelling advertising posters.



The Victory Garden of Tomorrow is a project of J. Wirtheim and his tiny,
eco-friendly Communication Design studio in Portland, Oregon.

Joining private gardens into giant allotments (City Farmer News / The Oxford Times)

Read at :

Plan to pool gardens to create giant city allotment in Oxford

Linked by Michael Levenston

“If everyone is responsible for the same communal space, it makes everyone feel safe and we can inspire and encourage each other to take steps towards more sustainable living.”

By Liam Sloan
The Oxford Times


Neighbours in East Oxford are being urged to tear down their fences and join their back gardens together to create a communal park.

Six people have been working with Green city councillor Matt Morton to draw up a masterplan for the block of 97 houses on the block surrounded by Hurst Street, Bullingdon Road, St Mary’s Road and Leopold Street.

They believe that if neighbours pool their land to create a single growing area, it could provide fruit, vegetables, eggs, and honey for every household.

Under their plans, householders would keep a small stretch of private garden behind their homes, but the majority of their garden would become part of a landscaped open area used for growing produce.


What comes first: Strategies for combating climate change or for creating gardens to produce food for children? (Willem VAN COTTHEM / MediaGlobal / UNICEF)

Let me recommend to read very attentively the former posting on this blog :

UNICEF: Children most vulnerable to climate change

UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, is the driving force that helps build a world where the rights of every child are realized,.

Matthew McKinnon, Head of the Climate Vulnerability Initiative at DARA International, told MediaGlobal how the impact of climate change is already evident.

“In Asia, Central and South Asia are the most vulnerable regions; in the Pacific, it is the small island developing states. Both areas are affected by more extreme weather, by effects on human health, by sea-level rise, by desertification (especially India and China), by economic damages to the agricultural sector and effects for natural resources, such as water and biodiversity.”

Geoffrey Keele, Communications Specialist with UNICEF’s East Asia and Pacific Regional Office, explained to MediaGlobal the specific harms children face in light of these changes.

“The leading killers of children worldwide are highly sensitive to climate changes,” he says. “For example, higher temperatures have been linked to increased rates of malnutrition, cholera, diarrheal disease and vector-borne diseases like dengue and malaria. Yet children’s underdeveloped immune systems put them at far greater risk of contracting these diseases and succumbing to their complications.”

And Mr. Keele explained that the rising occurrence of extreme weather events might hamper long-term agricultural production. “This could lead to higher food prices and a corresponding increase in malnutrition rates in a region where one in every four children is already stunted due to poor nutrition.” Moreover, such events may divert children from activities like going to school in order to aid in household tasks or pursue work to earn wages, thus deepening their vulnerability.

It is common knowledge that child malnutrition is one of the worst plagues for humanity.  Therefore, it is quite understandable that, if climate change is hampering long-term agricultural production, leading to higher food prices and increase in malnutrition, this is also determining UNICEF’s strategies for helping the children to better nutrition.

However, when reading that Mr. McKinnon, concerning the Durban Summit to bolster financing and advance the fight against climate change, said : “We hope that the Durban Summit will plug the funding gap between 2013-2019 with explicit developed country commitments for annual increases in climate finance from current levels to progressively attain the $100 billion“, we are tempted to put a number of question marks.

Should we rather use $100 billion for climate finance than for improving child nutrition ?

Putting the question is answering it !

No wonder that I am immediately thinking at that splendid low-budget UNICEF project “Family gardens for the Saharawi refugees in the region of Tindouf, S.W. Algeria“, where in 2005-2007 almost 2000 small family gardens have been built, providing fresh vegetables and fruits for the refugee families, in particular the children.

Food production in the Sahara desert : if this low-cost project is possible in a desert, we must be able to feed all the children of this world (Photo Philip HITTEPOLE) / Taleb BRAHIM)

No one denied the importance of this beautiful UNICEF initiative for the children’s health, not even the staff members of the WFP in Tindouf.

We were all terrified when suddenly, at the end of 2007 and without any explanation, UNICEF stopped this successful project.  Fortunately, the Saharawi refugees themselves found the necessary force to continue the efforts step-by-step.

Instead of building upon the lessons learned about inexpensive food production in the Sahara desert for deciding upon strategies to decrease rates of child malnutrition, UNICEF is now hoping for “explicit developed country commitments for annual increases in climate finance from current levels to progressively attain the $100 billion“.

Let me invite you all to quickly estimate how many family gardens, community gardens, school gardens, allotments, urban container and vertical gardens could be build with $100 billion.

And yet, in certain circles, climate finance seems to become more important than financing sustainable infrastructures for improving child nutrition.

See what the poor people in the slums of Nairobi did : creating their own sack gardens ! See what aid organizations did to provide fresh food in the refugee camps of Dabaab : sack gardening. See what many people in flooded areas in Asia do : container gardening, even in hanging containers. See what urban families do on their balconies : bottle tower gardening.  Remember what  hungry people did in World War I and II : creating Victory Gardens (allotments) in open urban spaces.  Be also aware of those spontaneous actions for food production called “guerilla gardening“.

Bottle tower gardening : production of maximal food with minimal water, recycling discarded bottles and pots at the lowest cost. That is sustainably combating malnutrition and hunger (Photo Willem VAN COTTHEM and Gilbert VAN DAMME)

Is all this only ringing my own bell ?

So, what will come first : climate financing or food production financing (and not “food aid” because that is not a sustainable solution; it should be linked at emergencies) ?

Time has come to decide : will we use our scarce financial resources to combat malnutrition and hunger or to combat rising temperatures, mostly due to industrial activities?

Since 2008 continuously wondering why UNICEF stopped its marvelous family gardens project in Algeria, I feel my temperature rising.

Please cool me down with a decent answer !


How to ensure food security for all the hungry of this world ? (Willem Van Cotthem)

Let us read again attentively the former posting on this blog :


Let us first underscore the main issues :

  1. A flagship report states that “small, import-dependent countries, particularly in Africa, are especially vulnerable to poverty and food insecurity
  2. The United Nations agencies working to combat hunger today called for action to ensure long-term food security.
  3. Our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by half in 2015 are challenged.
  4. Even if the MDG were achieved by 2015 some 600 million people in developing countries would still be undernourished …………….. and  suffering from hunger on a daily basis which is never acceptable“.

Therefore, “The entire international community must act today and act forcefully to banish food insecurity from the planet“.

2007-02 - Beautiful, but malnourished children in a Saharawi refugee camp (Tindouf area, S.W. Algeria) - (Photo WVC)

My first question is : “Who are these 600 million people suffering permanently from hunger?“.

No one will deny that most of them live in the developing world, not in developed countries.  We can deduce from it that the entire international community should concentrate its forceful actions to banish food insecurity from that part of the planet, where “small, import-dependent countries, particularly in Africa, are especially vulnerable to poverty and food insecurity“, not from the developed countries where food is even wasted.

Before thinking at reducing food waste in developed countries “through education and policies“, before thinking at reducing “food losses in developing countries by boosting investment in the entire value chain, especially post-harvest processing“, before even thinking at engaging in the combat of “high and volatile food prices, major contributing factors in global food insecurity“, the entire international community and in particular the United Nations agencies concerned should focus on the daily situation of the most vulnerable and poorest of those 600 million hungry or malnourished people.

It is my strongest believe that such a focus would clearly show that investment in the large-scale agricultural sector (to enhance food production and to improve “food security in the long run“) is not the sector in which we should preferentially “act forcefully to banish food insecurity“.  On the contrary, if the number of hungry people has still been growing from 850 million to an estimated 925 million in 2010, our actions should be focused in the first place on the hungry themselves, not on those who have to subsidized and supported to produce efforts to improve food security in the long run.

2007-02 - A small kitchen garden in the Sahara desert suffices to produce sufficient fresh food to improve the health of the family. What is possible in the Sahara should be possible in all the developing countries. (Photo WVC)

My second question is therefore: “Shall we continue to invest in large-scale industrial agriculture, aiming at enhancing food export potentials to stimulate the economy, “incentives for increased long-term investment in the agricultural sector“, or shall we really act forcefully to help the hungry people and their malnourished children to at least one decent daily meal ?

With 925 million hungry people in 2010, the international community can not afford to consider actions that would possibly improve food security in the long run.  Time has come to start as soon as possible actions that offer ALL THE HUNGRY PEOPLE, WHEREVER THEY LIVE, a chance to produce their own fresh food.

Maybe you belong to that group of people who think that such a world initiative is totally impossible ?  Well, open your eyes widely and look at what is going on all over the world today.  People who can’t afford the high food prices, the hungry of this world, are waiting no longer for the aid organizations to offer them food, they start growing fresh food themselves, in different ways, in different places, with minimal means, but with maximal results :

  1. Allotment gardening (the Victory gardens of the hungry people during the two World Wars 1914-1918 and 1940-1945, but still a growing success at world scale, especially now).
  2. Community gardening.
  3. School gardening.
  4. Container gardening at home (in recycled, discarded pots, bottles, buckets,  barrels,  gutters, in a small yard, on the balcony, on the deck, …).
  5. Sack gardening (multi-storey gardening like in some refugee camps).
  6. Urban gardening (in open spaces, replacing weeds by vegetables, rooftop gardening, …).
  7. Vertical gardening (on racks, on trellises, against walls, on stairs, in bottle towers, …).
  8. Permaculture.
  9. Even guerilla gardening in the cities !

Denying this multitude of splendid successes booked by the hungry people themselves is refusing to recognize that inexpensive, but very efficient solutions are at hand to save the lives of millions of children and unfortunate people.  Why aren’t we giving them a helping hand at almost no cost ?  Why would we invest in the far future, if we can offer them a more decent life today ?  Making people healthier and stronger is also a form of investment in the far future !

It suffices to look at the evidence of thousands of already published photos and videos, illustrating the efficiency of all these simple gardening methods, applied by the most vulnerable people without consistent help of the international community, to realize what the effect could be of a possible UN-supported program to offer every single hungry family a small kitchen garden (see my photo above).  It should not remain a dream.

Let the UN agencies not offer them A FISH anymore, but teach them HOW TO FISH !  For food security can better be achieved by the hungry themselves, if only we decide to give them that helping hand.

Their nice dinner menu is figuring the gardening techniques mentioned above.

Victory gardens, allotments, urban farms or micro-farms to combat hunger (Google / YumaSun)

Read at : Google Alert – desert gardening

Micro-farms are gaining popularity around country


If you can remember WWII then you remember Victory Gardens, which provided over 40 percent of America’s food during the war years.

At that time, food was rationed and people raised their own chickens, hogs, cows and all the vegetables they could eat. Canning was popular in order to preserve the garden’s bounty. After the war, industrialization and urbanization increased, homes were built close together, yards shrank to postage-sized plots of grass and the home garden almost disappeared.

The good news is that once again, home gardens are back and so is the small family farm, now called a micro-farm or urban farm. From Washington to Virginia and Arizona to Louisiana, people are raising animals and growing vegetables in order to have healthier, better-tasting food. They want their vegetables free of pesticides and herbicides and to have that delicious taste which comes from being picked fresh from the garden.

Many micro-farms are raising chickens, goats, sheep or cows which are free of growth hormones and antibiotics. Micro-farmers take pride in growing their own food.



Bottom-up view on effective, long-term solutions to combat desertification, drought, hunger, malnutrition and famine (Willem Van Cotthem)

Reading every day a number of publications on drought, desertification, hunger, malnutrition, famine, poverty and conflicts, I noticed that more and more voices are raised about the urgent need for a drastic change in strategies : from short-term to long-term solutions.

That is why I have read with great interest yesterday’s AlertNet article of Laurie GOERING : “Q&A: Preparedness key as climate shifts threaten more drought – UN” (see my former posting on this blog).

Let me highlight some paragraphs :

  1. Finding solutions is particularly urgent as climate change brings more extreme and unpredictable weather, including more “slow-onset” disasters like droughts, warns Luc Gnacadja, executive director of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification, …
  2. Q. You’re calling for “effective, long-term solutions” to famine, including drought management and measures to stop desertification. What are those?A. Drought has been plaguing many areas of the world – Australia, West Africa, East Africa. But it’s only in places where there has been a breakdown of governance that drought becomes famine.In drought-prone areas where early warning systems are not operating to help populations prepare for drought, where safety nets and infrastructure are not in place to assist them, then of course drought will turn to famine and lead to the loss of thousands of lives. And who does drought kill? The children and most vulnerable.

    Since January it’s been forecast drought would come to the Horn of Africa. In drought-prone areas, droughts should not be a surprise.

  3. Q. What do governments need to do differently?A. Governments should mainstream drought preparedness into policies and institutions, and build resilience.
  4. Q. So, good governance is a prerequisite for dealing effectively with drought?A. What is making the shocks so extreme in Somalia is because of governance breakdown.

    Good governance is crucial to implement and scale up solutions, help populations build their resilience and protect ecosystems.

  5. Q. You argue countries prone to slow-onset disasters like droughts should have the same kind of preparedness plans as countries vulnerable to hurricanes or earthquakes?

    A. …………………

    I hope world leaders will come to see that this is not just about the Horn of Africa. What I hope is that we will invest as much as we are spending now on relief on preparedness for drought. Drought is going to become more frequent and severe. It should not a surprise anymore.


With all respect due to the Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, but my personal views on effective, long-term solutions for the problems listed above are somewhat different.

I can imagine that in some drought-affected countries, but not in all, the possibility exists that

“Governments should mainstream drought preparedness into policies and institutions, and build resilience”

and that

“Good governance is crucial to implement and scale up solutions, help populations build their resilience and protect ecosystems”

and that

“we should invest as much as we are spending now on relief on preparedness for drought”.

However, the real change we need in the combat of desertification, hunger, malnutrition and poverty, is not so much the development of new top-down strategies for the governments, new policies, new institutions, new layers in decision-making.

On the contrary, what the billion affected people need is a number of effective, long-term measures in the field, a bottom-up approach leading not only to preparedness, but to an effective reversal of the actual situation.

Those billion people have heard since June 17, 1994 that “song of hope” of the UNCCD, that song about a bottom-up approach that would bring sustainable development.

For almost 20 years, all the desertification experts have been showing that a world-wide application of the “best practices” and “success stories in the field” is the best strategy for drought preparedness, resilience building, ecosystem protection, alleviation of hunger and malnutrition, eradication of poverty.

We all know the benefits of a number of methods, technologies and techniques in different domains ; to name just a few : water conservation and water harvesting, water saving irrigation techniques, soil conditioning methods, permaculture, agroforestry, container gardening, vertical gardening, allotments, community gardens, kitchen gardens, …

Vertical gardening with a minimum of water : Fresh food production in plastic bottles and pots, a simple, cheap and effective method that can be applied all over the world in rural and urban areas (Photo WVC)

Denying that these methods signify a real change for the drought-affected people, is throwing all our practical knowledge and skills away.

Time has come to show those suffering people that we really want “to invest in drought preparedness“, not with new policies and institutions, but by investing in “effective, long-term solutions” realized in a bottom-up approach.

I’m Dancing and Singing in the Drought (Willem Van Cotthem)

You probably know I’m not the actor Gene KELLY, that’s why I’m not dancing and singing in the rain, but in the drought.

The reason for my optimistic mood today is quite simple :  there are so many remarkable reports published on successful, sustainable, cheap, efficient methods and techniques to grow fresh food in containers, in family gardens, in allotments, in community gardens, in vertical gardens etc., that I get the strongest believe that everyone, every family, every community living in the most harsh environments in Africa, Asia and South America, can definitely ban hunger and malnutrition, with a little bit of help, of course.

That’s why “I’m dancing and singing“, just like Gene KELLY, not in the rain, but in the drought.  And I hope that one day those one billion hungry people will dance with us.

The title song for that celebrated film musical Singin’ in The Rain (1952) was originally created by lyricist Arthur Freed and composer Nacio Herb Brown for MGM’s Hollywood Revue of 1929.

I couldn’t resist changing a few words to express “my glorious feelin’ ” about all those opportunities we have to offer hungry and malnourished children and adults a better life.  So, here I go :

“I’m singing in the drought
Just singing in the drought
What a glorious feelin’
I’m happy in thought
I’m laughing at skies
So bright up above
The sun’s in my heart
And I’m ready for love
Let the stormy clouds chase
Everyone from the place
Come on with the drought
I’ve a smile on my face
I walk down the ford
With a happy thought
Just singin’,
Singin’ in the drought”


You get me ? Let’s dance and sing together, because “with a little help of my friends” (Ringo STARR) we can make this world better.

“Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends,
Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends,
Oh, I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends.”

Forget the billions of dollars for long-term food aid.  Keep those for emergency cases.

And with a little help of our friends, let’s teach those people in need how to grow vegetables and fruits in containers, buckets, used barrels, pots, whatever can contain some potting soil.

Because we will really help them towards sustainable development !

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