From survival to victory !


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Empowering families through food sufficiency at the household level



Mati City promotes home gardening in barangays

Riser with bottles in Jojo ROM’s garden in Davao City, The Philippines, producing enough vegetables and herbs for the family needs – * Riser – vegetables – Photo Jojo ROM – 971622_10200263484728066_974390336_n.jpg

DAVAO CITY- The City of Mati in Davao Oriental is advocating home gardening and nature farming with the establishment of green communities in the different barangays in the city. One aspect of the program is promoting urban container gardening among homeowners in the city.

Jojo ROM, an expert on container gardening in his own kitchen garden with risers in Davao City, Philippines) – * Riser – Radish and carrot – Photo Jojo ROM – 215853_1728582652671_1181604134_31573102_4686613_n_2.jpg

From January to May of this year, three homeowners association were chosen as pilot areas to undergo Urban Container Gardening (UCG) activity cycle 1. A total of 77 homeowners voluntarily enrolled to participate and 48 of them adopted the program marking a 62% success rate.

The homeowners association include Sambuokan Homeowners Association, Macambol Homeowners Association and Fatima Sudlom Home Farmers Association.

Self-sufficiency by home gardening in containers on risers – * Riser for massive food production – Photo Almar B. Autida – 10255663_10201730750126773_1525730629288922985_n.jpg

The urban container gardening is institutionalized thru the city mayor’s Executive Order 42 which establishes Green Communities with agri-based industry based components for youth, women and other organized associations adopting the 4H club and the rural improvement club strategies, creating the technical working group providing funds therefor.

Riser with a fish pond underneath for irrigation of the contairs with water enriched by the fish – * Riser with pond – Photo Jojo ROM – 154253_1533125726370_5655386_n.jpg

Vice-Mayor Glenda Rabat-Gayta says that empowering families through food sufficiency in the household level is the main goal. The benefits of this simple gardening in the backyard are strengthening family relationships, incurring savings, income augmentation, entrepreneurial opportunities, promoting agri-tourism and solid waste management.

Read the full article: Philippine Information Agency

Time to teach them how to grow their own fresh food instead of keeping them dependent on food aid.


COMMENTS OF Prof. Dr. Willem VAN COTTHEM (Ghent University-Belgium) ON

Nearly 385 million children live in extreme poverty – UNICEF

Today I read this interesting article on UNICEF’s alarming message about child poverty, in which I find :

“The report dubbed: “Ending Extreme Poverty: A Focus on Children revealed that in 2013, 19.5 per cent of children in developing countries were living in households that survived on an average of $1.90 a day or less per person, compared to just 9.2 per cent of adults.

It said globally, almost 385 million children are living in extreme poverty.

According to the report, children are disproportionately affected, as they make up around a third of the population studied.


UNICEF and the World Bank Group are calling on governments to routinely measure child poverty at the national and sub-national levels and focus on children in national poverty reduction plans as part of efforts to end extreme poverty by 2030.”

Source: GNA”.

Children are more than twice as likely as adults to live in extreme poverty, according to a new analysis from the World Bank Group and the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF). –

As a header of this remarkable text we find this scaring picture above, showing anxious children keeping up an empty plate: NOTHING TO EAT AND QUEUING FOR SOME FOOD.

Once again it shows that there is an urgent need to teach all schoolchildren in developing countries how to grow fresh food at home and at school (e.g. in a schoolgarden).

Of course, a lot of them need an urgent supply of nutritive meals.  That means that emergency programs are acceptable and very useful.

But it is not by sending loads of nutritive cookies (or other healthy meals) that one will change a single thing at this disastrous situation.  Yes, we will save starving children, but the 350 million children living in extreme poverty need more than a food aid meal a day.

We urgently have to change our food aid strategies to make them sustainable (see the new goals):

(1) Keep on going with emergency actions where needed;

(2) Set up educative programs to teach the children successful methods and simple techniques to grow their own daily rations of vitamins, micronutrients and mineral elements (fresh edible crops).

Impossible to believe that people concerned would not know a thing about the existence of these essential methods and techniques.  Since years they are fully described and illustrated.  It suffices to check some data (photos, texts, videos) on the internet, e.g.

Let us never forget that UNICEF itself has set up in 2005 a very successful program, called “Family Gardens for the Saharawis refugees in the S.W. of Algeria“, that unfortunately was stopped at the end of 2007 after showing that even in the Sahara desert families were (still are !) able to grow vegetables and herbs in their own garden.  The French would say: “Il faut le faire !”.

We keep looking forward for the global application of such a fresh food production program, using these basic, simple ways of growing food at home and at school.  That would be the real, sustainable food aid. “Il faut le vouloir !“.






Uploaded on Feb 8, 2011

The project “Family gardens in the Saharawis refugees camps of Tindouf, S.W. Algeria” has been very successful (2005-2007). Today, the refugees continue the construction of new gardens with the help of NGOs and individual sponsors. A series of videos will show that it is rather easy to offer to all the families in the camps the possibility to produce fresh food. (To be continued)


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


My publication in January 2010:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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


Planning a Sustainable Future


Photo credit: IFAD

With access to water and training, Priscilla began to plant maize, beans, peas and sweet potatoes to sell in local markets and also began to produce chickens and bees.

Water, Rural Livelihoods, Jobs and Food: Planning a Sustainable Future

In the north of Tanzania, Cecilia William used to depend on irregular rainfall to irrigate her crops. As a single mother, she struggled to grow enough to feed her family.

“Life was very difficult. I was not happy at all with the situation,” recalls William.

It was access to water – through an irrigation system installed by the Tanzanian government and supported by IFAD – that finally changed her life. With regular access to water, William became not only a successful farmer but also an innovative entrepreneur, starting her own construction business with the additional income.

“Before I was in total darkness. After I was getting an income, that is when things changed,” said William. “I started thinking about expansion, and a lot of plans came into my head.”

William’s story demonstrates just how essential water is for rural people, not just for their household use and drinking, but to sustain their main form of livelihood—agriculture.

It is estimated that 95 per cent of jobs in the agriculture and the inland fisheries sector are heavily dependent on water. Without access to water, smallholder farmers cannot afford to expand their farms and face the risk of losing their businesses.

This has major implications not only for them but for their communities and the cities that depend on them for food.

Read the full story: IFAD




Photo credit: Treehugger

CC BY 2.0 Jennifer C


Yardfarmers follows 6 young Americans as they move back home to farm their parents’ yards

Derek Markham

by Derek Markham

So you think you can farm (your parents’ backyard)? An upcoming reality TV show plans to shine a light on yardfarming, with a twist.

Reality TV is so … predictably drama-filled and scripted. There, I said it. I don’t want to take anyone’s guilty pleasure away from them, so keep on keepin’ on, but consider tuning in to what might be the most interesting urban farming reality show ever (OK, so maybe it’s the only one, but still …) next spring.

Yardfarmers, which was created by Erik Assadourian, a senior fellow at the Worldwatch Institute and a sustainability researcher and writer, aims to follow six young Americans as they move back in with their parents to grow food in their parents’ yards and/or other neighborhood greenspaces. It’s an intriguing proposition, and one which may help to bring urban farming and backyard farming out from under the Portlandia hipster umbrella and put it back in the forefront of conversations about sustainability and food systems.

While the casting for the first season of Yardfarmers is now closed, applications for the 2017 season are still being accepted, with the short list of requirements consisting of affirmative answers to the following four questions:

  • Are you a young American between the ages of 21 and 30ish?
  • Do you live with your parents or would you consider moving back in with them?
  • Do you want to try to convert your parents’ lawn (and neighborhood greenspaces) into a workable yardfarm–one that can sustain you and your family either nutritionally or financially or both?
  • Do you want some guy with a camera following you around while you try to do this for nine months?!?

Here’s the trailer for Yardfarmers:

Read the full story: Treehugger