Combating malnutrition on your windowsills

Photo credit: Fe MONDEJAR – 2013-04 

Why keeping dependent on food aid ?

By Prof. Dr. Willem VAN COTTHEM – University of Ghent (Belgium)

It’s shockingly simple to grow juicy vegetables and herbs in containers inside the house, e.g. on windowsills.  No more the outdoors drought and desertification problems; no more irrigation difficulties or soil fertilization problems, causing lack of vitamins and mineral elements, origin of chronic hunger.

Fresh food production indoors in a simple pot or bottle: eat the freshly picked vegetables and herbs and leave the roots in the container to decompose, thus delivering more organic matter and keeping the containers ready for reception of the next seeds or seedlings.

You combat desertification? You save water? You need fresh food in a dry region?

Why don’t you use your imagination and start growing fresh food in all sorts of containers inside your house ?  Leave drought and desertification outside and transform your room into a lush greenhouse with extremely simple and indescribably cheap means !

The combat of malnutrition and other health problems can easily be won with inexpensive containers, inside the houses, inside the classrooms, not with sophisticated food purchased at foreign companies.

If only one wants to change the tune of possible profits !

Five minutes of political will suffice to start improving the physical condition of the malnourished children of this world.  And don’t forget : it’s so simple that even the kids can grow their own vegetables at home and at school.  Just teach them how to do and they will take care of their own future.  They will be prepared to become instructed adults with a lot of skills to avoid dependency on food aid.

Why do some people continue to turn their head away ? Who is keeping business running ?

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)

Homegrown food is tastier (Science Daily / Edrick Tobias MOLINA)

Read at :

Children Eat More Fruits And Vegetables If They Are Homegrown

ScienceDaily (Apr. 18, 2007) —  If you are looking for a way to encourage your children eat their fruits and vegetables, search no further than your backyard, suggests new Saint Louis University research.




2010-08 - Urban container gardening on the balcony of Edrick Tobias MOLINA in Tokyo (Photo E. T. MOLINA)
2010-09 - Bell Peppers in planters on the balcony - (Photo E.T. MOLINA)
2010-06 - Cherry tomatoes in planters on the balcony - (Photo E.T. MOLINA)

Food crisis ? Go for urban container gardening (Jojo ROM / Christian ALVAREZ LUZONG)

A message of Jojo ROMand a nice photo of Christian ALVAREZ LUZONG at the Facebook page of the Home Farmers Club (Urban Container Gardening Enthusiasts), clearly showing how every family can find solutions for the food crisis.  You can’t afford fresh food because of the high prizes ?  Produce it yourself in your backyard or on your balcony.  Container gardening offers numerous solutions.

by Jojo ROM

Agriculture for my family is neither a course, a profession nor a career…it is our way of life…and never faster-fatter-bigger one… it is grown with faith, hope and love. Fertilized with wisdom, care, patience and humility….and we believe that big and small feeds us all…

2011-10 : Lettuce production in bottles on a riser in Jojo's backyard. Fresh food for the family all year long (Photo Jojo ROM)




2012-01 : Magnificent young lettuce in bottles on risers (see background) - (Photo Christian Alvarez Luzong)


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 !


Needing food ? Grow it yourself on your balcony or rooftop (Jojo ROM / Willem VAN COTTHEM)

Seen at Jojo Rom’s Facebook :

Home Farmers Club (Urban Container Gardening Enthusiasts)

Jojo ROM (Davao, The Philippines) is a gardener becoming more and more famous for his remarkable successes with URBAN CONTAINER GARDENING.  Growing vegetables and fruit trees in bottles, pots, sacks, crates, etc., Jojo showed how easy it is to react upon the food crisis with simple tools.

Since many years, Jojo ROM produces all kinds of vegetables and fruits in his small backyard, but also on the balcony of the first floor and on the rooftop of his house.

He posted a series of interesting photos on Facebook (link above), showing that any family, not only those having a backyard, but also those living in an apartment or having a rooftop can easily produce a sufficient quantity of fresh food to alleviate hunger and malnutrition or to provide the necessary quantity of vitamins and mineral element for all the family members.

By re-posting these photos I hope to motivate people to start their own container garden at home.  I am strongly convinced that URBAN CONTAINER GARDENING (UCG) in backyards, on balconies and rooftops is one of the best methods to fight the food crisis, having a direct positive effect on public health and even on annual income by avoiding the high food prizes.  Jojo ROM’s nice work is highly commended.

It goes without saying that RURAL CONTAINER GARDENING (RCG) has the same positive effect on the standards of living of rural people.

I recommend to all fans of container gardening (UCG and RCG) to also try “bottle tower gardening“, as this technique has a lot of advantages, particularly production of a maximum of food in a minimal space (see :

Wishing a lot of success to you all !




“Thank you Willem, I’m always inspired to go on with this project despite surging ocean of challenges. I also would like to congratulate everyone in this group for trying UCG. If we practice this at home we are in one bandwagon to battle hunger and doing the ecological sanitation starting from our own backyard through composting. If we do this we are no longer negotiating starting from zero ground.  Government’s support to this project is always possible as long as we never forget our counterpart. Love, not leave agriculture, it is still the basic way of life… good food leads to good thinking and thanking about the resources provided to us by our creator. Great is the work of Willem who relentlessly supports the effort of the Filipinos.”


Balcony gardening : vegetables in bottles on the balcony edge (Photo Jojo ROM)
Balcony gardening : eggplants and other vegetables in bottles (Photo Jojo ROM)
Balcony gardening : eggplants fruiting (Photo Jojo ROM)
Balcony gardening : bell peppers fruiting (Photo Jojo ROM)
Balcony gardening : okra fruiting (Photo Jojo ROM)
Balcony gardening : Chinese cabbage (pechay) – (Photo Jojo ROM)
Balcony gardening : Chinese cabbage (pechay) in bottles –  (Photo Jojo ROM)
Balcony gardening : lettuce in bottles (Photo Jojo ROM)
Balcony gardening : Calamondin citrus tree (Calamansi) – (Photo Jojo ROM)


Rooftop gardening : Different vegetables in containers (Photo Jojo ROM)
Rooftop gardening : String beans and other vegetables (Photo Jojo ROM)
Rooftop gardening : Carrots from the roof to the kitchen (Photo Jojo ROM)
Rooftop gardening : Bitter melon production (Photo Jojo ROM)
Rooftop gardening : String beans, cucumber and bitter melon (Photo Jojo ROM)
Rooftop gardening : Radishes (Photo Jojo ROM)

Windowsill gardening for houses and schools in desertified regions (Willem Van Cotthem)

My friend Martine DAUBREME (Planetfuture) send me this nice photo of her mini-kitchen garden on a windowsill :

2011-04-28 – Mini-kitchen garden on a windowsill. Celery, parsley, spekboom or Portulacaria afra and lettuce. Container types with 2 opposite drainage holes 2,5 cm above the bottom : yogurt pots and a small bottle (Photo Martine DAUBREME)

It’s shocking how simple it is to grow juicy vegetables and a young tree inside the house.  No more drought and desertification problems causing lack of vitamins.  No more irrigation and soil fertilization problems of the soil. Permaculture in a simple pot : eat the vegetables and leave the roots in the pot to decompose, delivering  more organic matter and keeping the pots ready for reception of the next seeds or seedlings.

You combat desertification ?  You mitigate drought ?  You save water ? You need fresh food in a dry place ?

Why don’t you use your imagination and start growing fresh food in all sorts of containers ?  Keep drought and desert outside and transform your room into a greenhouse with extremely simple and indescribably cheap means !

The combat of malnutrition and other health problems will be won with inexpensive containers, inside the houses, inside the classrooms, not with sophisticated food of foreign companies.

If only one wants to change the tune of possible profits !

Five minutes of political will would suffice to start changing the physical condition of the malnourished children of this world.  And don’t forget : it’s so simple that even the kids can grow their own vegetables at home and at school.

Why do people continue to turn their head away ? Who is keeping business running ?

Family gardens and urban gardening to reverse the world’s food crisis (Willem)

Family gardens and urban gardening to reverse the world’s food crisis

Drought is described as a very important environmental constraint, limiting plant growth and food production. The World Food Program (WFP) has recently indicated drought in Australia as one of the major factors for the difficulty to deliver food aid to millions of people suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Drought is seen as the force driving up wheat and rice prices, which contributes directly to food shortage, social unrest and disturbances at the global level. Therefore, mitigating drought and limiting water consumption seems to be essential factors for resolving the actual food crisis and to find long-term solutions to malnutrition, hunger and famine, particularly in the drylands.

Application of water stocking soil conditioners, keeping the soil moistened with a minimum of irrigation water, and seeding or planting more drought tolerant species and varieties will definitely contribute to solve the food crisis. Scientists in China and the USA have recently discovered important genetic information about drought tolerance of plants. It was thereby shown that drought tolerant mutants of Arabidopsis thaliana have a more extensive root system than the wild types, with deeper roots and more lateral roots, and show a reduced leaf stomatal density. My own research work on the soil conditioning compound TerraCottem has led to similar conclusions : treatment with this soil conditioner induced enhancement of the root system with a higher number of lateral roots. More roots means more root tips and thus a higher number of water absorbing root hairs, sitting close to the root meristem. As a result, plants with more roots can better explore the soil and find the smallest water quantities in a relatively dry soil.

As the world’s population is growing by about 78 million people a year, it affects life on this earth in a very dramatic way. Droughts have caused a rise of food prices many times before, but the present situation is quite different, because it is based on specific trends and facts : the faster growing world population and a definite change in international food consumption trends and habits.

Some experts claim that “major investments to boost world food output will keep shortages down to the malnutrition level in some of the world’s poorer nations“, and that “improving farm infrastructure and technological boosts to farm yields can create a lot of small green revolutions, particularly in Africa”.

It seems quite difficult to believe that “major investments to boost the food output” will be able to “keep the food shortages down to the malnutrition level“, wherever in this world. Indeed, the world’s most famous research institutes have already developed very effective technologies to boost food production in the most adverse conditions of serious drought and salinity. Yet, not one single organization has ever decided, up to now, to use “major investments” to apply such technologies in large-scale programs, which would most certainly change the food situation in the world’s poorest nations.

It seems also difficult to believe that “improving farm infrastructure and technological boosts to farm yields” will be able to create “small green revolutions, particularly in Africa”. It is not by improving a farm’s infrastructure that one will manage drought. Although a number of technological solutions to boost farm yields have already been developed, only those tackling the drought problems are an option to create significant changes.

I do not believe that such changes can be realized at the level of large-scale farms. On the contrary, I am convinced that application of cost-effective, soil conditioning methods to enhance the water retention capacity of the soil and to boost biomass production in the drylands, is the best solution to help the poor rural people to avoid malnutrition and hunger, giving them a “fresh” start with a daily portion of “fresh vegetables”. These rural people, forming the group most affected by the food crisis, do not need to play a role in boosting the world’s food production. They simply need to produce enough food for their own family (“to fill their own hungry stomach“). Application of cost-effective technologies should therefore be programmed at the level of small-scale “family gardens” or “school gardens” and not at the scale of huge (industrial) farms, where return on investment is always the key factor for survival of the business.

Preferentially, major investments to boost the food output in the drylands should be employed to improve food production in family gardens and school gardens, in order to offer all rural people an opportunity to produce more and better food, vegetables and fruits, full of vitamins and mineral elements, mostly for their own family members or kids, partly for the local market.

Splendid examples of long-term combating food shortage with family gardens can be seen since 2006 in the refugee camps in S.W. Algeria (UNICEF project). One can only hope that such a success story will soon be duplicated in many similar situations, where hungry people wait for similar innovative and well-conceived practices, with a remarkable return on investment, laying solid foundations for further sustainable development.

Recently, a number of initiatives have been taken to enhance urban gardening space, not only with allotment gardens, but also with “guerilla gardening” and transformation of open, underused spaces into small-scale garden plots for downtown dwellers, apartment dwellers and even for university students like those at the McGill University in Montreal. Many poor urban people are very keen on harvesting their own crops in such small gardens or applying container gardening on balconies, terraces, rooftops or other unused open spaces. Support for urban agriculture or urban gardening can be seen as a priority for decision-makers to reverse the world’s food crisis.

Food aid, be it with billions of dollars, can only be very effective if priority is given to local food production for the poor rural or urban people, who can not afford to buy the expensive commercial food products in shops or supermarkets. Small-scale family gardens, school gardens, allotment gardens and urban gardens in unused open spaces should be our strategic counter-attack against the actual food crisis.

Interest grows for container gardening (Google / Commercial Appeal)

Read at : Google Alert – gardening

Interest grows for container gardening

Container gardening has exploded in popularity with about 47 percent of American households admitting to some form of container gardening. There are a lot of great reasons to garden in containers, in addition to the fun. Compared to fighting tight, heavy clay in the landscape, it’s also easier to provide a good environment when it comes to soil or planting mixes for your plants. One form of container gardening starting to increase in popularity is window-box planting. I recently visited a decorating store that was full of reproduction paintings. One painting obviously done in Europe in the 1800s really caught my eye. The narrow streets were lined with window-box plantings and created an almost festive look. It was clear that even way back then, people knew a lot about design using thrillers, fillers and spillers. The reasons that people garden in containers vary, but almost half claim to garden for decoration. They want to enjoy the beauty of the flowers and have them enhance the appearance of the home’s outdoor environment. So it makes sense that the window box is seeing a revival, too. Continue reading “Interest grows for container gardening (Google / Commercial Appeal)”

Tips for Growing an Herb Garden at Home (Google / PRWeb)

Read at : Google Alert – gardening

At Home Rewards Provides Tips for Growing an Herb Garden at Home

AP9*AtHomeRewards Provides Members with Significant Savings on Home Interests, Gardening Needs, and Much More

Norwalk, Conn. (PRWEB) March 10, 2008 — As the organic food trend grows stronger worldwide, more people have decided to grow their own produce at home. Edible flowers, vegetables, fruits and herbs are among the favorites. At Home Rewards (SM), a leading discount membership program offered by Adaptive Marketing LLC, reports that although herb gardening is less complicated than flower or vegetable gardening, there’s still a learning curve.

Herb gardening is a good way for non-experts to start a garden, whether in a yard or in pots placed on a sunny windowsill. Selecting which herbs to grow is the first step, one that should be taken seriously. The garden should be composed by easy-to-grow herbs that can also serve as a complement for the dishes prepared at home. Pizza lovers will pick basil, parsley is a favorite of Italian dishes fans, and those who go for Mexican or Indian cuisine will choose cilantro first and foremost. Once the herb choices are made, what’s next? AtHomeRewards has put together a simple list of tips to have in mind before and during the growing process at home: Continue reading “Tips for Growing an Herb Garden at Home (Google / PRWeb)”

Container gardening inspirations (Appartment Gardening Homes)

Read at :

Container gardening inspirations

E-book- The home of indoor plant careClick Here!

Container gardening can be a hobby in itself. It is one means of bringing life and colour into a concrete jungle. With this style of gardening, rooftop penthouses shine and unit balconies and window sills glow with vibrant colour. Yes, and indoor plant-life, too, will bring a smile. One reason? Container Gardens are easy to establish and maintain, taking up so little time, but rewarding you with so much.

Put ‘em anywhere- well, almost.

Plants in pots need not be limited to soil-less areas. They can be used to spice up entrances, terraces, patios, and to create lovely vantage points around the garden. So be creative. Be daring. Use your imagination. If it doesn’t work, all you’ll do is develop a bicep in moving them.

Tip. Keep roots trimmed as they come outside the pot. Re-pot the plant when it becomes root-bound, and go up one-third the size the original pot when re-potting. Re-potting and prunning helps and encourages rejuvenation. In container gardening you need to prune and re-pot late in the afternoon out of the sun, or on cool days.

So many varieties of plants can be grown in this way. These include shrubs, small trees, herbs, vegetables, flowers, annuals, perrenials, bulbs, rockery plants and more. Whatever style you desire can be created using the correct techniques.

So lets get to it! There’s fun to be had and lot’s to learn.

And more Tips

Keep pots out of the mid summer sun. Arrange it so they are placed to provide beneficial shade to one another. Choose a pot of suitable size for the plant. A guide to an adequate size container: it should be just a little wider than the spread of the plant. This prevents stagnation.

Drainage is important. So please use a recognised potting mix and not soil from the ground. Ground soil is not designed for the use in containers. It becomes air-less and creates bad drainage. Ground soil is prone to becoming stagnant creating disease and an unhealthy, unhappy plant.

How would you like to be in a confined spaced with mud up to your armpits? Even the bumbly bees snub a plant in this condition. Terracota pots are prone to drying out quickly so seal their insides with a quality sealant. Your local nursery can provide this.

In winter let that pot plant almost dry out occasionally; short periods, only of course. Keep it so the soil is slightly damp to 5cm-7cm deep.

Feed in Spring and follow requirements for individual plants. A general slow release potting fertiliser is okay for most plants. liquid fertilise every two weeks in spring and summer.

The Herbs? For container gardening



Feeding their hungry mouths (container gardening)


Repotting for container gardening


Howja do it?


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