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 (seehttps://containergardening.wordpress.com) 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!

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


25,000 die each day

Photo credit:

Community garden in Niou (Prov. Kourweogo, Burkina Faso) in 2009 – Project Committee Maastricht-Niou and TC-Dialogue Foundation (Belgium) started in 1988. – Soil conditioned with TC – Photo Willemien 2009 Niou Jardin Communautaire P2250398 copy 2.


Although success stories to alleviate hunger exist, 25,000 die each day – (bewing)

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

published at: https://desertification.wordpress.com/2007/03/31/469/

In Bewing http://bewing.wordpress.com/2007/03/28/25000-die-each-day/#comment-693:


“About 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations. This is one person every three and a half seconds, as you can see on this display. Unfortunately, it is children who die most often.Yet there is plenty of food in the world for everyone. The problem is that hungry people are trapped in severe poverty. They lack the money to buy enough food to nourish themselves. Being constantly malnourished, they become weaker and often sick. This makes them increasingly less able to work, which then makes them even poorer and hungrier. This downward spiral often continues until death for them and their families.”

Senegal Toubacouta 2002-02
Senegal Toubacouta 2002-02

2002-02 : Toubacouta (Senegal) – Community garden for women in the Sahel region – Excellent production with only half of the normal quantity of irrigation water – Look at the dark, healthy, continuously moistened soil. –

Project TC-Dialogue with Philippe BEKAERT and Alain GOETGHEBUER (sponsors, Belgium) – Keur Bou Natte – Photo WVC 2002.

2003-03 Espargos-Pretoria-06 copy
2003-03 Espargos-Pretoria-06 copy.jpg

Project of TC-Dialogue Foundation – Evaluation mission 2003-03 with Etienne Van Steenberghe and Marc PIlle : Cabo Verde (Isla do Sal – Escola Pretoria) – Splendid school garden – Former schoolyard transformed into a “garden of Eden”, producing fresh vegetables for the lunches at school, thanks to the application of the TerraCottem (TC) soil conditioner. See the happy children ?  

Photo WVC 2003-03 Espargos-Pretoria-06 copy.jpg


P1000569 copy 1
P1000569 copy 1.jpg

UNICEF Project with TC-Dialogue Foundation 2005-2007: Saharawis refugee camp of Smara (S.W. Algeria) – Sahara desert sand transformed into a magnificent family garden (25 m2, sufficient to feed the family). Soil conditioner TerraCottem applied in october 2006; first vegetables (red beetroot and carrots) harvested in november 2006. For the first time all the family members can eat fresh vegetables from their own garden. –

Photo WVC P1000569 2007 Smara TV4.JPG.


Hunger and famine belong to the most shocking and disastrous phenomena on this world. We all get really touched when seeing hungry children, mostly in the drylands, where poverty of the rural people is one of the basic reasons for this plague.

Therefore, it is striking that very positive results, obtained since the nineties with creation of community gardens for women (Burkina Faso, Senegal), school gardens (Cabo Verde, Burkina Faso) or small family gardens (Algeria), do not seem to convince international or national authorities to invest seriously in these easy to duplicate “best practices” to alleviate hunger and poverty.

If local farmers, mostly women, can produce more crops with half of the normal volume of irrigation water, simply by applying one single time a soil conditioner, why don’t we invest more in the multiplication of vegetable gardens for villagers and school children?

Have a look at my blog <www.desertification.wordpress.com>, see what we have done with UNICEF ALGERIA for the creation of family gardens in the refugee camps of the Sahraouis people in the Sahara desert, and you will be convinced that a nice solution for the hunger problem exists.

It suffices to apply it to break the downward spiral. I know that the rural population in the drylands lacks the money to buy enough food and being constantly malnourished, is becoming weaker and often sick. Fabulous amounts of money have been and are continuously spent on very diverse, ambitious, but sometimes non-sustainable programmes and projects. What if we would invest in the creation of kitchen gardens and school gardens, offering the rural people and their children a nice opportunity to produce their own food, even within a period of 2-3 months? Production of fresh food, full of vitamins and mineral elements, makes them increasingly more able to work, which then makes them even less hungry and a bit wealthier (possibility to bring vegetables to the local market).

I see no easier and better way to create an upward spiral. And remember, seeing is believing. That’s what the Saharawis have been telling us after registering the first successes with their new gardens and trees in the Algerian Sahara desert.  Why only here, in the most difficult circumstances ?  Why not in all the drylands ?

The day will come …


First help the local people to decent food

Photo credit: WVC 1997

Photo taken at the start of the community garden photographed 12 years later by Willemien (see photo of 2009-02 in Niou). At the first training session, the local women learn how to apply the soil conditioner TerraCottem.

Do hungry people need trees or a garden?

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

Four years ago, a friend has sent a message, in which a short paragraph got my special attention:

The …………………… (name) Movement started a project in the Senegal many years ago. I participated in the information campaign. The field workers planted about 20.000 Acacia trees. Visiting the project one year later they saw that all the little trees dried out.  The local people answered that they had not enough water for the trees; they used it for their cows and goats.  But how could we plant 20.000 trees with …………. (name of a technology)?  It would be too expensive!

Here is my reply to him:

Dear Friend, You are completely right.  All those big projects are doomed to be unsuccessful, simply because a number of limiting factors (like water) will always hinder the achievement of the goals.

Instead of spending all the good money at reforestation without taking care of the hunger and poverty of the local people, foreign aid should concentrate on agro-forestry, creating small family gardens and surround these with fruit trees (these are TREES too).

Photo credit: Willemien Maastricht
Photo credit: Willemien Committee Maastricht-Niou

2009-02 – Burkina Faso, Niou village, Jardin des Femmes: community garden combined with mango trees, created in 1997 by the Belgium TC-Dialogue Foundation in cooperation with the Committee Maastricht-Niou for the local village women’s association Gueswende.

We should not look first at economic return on our investment, e.g. planting trees and shrubs for biofuel, but first of all eliminate hunger and diseases in a region, which is a conditio sine qua non to count on the collaboration of the local population at bigger reforestation projects in the future.

How can we ever justify that we ‘help‘ the local people if our main objective is to gain ‘something’ for ourselves?

For me, there is only one solution: first help the local people to decent food and then see how they can really help us to create return on investment.

Photo credit: Willemien Committee Masstricht-Niou
Photo credit: Willemien Committee Masstricht-Niou

2009-02 Burkina Faso: Jardin Kabouda, a community garden created with the support of the Committee Maastricht-Niou. A splendid example of combating hunger, child malnutrition and poverty.

Unfortunately, it has been and still is always business as usual, even for some international organizations, surviving thanks to the unsolved problems like hunger, child malnutrition and poverty, for which billions of dollars are repeatedly collected, without changing much at the grassroot level.

I get tears in my eyes, thinking at all those poor people out there, seeing how billions are spent year after year at what is called combating the problems.

Hunger, child malnutrition and poverty should be combated in the field itself, at the grassroot level, by offering people a chance to grow their own fresh food and fruits in a private family (kitchen) garden or in a community garden (see photos above).

We will never win that war if we continue to ship only food (the ammunition) to the frontline, not the necessary weapons (a fence, fertilizers, seeds, …) to create small gardens, the ideal platform for self-sufficiency.

For sure: victory can be ours!  Let us make the right strategic move.


In Burkina Faso they love the zaïs

http://kaabnoogo.blogspot.be/, Burkina Faso

Beating back the desert in Burkina Faso, field by field

by Romaric Ollo Hien


In Burkina Faso, what was once stony semi-wasteland is now covered in verdant crop fields, rescued from relentless desertification.

Using simple agricultural techniques largely spread by word-of-mouth, this tiny West African state has rejuvenated vast stretches of scrubby soil over the past 30 years, proving they are not doomed and giving hope to other vulnerable areas in the region.

One success story is Rim, a peaceful hamlet of about 3,000 people in the country’s north, close to the border with Mali.

Below the village as far as the eye can see, tall stalks groan under the weight of fat cobs of “baniga”, a white sorghum grown in this part of the country.

“This place was a desert. But the people succeeded in regreening the region,” said Amanda Lenhardt, a researcher with Britain’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI), who authored a report on farming developments in Burkina Faso.

Called “zai” or “stone contour”, the low-cost techniques were devised from some of the region’s traditional farming techniques, nudged along with some outside help.

In Rim, as in other parts of the country’s north, farmers now swear by “zai” after again producing food on land considered lost to agriculture—the occupation of at least 80 percent of the population.

The technique consists of building little stone barriers to trap runoff water and ensure it seeps into the ground, preventing erosion, agronomist Paulin Drabo explained.

Holes for planting are then dug next to the stones and packed with fertiliser, which together with the improved hydration, helps crops sprout up quickly.

A farmer collects ears of Nerica rice near Fada Ngourouma, in the region of the dam of Bagre, eastern Burkina Faso, on April 23, 2008 -   (Photo Phys.org.).
A farmer collects ears of Nerica rice near Fada Ngourouma, in the region of the dam of Bagre, eastern Burkina Faso, on April 23, 2008 –
(Photo Phys.org.).

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2015-01-burkina-faso-field.html#jCp

Are you looking for nutrition-smart food systems ? (Willem Van Cotthem)

What are the nutrition-smart food systems we are looking for ?

By Dr. Willem Van Cotthem (University of Ghent, Belgium)

Today, I have been reading with great interest the article on

“Why Our Food Systems Need to Be More Nutrition-Smart”

An Analysis by Howarth Bouis – Edited by Kitty Stapp

Here is the article I found on


WASHINGTON, Nov 8 2014 (IPS) – “We are especially distressed by the high prevalence and increasing numbers of malnourished children under five years of age in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. Moreover, more than 2000 million people, mostly women and children, are deficient in one or more micronutrients…”

These words are from the Final Report of the International Conference on Nutrition that took place in December 1992 in Rome.

Twenty-two years later, government representatives from around the world will again gather in Rome for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) and will have to contend with the reality that despite reducing the percentage of people suffering from micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) deficiencies, about the same absolute number of people – two billion – are still not getting the micronutrients that are essential for good health.

This is still too high a number; being deprived of essential micronutrients in the first thousand days from conception to a child’s second birthday can result in stunting, lowered IQ, and repeated bouts of illness that reduce lifelong productivity and keep generations in poverty and poor health.

So, today, we still face many of the same challenges as we did more than two decades ago. These have been further exacerbated by population growth, food price volatility and climate change, among other issues. Here are a few trends or factors that stand out today, and must be accounted for as we look to end hunger and malnutrition.

While population has grown, per capita incomes have increased in many countries. Staple food prices have fallen over the long run due to increased productivity from the Green Revolution, but non-staple food prices have risen. Thus, calories have become cheaper, but minerals and vitamins have become more expensive.

The distress is felt most by the poor, whose response is to cut down on the more expensive micronutrient-rich foods while making sure the household gets by on stomach-filling staples. To make matters worse, in recent years we’ve seen a disturbing trend where even the prices of key staple foods such as rice, wheat and maize that provide most of the global calories, have shot up.

Climate-induced changes and natural disasters will lead to more volatility in food production and, thus, price variability. The poorest households are least able to absorb shocks. As such, building resilience has emerged as a critical priority that requires greater alignment and collaboration with diverse partners to protect those who are most vulnerable from shocks.

One way to increase nutritional resilience is to make our food systems more nutrition-smart. Our food systems have to be calibrated to provide the greatest amount of nutrients per square foot of scarce land that can be produced sustainably, especially in the face of climate change.

This means growing more nutritious foods that include staple foods with enhanced micronutrient content that are proving efficacious in reducing micronutrient deficiencies. We have to build agricultural, and therefore dietary, diversity back into the system so that there is a ‘rebalancing’ of calories with micronutrients.

Being nutrition-smart means we also pay attention to growth in obesity, which today exists side by side with undernutrition.

The lessons learned in the past two decades show that there is no silver bullet. Integrated nutrition and public health interventions, and poverty alleviation social reforms are necessary to achieve good nutrition for all.

We have to more efficiently break down the silos between agriculture, nutrition and health food and health systems in order to improve people’s lives. The good news is that we have made significant strides. Twenty-two years ago, agricultural and nutrition scientists did not talk to each other very much. Now they do, and even more of that collaborative conversation and action are needed.

It pleases me greatly that global awareness has been building up over the past five years about how crucial nutrition is. The Copenhagen Consensus, a gathering every four years of top economists in the world, has twice put the reduction of micronutrient deficiencies at the top of their lists as the best use of public money, and have conservatively estimated a 59:1 dollar benefit-cost ratio.

I am heartened by global movements like Scaling Up Nutrition that are galvanising communities around the world to expand nutrition interventions that work, and by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Zero Hunger Challenge to eliminate hunger in our lifetime. As a global society, we cannot afford to let this momentum wane as other crises or trends command attention.

Achieving better nutrition is a multi-faceted endeavour. I have emphasised here the importance of making our food systems more nutrition-smart. And as the tagline for ICN2 states: better nutrition means better lives. There are of course complementary themes deserving of similar attention.

But this is what the delegates in Rome will have to tackle next week when, as the materials for the upcoming ICN2 suggest, coherence and collaboration must be built into any new frameworks and plans to improve nutrition. I look forward to being there, and to learning from the experience, the expertise and the insights of delegates from around the world.


This seems to be an excellent analysis by Dr. Howarth Bouis, who is Director of HarvestPlus and head of a global research programme that develops and disseminates nutrient-rich staple foods to reduce hidden hunger globally.

It is most certainly a good base for detailed discussions at ICN2 in Rome.

However, it creates also an opportunity to make a couple of remarks concerning the fact that “despite reducing the percentage of people suffering from micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) deficiencies, about the same absolute number of people – two billion – are still not getting the micronutrients that are essential for good health.”

Dr. Bouis is rightly “distressed by the high prevalence and increasing numbers of malnourished children under five years of age in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. Moreover, more than 2000 million people, mostly women and children, are deficient in one or more micronutrients…”

Aiming at a better future he claims that  “One way to increase nutritional resilience is to make our food systems more nutrition-smart. Our food systems have to be calibrated to provide the greatest amount of nutrients per square foot of scarce land that can be produced sustainably, especially in the face of climate change.”

It goes without saying that for him “This means growing more nutritious foods that include staple foods with enhanced micronutrient content that are proving efficacious in reducing micronutrient deficiencies.”

In the light of the dramatic switch in food production policies, ignited by the economic crisis and the food price volatility, an extremely high number of people have already taken the initiative to set up a personal “nutrition-smart food system” by turning towards their own small-scale fresh food production, generally indicated by the term “container gardening”.

Many rural people and urban dwellers are nowadays growing fresh vegetables and herbs, full of vitamins and minerals at home. Container gardening is becoming very quickly a popular trend, especially amongst the poorest part of population and its overall resonance is extremely positive, simply because it is “nutrition-smart”. Dr. Bouis said : “calories have become cheaper, but minerals and vitamins have become more expensive”.  Isn’t this the best argument to give absolute priority to production of vegetables and herbs instead of concentrating on improvement of micronutrient-poor and stomach-filling staple foods ?

If “Integrated nutrition and public health interventions, and poverty alleviation social reforms are necessary to achieve good nutrition for all.”, it seems that container gardening is “the silver bullet” Dr. Bouis is looking for.  Yes, the need for staple foods will remain a dominant factor, but this doesn’t necessary mean that research work to develop “staple foods with enhanced micronutrient content ” should get priority over helping people to ways and means to set up their own family garden or kitchen garden in which vitamins and minerals (all the necessary micronutrients) can be grow at the lowest cost in the shortest time.

During World War I and World War II people in Europe developed their own “Victory Gardens” in which sufficient vegetables and herbs were grown to avoid major health problems.  These Victory Gardens have meanwhile evolved into Allotment Gardens or Community Gardens and during the last decade many families have adopted container gardening as their rescue board for alleviating child malnutrition and even hunger.  Do we need more proof for the sustainability of this food production system ?

If our critical priority is building resilience for the most vulnerable, that is the poorest households, we should not look for a defensive strategy against upcoming volatility in food production and variability in food prices, but we should provide all these households, as soon as possible, with the necessary simple and cheap tools to get their own family (kitchen) garden producing fresh food for the daily meals.  Looking at the success of worldwide gardening in bags (sacks), barrels, drums, buckets, bottles, pots, cans, tins, etc. we have to be partly blind not seeing what this nutrition-smart food production system is contributing to the health of the vulnerable children and their parents.

When “The Copenhagen Consensus, a gathering every four years of top economists in the world, has twice put the reduction of micronutrient deficiencies at the top of their lists as the best use of public money, and have conservatively estimated a 59:1 dollar benefit-cost ratio”, someone should have made clear that community gardens and private container gardening are top systems to realise that reduction in a minimal time.

Therefore my conclusion is that community gardens and container gardening should be unanimously recognised as a nutrition-smart food system that merits full support of all the organisations responsible for the combat of hunger and malnutrition.

Our Chinese friends would add : “Don’t bring this man a fish, but teach him how to fish”.

A simple question about hunger, a difficult answer (Willem Van Cotthem)

Today, all over the developed world, important parts of the population are combating the economic crisis and in particular the food crisis by switching to production of fresh food. Produced at home, even in the smallest quantities, this “own fresh food” plays a considerable  role in the well-being of families, in particular of children.  Container gardening, vertical gardening, bottle towers, gardening on risers, balconies or windowsills, hydroponics, aquaponics, gardening in self-watering buckets, bags, sacks, crates, boxes, pots, guerilla gardening, edible forests, …, it are all different initiatives taken to alleviate  hunger and malnutrition problems.

Day after day, messages and photos or videos on the internet confirm that people feel the need to produce  their own fresh food, even in the smallest available space, e.g. a balcony on the 17th floor in the city.  It is marvelous to notice that most of these “novice farmers or gardeners” proudly announce the successes of their first experiments and the swift progress made thanks to “lessons learned” and “exchange of information”.

Thanks to these personal initiatives of private gardening, the most vulnerable part of the population in developed countries is less affected by the food crisis, in particular by the high food prices.

Therefore, I feel the need to formulate a very simple question :

“If a large group of people in developed countries, affected by the actual crises and suffering from hunger or malnutrition because of the high food prices, is successfully setting up actions to produce an important part of their own food, why don’t we teach the billion hungry people, mostly living in developing countries, to do the same ?”.

The answer to this question seems to be a very difficult one.

My Chinese friends are telling me : “Don’t bring that hungry man a fish that he will eat in one day, but teach him how to fish and he will eat all year long“.

As Chinese is not my mother tongue, I translated it into : “Don’t bring the hungry people rations of nutritious food that they will eat in one day, but teach them how to grow their own fresh food and they will eat all year long”.


Purely by coincidence I found today these 3 publications confirming that food production has become a very hot topic all over the world.  Please read :




Captions of photos :

  • “By growing different vegetables, Ainob Bibi is able to supply her own family and earn money”
  • “Sack gardening does not require much space”
  • “Sack gardening has also empowered women, who most often organise and take care of the gardens”



2012 : And the result of growing vegetables and herbs in bottle towers (Photo WVC)
Fresh food galore in a small space : The result of growing vegetables and herbs in bottle towers (Photo WVC)

1000 sustainable gardens for Africa (Tomorrow is Greener / Slow Food / Terra Madre)

Read at :


Posted by Greener Tomorrow

Slow Food is helping schools, villages and communities in Africa grow fruits, vegetables and herbs using sustainable water management, fertilizing techniques and pest repellent. Already 1000 gardens are blooming across Africa. The project aims on sustainable farming, water conservation and protecting varieties of indigenous crops.

“A vegetable garden means healthy, local food for the community, the passing-on of knowledge from the old to the young, and a reinforced spirit of collaboration,” Slow Food writes in its manifesto about the “A Thousand Gardens in Africa” project, which is being organized under the auspices of its Terra Madre network of food communities.

The program builds on agricultural and educational projects already underway, including school gardens in Kenya, Uganda and Ivory Coast, where “vegetable plots are farmed sustainably, using composting techniques, natural treatments for pests, rational water use, local plant varieties and by inter-cropping fruit trees, vegetables, and medicinal herbs”:


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.

Community Gardening (City Farmer News / Journal of Community Health)

Read at :


Impact of a Community Gardening Project on Vegetable Intake, Food Security and Family Relationships: A Community-based Participatory Research Study

Linked by Michael Levenston

By Patricia A. Carney, Janet L. Hamada, Rebecca Rdesinski, Lorena Sprager, Katelyn R. Nichols, Betty Y. Liu, Joel Pelayo, Maria Antonia Sanchez and Jacklien Shannon
Journal of Community Health
Published online Dec 23, 2011


This community-based participatory research project used popular education techniques to support and educate Hispanic farmworker families in planting and maintaining organic gardens. Measures included a pre- post gardening survey, key informant interviews and observations made at community-based gardening meetings to assess food security, safety and family relationships. Thirty-eight families enrolled in the study during the pre-garden time period, and four more families enrolled in the study during the post-garden period, for a total of 42 families enrolled in the 2009 gardening season. Of the families enrolled during the pre-gardening time period there were 163 household members. The mean age of the interviewee was 44.0, ranging from 21 to 78 years of age.


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 !


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