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.

Women and children first at the table


Photo credit: WVC 2005-12-DRARIA WOMEN-41.jpg – with Gérard RUOT (SOS Village d’Enfants Draria, Algeria), Raymond JANSSENS (Representative of UNICEF ALGERIA) and Willem VAN COTTHEM (Ghent University, Belgium)

Within the framework of UNICEF’s project “Family gardens for the Saharawis refugees in S.W. Algeria” in 2005-2007, a workshop was organized in December 2005 to prepare a group of  women for the construction of their own kitchen garden in the Sahara desert and in the Village d’Enfants of Draria..  They learned how to apply the water saving and fertilizer saving soil conditioner TerraCottem (www.terracottem.com).  With some 2000 small family gardens in the Tindouf area (Algeria) constructed at the end of 2007, UNICEF’s project was a remarkable success.

About brown and green food revolutions, grasses and food crops

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

If the lives of a group of people are at stake, “Women and children first” implies that the lives of women and children are to be saved first. If the lives of hungry and malnourished people are at stake, those of women and children are to be taken care of first.  That was one of my thoughts after reading Shannon Horst’s article entitled: “Africa needs a brown (not green) food revolution” in The Christian Science Monitor on July 6, 2010 :

Africa’s long-term food security will come from nurturing the soil, not manipulating expensive seeds


First of all I want to confirm that I agree with most, but not all, of Shannon’s excellent points.  One of my remarks is that some of her views are too generalized:  

  • I do not believe that all Western initiatives to help Africa risk to cause more damage to that continent.  Not all these initiatives are ‘grounded in manipulating seeds and increasing synthetic fertilizers to improve production’.  
  • It is my sincere conviction that nowadays not all the aid groups ‘put more money, more science, or more business savvy behind the same old approach’.  If this were the case, it would mean that ‘all scientists are looking in the wrong direction’.  If Shannon Horst is a scientist herself, she certainly feels accused as much as I am by that statement.
  • Not all the scientists ‘are focusing on how to grow bigger, more, and disease- and pest-resistant plants’.
  • Not all the scientists ‘focus on how to manipulate the plants rather than how to produce both healthy plants and healthy soil’.

I therefore take for granted that Shannon Horst is aware of the content of my contributions on three of our blogs:

  1. https://desertification.wordpress.com,
  2. http://containergardening.wordpress.com and
  3. http://www.seedsforfoood.org.
Women and children preparing their kitchen gardens in Draria (Algiers) at the local “SOS Village d’Enfants”- PHOTO Gérard RUOT – P5120032-SOS-042006-JARD.FA.jpg

While manipulating seeds and increasing application of synthetic fertilizers to enhance plant production can be qualified as ‘looking in the wrong direction’, these two points do not cover fully the content of what is called the Second Green Revolution.  There are no strong arguments to sustain the idea that the totality of this agro-industrial model ‘would further destroy Africa’s soil and water in the long run and exacerbate the problems: food insecurity, bare land, soil erosion, increased drought and then flooding when the rains finally do come; increased pests and invasive plants; and the collapse of the river systems and groundwater stores’.

Even at an overripe apple there may still be some tasty pieces!  

So, let us not blame all the ‘Western’ scientists to be part of what Shannon is seeing as some destructive machinery, called the Second Green Revolution, described as exclusively using technologies to boost farm yields.

Very fortunately, we all know numerous people, men and women, scientists, aid workers, members of international, national and non-governmental organizations, who are not looking in the wrong direction.  They are working continuously hand-in-hand with the rural and urban population on the African continent, like on all the other continents.  By the way, we certainly know many respected scientists, whose research work has been contributing or still contributes to the improvement of the living standards of the poorest human beings.  Many of them developed excellent and constructive methods or models, successful practices and inputs, applied in all kinds of development programs for the welfare of farmers and townspeople.

Grassland or farmland, or both?

Grasslands are dominated by grasses. Grassland with scattered individual trees is called savanna.

Savannas cover almost half the surface of Africa (not 70 %). They are characteristic for warm or hot climates with an annual rainfall from about 50 to 125 cm (20-50 inches), concentrated in 6 or 8 months of the year, followed by a dry period when fires can occur. The soil of a savanna is porous, rapidly draining water. It has only a thin layer of humus, which makes them inappropriate for agriculture.

Farmers sometimes cut down small parts of forests, burn the trees, and plant crops for as long as the soil remains fertile. When the field is abandoned a couple of years later, grasses take over and a savanna can be formed.

Elephants can convert woodland into grassland in a short period of time. Shannon Horst is right in saying that ‘Africa’s once vast, healthy savannas were produced by the hoofs and manure of vast herds of grazing animals and pack-hunting predators’.

Some activities are seen as environmental concerns regarding savannas: poaching, overgrazing and clearing of the land for crops. Nevertheless, I can’t imagine that people aiming at a Second Green Revolution would ever plan to turn all those grasslands (half of Africa!) into crop fields, risking the creation of another Dust Bowl or the collapse of all the grasslands.

As savannas are covering half of the African continent, the rural populations of these savannas are indeed ‘pastoralists or agropastoralists who do not farm’, although many of them do have a small garden.  Do we really suspect the international organizations or the big agri-business to plan the transformation of these pastoralists into farmers?

If half of the rural populations of Africa are pastoralists, the other half must be farmers. If half of the continent is covered with savannas, the other half of Africa’s landscape must be farmland in tropical or temperate climate, humid, semi-humid, arid or semi-arid climate zones.

I can’t believe that neither ‘Millions have already been spent by US and European aid organizations throughout Africa on unsuccessful farming programs’, nor that ‘these approaches to increasing food security focus on production without considering the social, economic, and biological consequences’.

To the best of my knowledge, many successful programs and projects with contributions of numerous famous international scientists, with expertise in their different disciplines and belonging to highly qualified institutes, have been set up in collaboration with the very best national experts, to improve agricultural and horticultural practices in almost every African country.  It is not even thinkable that all these programs merit the qualification ‘destructive’.

On the other hand, I gladly take Shannon’s point on the interesting aspects of Allan Savory’s work on the role of livestock for animal husbandry. My high esteem and appreciation go to his remarkable findings.

However, I must admit that I have a lot of difficulties to understand how Savory’s findings on

‘educating local people in practices that blend some older pastoral knowledge and techniques of animal herding with new understanding of how grazing animals, soils, plants, and organisms coevolved and function in a healthy state’ are applicable on Africa’s 50 % of farmland, an ‘ecosystem’ that is so completely different from grassland that the two impossibly can be compared.

Finally, I want to congratulate Shannon for her closing remark:

‘Does this mean we should not support technological innovation? Of course not.

But what we must do is find and support those technologies that not only solve a problem or achieve an objective, but also maintain or enhance the social, financial, and biological fabric of the whole system over the long term’.

If we accept that farmland and grassland are two different entities, with their own intrinsic finality, having a natural tendency to pursue their own good, one should treat them differently according to the traditional (local) knowledge.  That knowledge can be optimized by combining it with modern technologies, aiming not only at improving the live of ALL the rural people, farmers and herders, but also that of the urban people, who will participate in the success of a revolution, be it a brown or a green one, ‘enhancing the social, financial, and biological fabric of the whole system over the long term’.

Honestly, considering all this, I strongly believe that one should first improve the live of women and children in Africa.  Women deserve it to get a better live, because they play a key role in the ‘social, financial, and biological fabric’.  Children deserve it, because they carry the future of a continent in themselves.  Therefore, child malnutrition is a real shame.

The most important challenge for Africa is to improve food security, both on farmland and on grassland.  I am convinced that container gardening will play an important role in the achievement of that food security goal.  All over this beautiful continent women and children should sit first at the table and their daily fresh food on that table will undeniably come from their own kitchen garden and/or school garden, if only we really want to change nutrition as rapidly as the climate.


This text has already been posted on my desertification blog in 2010:


It got 3 comments and was edited today.



(1) Carole Gonzalez:

Wow, that is interesting. My “yes – but” – is that growing food plants in containers in villages is an adjunct to improving the grasslands.  There is much to be said for a paleo diet.  I am diabetic and must follow it to be healthy. Some but not much fruit, mostly green vegetables and meat must compose my diet.  I am looking to send Patrick Harry in Malawi some seeds of trees that grow well under arid circumstances and produce fruit without much or any care.

(2) Frank Ziddah:

“Tons of “super” seeds of rice, maize, cassava and other local staples in various parts of Africa are made available by international development agencies every now and then. The problem with their programmes is that those agencies and their regional or local partners fail to effectively market and convince farmers [mostly educated] to make the switch. Hence, a year or so later adoption and usage rates are not surprisingly [very] low. In short, their efforts fail. Going forward I would suggest a 2-prong approach: better soils + better seeds. “

Frank Ziddah: Having read the post at Scribd, I must agree to your concluding remarks “the most important challenge for Africa is to improve food security,” using solutions suited to Africa’s soil and ecosystem.

(3) Tony Simeone: Very informative exchange that clearly articulates your interest and philosophy on land use – AND recipients of benefits.


See also:







Do not hesitate to join our Facebook Group on “CONTAINER GARDENING AND VERTICAL GARDENING”.

Don’t hesitate: more than 73.000 members joined us already !

Recommended: Tunnels in the drylands


Photo Pinterest mosiac+002.jpg

A tunnel of willow cuttings

Growing living tunnels with drought-tolerant trees to create possibilities to grow fresh food for each family in the drylands

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

A living tunnel – Photo Pinterest baltimore+002.jpg 



On all continents people are looking for success stories or best practices to combat desertification and to alleviate malnutrition or hunger.

Don’t we agree that food aid is not a sustainable solution.  Year after year one is looking for growing support to ship food to people in need all over the world.  Clearly, this will never stop because the causes of hunger and malnutrition are not halted.

But what if we could offer to the suffering people some solutions to grow their own food, even in the desert ?  Well, some success stories prove that this is possible.

Take for instance the possibility to grow drought-tolerant trees, e.g. some willow species, in the drylands.

Not too difficult to imagine how people in the drylands could grow their own fresh food in such a tunnel. Yes, they can ! – Photo Pinterest baltimore+006.jpg

My recommendation is quite simple: grow these drought-tolerant trees in the form of a tunnel (see pictures) and thus create a location in which one can permanently grow vegetables and herbs.

You think the soil can be a problem ?  Avoid that problem by growing fresh food in containers (sacks, bags, buckets, tubes, tubs, …)

You think water supply can be a problem ?  Water saving techniques offer lots of chances to grow food with a minimum of water (see examples at https://www.facebook.com/groups/221343224576801/).

The biggest difficulty to take this important step towards a better future : MAN.


And what if they would get some help to install container gardening at home ?


Photo credit: Asianet.Newsable

Malnutrition deaths haunt tribal children in Attappady

By Team Asianet Newsable


  • On Saturday, five month old infant died of heart ailment and underweight related complications
  • Health workers say that over 3000 tribal children are anemic and require immediate attention
  • Deaths related to malnutrition came down from 58 in 2013 to 14 in 2015

Six cases of infant death and at least 10 neonatal deaths were reported from the tribal belts of Attappady since January, 2016


Despite claims by the state government of efforts to prevent poverty and malnutrition in the tribal belts of Attappady in Palakkad, child deaths continue to stalk the region.

The latest in the list is a five-month-old girl who died on Saturday owing to heart ailments and complications related to underweight. The child, belonging to Sholayar tribal belt, was admitted to Government Medical College, Thrissur.

Another tribal child, 12-year-old Manikandan, belonging to Swarnapirivu tribal colony, died of anaemia on 19 September. Health officials confirm that malnutrition and anaemia affect people in the tribal belt irrespective of age and undernourishment is prominent among children.

They also said that over 3,000 children are anaemic and requires immediate attention. As many as six infant deaths were reported from the tribals belts of Attappady this year.

Read the full story: Asianet.Newsable

Desertification and container gardening



Container gardening as a tool in the drylands

One of the most interesting aspects of the combat of desertification is the quest of the best practices (water saving, improvement of soil, successful reforestation, production of food crops, limiting erosion, etc.).

One of these best practices consists in the application of container gardening.

One can find a panoply of variants of this method or technique at :


Check the daily update for tips to be applied in the combat of desertification.

Climate change, land use and global food demand.


Photo credit: * Containers in greenhouse – veggies – Photo Lemuel A. Molina – 282925_524481317575915_1703501653_n.jpg

Climate change means land use will need to change to keep up with global food demand, say scientists

September 20, 2016
University of Birmingham
Without significant improvements in technology, global crop yields are likely to fall in the areas currently used for production of the world’s three major cereal crops, forcing production to move to new areas, new research suggests.

Read the full article: Science Daily

Journal Reference:

  1. T.A.M. Pugh, C. Müller, J. Elliott, D. Deryng, C. Folberth, S. Olin, E. Schmid, A. Arneth. Climate analogues suggest limited potential for intensification of production on current croplands under climate change. Nature Communications, 2016; 7: 12608 DOI:10.1038/ncomms12608


MY COMMENT (Prof. Dr. Willem VAN COTTHEM, University of Ghent, Belgium)

It would be very interesting if research could be set up on the possible role to be played by CONTAINER GARDENING in the global food demand within the framework of climate change.

To what extend could “container gardening” contribute to food security for hungry families ?

A suggestion for the interested colleagues ?

Small-scale kitchen gardens and container gardening are the most efficient tools to provide fresh food


Sacks gardening in urban and rural areas

Published on 25 Feb, 2010 12:22 pm

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


In every developing country people are suffering from the high food prices. More than billion people are hungry every day. The creation of small-scale kitchen gardens and container gardening are the most efficient tools to provide fresh food to rural farmers and urban people. Growing food in sacks is an interesting variant of container gardening.

Smallholders and rural producers have a vital role to play in overcoming global hunger and poverty, and new and varied partnerships are needed, with particular emphasis on the interests of women, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on February 17th, 2010.  He also confirmed that the growing international recognition of the role of agriculture and rural development in poverty reduction is helping to build the Global Partnership for Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition. Despite the hardships of the global recession, last year saw an upturn in investment in agriculture, along with promises from world leaders of large additional increases over the next three years, he said, thereby underscoring that “we need to continue creating diverse and innovative partnerships that can help people and communities achieve greater productivity, nutritional health and self-reliance. In this respect we must give pre-eminence to the interests of women, who juggle their time between food production, processing, marketing, child care and balancing the household budget”.

* Sack - onion - Photo Ville Farm - 625641_134848003355532_1593377365_n
* Sack – onion – Photo Ville Farm – 625641_134848003355532_1593377365_n.jpg

In every developing country people are suffering from the high food prices.

Taking into account that most of the rural women in the drylands spend the major part of their daily life with small-scale agricultural activities, it goes without saying that, when creating diverse and innovative partnerships that can help people and communities achieve greater productivity, the best return on investment will come from the creation of small kitchen gardens close to their houses.

There is no need to offer them some financial resources.  Funding to start up a family garden can be done as a “micro-credit”, not with a certain sum of money, but in the form of the necessary materials and equipment. Success stories have shown that, in rural areas, offering a family garden to women is the easiest and most efficient way to combat hunger and poverty.

* Sacks - garbage - Photo Crops in pots Treehugger 404459_315544111821294_262706507105055_858274_1606004967_n
* Sacks – garbage – Photo Crops in pots Treehugger 404459_315544111821294_262706507105055_858274_1606004967_n

However, in urban areas the situation is quite different. With their extremely low income and having barely a patch of arable land, almost all the urban families are confronted with some form of hunger and malnutrition.  In Kibera, Nairobi (Kenya), hundreds of residents of the slums have adopted a new form of intensive gardening: growing vegetables and herbs in sacks.

* Sacks - Kibera, Kenya - Photo Avantgardens - 24631_623615430985555_2019559313_n
* Sacks – Kibera, Kenya – Photo Avantgardens – 24631_623615430985555_2019559313_n.jpg

Previously, women in densely populated cities mostly planted vegetables on small plots of barren land. Nowadays, the novel form of gardening in sacks or all kinds of containers can be introduced in every urban area.  Indeed, as finding even small patches of arable land in a city or a town is becoming almost impossible, sacks or other containers, taking up less space than small-scale gardens, are an interesting solution for food production.

With only a small budget, NGOs can easily start up a sacks gardening project with a small number of women and later extend invitations to more women, and even schools, to join the group.  This seems to be a fantastic way for almost every urban family or school to have access to affordable vegetables, herbs and fruits.

Wherever needed, a short training in sacks gardening can be planned. Women and children can learn in the shortest time these simple gardening techniques of container gardening, in particular those of water harvesting, soil fertilization and adequate irrigation.

As sacks gardening can provide a sustainable source of vegetables and fruits, one can foresee a growing success of this novel form of gardening both in rural and in urban areas. NGOs and foundations can help women and schools to fence their gardening plots and to store irrigation water (not drinking water).

With a limited number of sacks of vegetables family members or school children do not fear to be hungry.  It would be a remarkably easy way of food production in refugee camps, where every family could have a small number of sacks close to the tent.

The success of similar projects in developing countries on all continents should encourage NGOs, foundations, banks and international agencies like FAO, WFP and UNHCR to invest in this efficient way of combating hunger and poverty.

If there is really a growing international recognition of the role of agriculture and rural development in poverty reduction, helping to build the Global Partnership for Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, along with promises from world leaders of large additional increases over the next three years, like Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON said, then it should not be so difficult to set up a programme to promote sacks gardening at a global level.

Combating hunger and child malnutrition with container gardening


Container gardening against hunger and child malnutrition in 2016

Prof. Dr. Willem VAN COTTHEM

University of Ghent (Belgium)

Formerly published at: https://desertification.wordpress.com/2010/05/17/container-gardening-against-hunger-and-child-malnutrition-willem-van-cotthem/


These are some interesting quotes from an article published by Dean FOSDICK for the Associated Press: Container gardens for vegetables are growing in popularity : http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-living/ci_15072431?nclick_check=1


(1) Two of the hottest trends in gardening are containers and cultivating fresh food, and savvy families are beginning to combine the two. They’re growing their vegetables in pots.

(2) “It’s so easy to put a tomato into a pot. It almost grows itself,” Crawford says. “It’s a whole different ballgame than putting one in the ground. There’s less weeding involved and fewer insects to fight. Container gardens are more productive and involve less work.” (Pamela Crawford, a landscape architect who has written four books about container gardening. Her latest is “Easy Container Combos: Vegetables and Flowers” (Color Garden Publishing, 168 pp., 2010).

(3) “I’ve been able to harvest as many as 236 small spicy peppers all at once from four plants in a 16- to 20-inch container,” Crawford says, referring to habaneros. “I’ve also been able to get my fill of tomatoes from a pot that included a few ornamental sweet potato vines with their large root systems. It’s amazing how little ground space plants need to be productive. They can tolerate being crowded.

(4) “I’ve had good experience with clay pots and plastic pots,” says Joseph Masabni, an assistant professor and horticulturist with Texas A&M University. “If you live in a hot area, I don’t recommend black or dark containers. They can overheat plants. I prefer clay because it breathes if it isn’t coated. (Plant) roots are never starved for oxygen.

(5) Vegetable gardening in containers is also a good way to involve children.

(6) “Older people who are still gardeners at heart but who live in apartments also can grow their fill of vegetables or small fruiting shrubs in pots,” he says.




MY COMMENT (Willem Van Cotthem)

No one denies that container gardening is “an easier ballgame” than growing plants in the ground, particularly in the drylands. There are many advantages in avoiding plant growth in a poor dryland soil by using a better substrate in containers (improved soil without any pests, bigger water retention capacity by limiting evaporation, less weeds, more oxygen, etc). Most people are not aware of the fact that plants can do with limited ground space, even grown in competition with other species in a container.

Not only “savvy families” are beginning to combine container gardening and cultivating fresh food. It is more and more recognized that this type of gardening is a key for combating hunger and child malnutrition.  Indeed, everyone on this globe, in rural areas and in urban ones, can grow his own fresh vegetables and some fruits in all kinds of containers (pots, bottles, boxes, bags…).

Many city dwellers, thinking they are excluded from gardening, will appreciate the reward of vegetable gardening in a condo or apartment.  For them, container gardening can open up a new world of producing their own food.

Clay pots being too expensive for people in developing countries is a wrong argument, sometimes used against container gardening.  There are plenty of plastic pots and bottles, plastic and metal boxes, plastic shopping bags and woven bags everywhere.  One sees them littered all over the world.  So, why not using them for food production?

In Belgium, I am growing continuously plants in bottles and pots, thus reducing irrigation for at least 50 %.  My plants do not need special care: I can leave them for weeks and weeks without “labouring my garden”.  See my blog: http://containergardening.wordpress.com


Growing vegetables and herbs in bottle towers (Photo WVC P1070019) –

See https://youtu.be/jBY2NN-T0fc

P1110745 copy

My experimental pallet garden to grow food crops in different containers on a vertical structure (Photo WVC P1110745 copy)


The same experimental pallet garden 3 years later. Massive plant production in pots and buckets on the vertical pallet structure (Photo WVC P1120204)

Today (2010/05/17), I was reading at the blog of AfricaFiles (Africa InfoServ <infoserv@africafiles.org>) the article No. 23615: Africa can feed itself: green revolution takes root” – See also: http://www.agra-alliance.org <http://www.agra-alliance.org/&gt;.

Under Summary & Comment I found: “Kofi Annan poses challenges for Africa’s Green Revolution and gives recent examples of success, supported by AGRA. He emphasizes the importance of smallholder farmers and “partnerships”, skips over the controversial issue of GMOs, and encourages the spread of best practices in farming, marketing and finance for agriculture. But first he summarizes the current connections between climate change, water scarcity, poverty and other factors which lead to Africa being currently „the only continent unable to feed itself.” J.Stamp.

I cannot agree more with Mr. Kofi ANNAN, emphasizing the importance of smallholder farmers and encouraging the spread of best practices in farming.  I am profoundly convinced that container gardening is one of these best practices for smallholder farmers, particularly in all areas affected by drought and desertification, be it in rural areas or in the cities.  With this type of gardening there is even no need for drip irrigation!

If “Africa really is the only continent unable to feed itself“, “partnerships” should be encouraged to apply container gardening at the largest possible scale by farmers and citizens, but also by their children at school.  In doing so, Africa will soon be able to feed itself.  Hunger and child malnutrition will be banned forever from that beautiful continent.

Why don’t we set up a large-scale test in one of the areas affected by hunger to show once again what is already known?  Why continuously importing expensive food if every single person can produce it very easily at home? Let us not forget that there is also a certain pride when one knows that one can grow his own fruits and vegetables, not being dependent anymore on food aid from international organizations or NGOs.

That reality is “jumping into our eyes”.  Let us not close them now for that reality!

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!

Women and sack gardening


Photo credit: Takepart

Residents of the Kibera slum in Kenya tend to vegetables planted in sack gardens. (Photo: Tony Karumba/Getty Images)


Across Africa, a New Kind of Container Garden Is Changing Women’s Lives

Growing food in sacks uses fewer resources and less labor and provides high yields too.

by Sarah McColl sarahmccolltpbp

Some people have the talent to take a simple idea and adapt it into a solution with far-reaching benefits. Take Veronica Kanyango of Zimbabwe, a grassroots organizer who works in home-based health care and hospice for people with HIV/AIDS. She’s managed to take a couple of bags full or dirt and turn them into an agrarian movement.

“You show her a sack garden, and she’s turned it into a network of women who are producing lettuce and tomatoes for the Marriott hotel,” said Regina Pritchett of theHuairou Commission, a nonprofit that works on housing and community issues for women across Africa.

Using bags of the sort you stuffed yourself in for a race on field day—which are filled with manure, soil, and gravel—sack gardening or farming has been successfully adopted in areas of Africa where agriculture faces distinctly different challenges. It’s proved an effective way to grow food in regions with drought as well as areas prone to flooding, in rural communities and in urban slums. At the Grassroots Academy coordinated by the Huairou Commission in the spring of 2014, Pritchett said, the concept exploded.

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