One can eat the Opuntia cactus pads (see “nopales”), drink pad soup, eat the fruits (barbary figs), make jam, use it as fodder for the livestock, ground the seeds to produce an oil, produce cosmetics and medicine against blood pressure and cancer.

Look at the nice picture above. It could have been taken in any desert or desertification affected country. What do you need more to be convinced ?  Well, maybe first read about Morocco’s initiative below !

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


Photo credit: BBC NEWS

Women farmers find cactus plants are a real money spinner

Cactus commerce boosts Morocco

By Sylvia Smith
BBC News, Sbouya, Morocco

Opuntia in Yemen - Photo Yemen Times 1799-4117 - - get_img
Opuntia in Yemen – Photo Yemen Times 1799-4117 – – get_img

It is just after dawn in the hills above the Moroccan hamlet of Sbouya and a group of women are walking through the thousands of cactus plants dotted about on the hillside, picking ripe fruits whenever they spot the tell-tale red hue.

But these woman are not simply scraping a living out of the soil.

The cactus, previously eaten as a fruit or used for animal feed, is creating a minor economic miracle in the region thanks to new health and cosmetic products being extracted from the ubiquitous plant.

This prickly pocket of the semi-arid south of the country around the town of Sidi Ifni is known as Morocco’s cactus capital.

It is blessed with the right climate for the 45,000 hectares (111,000 acres) of land that is being used to produce prodigious numbers of succulent Barbary figs.

Every local family has its own plot and, with backing from the Ministry of Agriculture, the scheme to transform small scale production into a significant industry industry is under way.

Some 12m dirhams ($1.5m) have been pledged to build a state-of-the-art factory that will help local farmers process the ripe fruits.

The move is expected to help workers keep pace with the requirements of the French cosmetics industry which is using the cactus in increasing numbers of products.

Barbary fig (Opuntia ficus-indica, prickly pear) oil is a lucrative market –


Izana Marzouqi, a 55-year-old member of the Aknari cooperative, says people from the region grew up with the cactus and did not realise its true benefit.

“Demand for cactus products has grown and that it is because the plant is said to help with high blood pressure and cancer. The co-operative I belong to earns a lot of money selling oil from the seeds to make anti-ageing face cream.”

Read the full article: BBC NEWS


Spineless Opuntia in Senegal

Photo credit: Ilonka De Rooij


ilonka DE ROOIJ sent a nice photo of a series of cactus pads growing at their development project in Senegal.  Please register that this variety of the prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica var. inermis) has no sharp spines, which make it quite easy to handle.

Recently we posted on our Facebook-page of the “Opuntia Ambassadors” ( a message of Anke Zürn, who shared an article of the FAO entitled “TRADITIONAL CROP OF THE MONTH”. This article was shared by somewhat 600 people and a lot of positive comments were posted.

Photo credit: Ilonka DE ROOIJ (Senegal).
Photo credit: Ilonka DE ROOIJ (Senegal).

The observation that Opuntia stricta got out of control in Australia, invading tens of thousands of hectares of rangeland, particularly in Queensland. It was eventually controlled by introducing the moth Cactoblastis cactorum to become a classic example for effective biological control” can’t be seen as valid for this spineless variety of Opuntia ficus-indica, as this variety is fully edible (pads and fruits for food and animal feed). Therefore, it will remain constantly and completely under control.

We wish our friends Ilonka and Rafaël a well-merited success.

Introduced plants invaded Zanzibar

Photo credit: Pixabay

Starfruit from Zanzibar

How fruits, plants and spices enrich Zanzibar

by Anita Makri


In the 2000 years of trading across the Indian Ocean, fruiting plants and spices from around the world have been introduced to Zanzibar and the smaller Pemba Island 80 kilometres to the north. The growth of plantations and trade in the sought-after spices brought new settlers, increasing demand for resources such as wood for building and herbs for medicine.
Spices are still a big part of daily life on Zanzibar and in Swahili culture, not just in food but as traditional medicines and for spiritual, cultural and cosmetic use. They are also a major export and tourist attraction. In 2013, tourism overtook agricultural exports as Tanzania’s main source of income — despite official statistics excluding informal activities such as spice farm tours, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Read the full article: SciDevNet



If it’s not hunger relief, it’s health (Good News Network / Willem Van Cotthem)

Here again there is a nice example of the importance of a school garden.

School Turns Abandoned Field into Organic Farm, Growing Ton of Produce for Cafeteria

By Good News Network

Just eight months ago, a one-acre plot at the Denver Green School was an unused athletic field, but now that land has come to life with food-bearing vegetation.

“We have harvested over 3,000 pounds of produce from this ground,” said Megan Caley, a coordinator for Sprout City Farms, which partnered to create the garden.

“Kids are eating healthier,” said Frank Coyne, of the public school. “They are excited to eat the tomatoes on the salad bar, they are excited to eat the cucumbers.”


Sprout City Farms and the Denver Green School formed a partnership that has set records and delivered organic veggies directly to the cafeteria, a first for the State of Colorado.


MY COMMENT (Willem Van Cotthem)

If the international aid organizations seem to be reluctant to invest in such a programme to produce fresh food for schoolchildren, why would the non-governmental organizations not do it ?

It really makes a big difference and even with less resources a dramatic amount of good work can be done everywhere, even in the most remote areas.

This is sustainable food aid !


Which way would you go to stop an unfolding food crisis for children ? (Willem Van Cotthem)

Did you read my former posting on this blog ?


Yes?  Then you know that UNICEF’s Executive Director Anthony Lake “called today on the global community to take action to prevent one million children in the Sahel region of West and Central Africa from becoming severely malnourished.

He said : “We must begin at once to fill the pipeline with life-sustaining supplies to the region before it is too late.” and “underscored the urgency to act before the ‘lean season’ when food runs out due to inadequate rain or poor harvests, which can start as early as March in some of the countries across the Sahelian belt.

I fully agree that UNICEF and its partners must be prepared to get sufficient amounts of ready-to-use therapeutic foods to treat severe acute malnutrition.  I also agree that “each child has the right to survive, to thrive and to contribute to their societies.

Indeed, “we must not fail them” !

Nice children in the Sahara desert getting healthier food with vitamins and micronutrients thanks to UNICEF’s family gardens (Photo WVC)

However, the real question is if the best way of solving the problem of child malnutrition is getting sufficient therapeutic foods to intervene when the need increases.

Or, could it be that a well-prepared programme of vegetable and fruit production by the Sahelian families themselves is a better cure ?

One may doubt about the feasibility of such a programme, but knowing that UNICEF itself was successful with its own “Family gardens project for the Sahrawis families in the Sahara desert of Algeria“, there can not be any doubt anymore.  If family gardens, school gardens and hospital gardens can be productive in the desert, they can certainly be in the Sahel, where a better rainfall offers more chances to use the minimum of water needed.

Many families in the Sahara desert avoid malnutrition of their children by producing fresh vegetables and fruits in their small UNICEF garden (Photo WVC)

It should not be extremely difficult to accept that it is better to produce fresh food and fruits for the children in the threatened countries of the Sahel (like everywhere on this world !) than to have to spend billions of dollars at purchasing therapeutic foods for children already malnourished.

Yes, “we must not fail them“, and we will surely not fail them by offering them chances to take care of their own family gardens and school gardens.

There are in the drylands tenthousands of successful small gardens.  We have the necessary knowledge and technical skills to duplicate these “best practices” wherever we want, even in the desert.  Who would still hesitate to take initiatives to gradually “submerge” the Sahel with small family gardens and school gardens ?

If there is a pipeline to be filled, it should be filled with the necessary materials to create family gardens and school gardens.

Shall we continue to appeal on “solidarity” for raising billions of dollars for responding to the successive crisis periods in the drylands ?  Or shall we, once and for all, spend a minor part of that money on enabling sustainable food production by the local people themselves ?

You Madame, you Sir, which way would you go ?

Do I still have to confirm that I admire the nice work of UNICEF for children in real need ?

UNICEF ALGERIA representative Raymond JANSSENS, tool in hand, visiting one of the family gardens in the Sahara desert.  Wherever a kitchen garden flourishes, there is no more child malnutrition ! (S.W. Algeria) – (Photo WVC)

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)

Reforestation with fruit trees (Fabio RUIZ / Willem Van Cotthem)

Here is a message from Fabio RUIZ (Mexico) :

“I found this free e-book, The nut culturist, by Andrew S. Fuller and I think its amazing that the author in 1896 talked about substituting the trees like the elm in the highways by trees which produce nuts, like the almond and the walnut. These trees can provide us with food for many years, instead of just give shade or beauty.


Thanks, Fabio.  This is indeed an excellent idea.  Generally, different tree species are used in reforestation programs, but one can easily imagine that fruit trees, adapted to the local conditions could be planted instead of the classical, wood producing species.

Why don’t we have fruit trees in our villages and cities ?

Seeds for The Gambia 2011

Please see my newest video :

Seeds for The Gambia 2011

Seeds of vegetables and fruits are collected for the “Seeds for Food”-action in Belgium. Those seeds are offered to development projects all over the world. The Gamrupa Foundation (The Netherlands) took seeds to The Gambia in 2011, where they where used in two school gardens. Thus, children have fresh food at a daily base, a nice initiative to alleviate malnutrition.

Recommended : monkey orange, ackee, wild Ethiopian coffee, tsamma melon and safou (Worldwatch- Nourishing the Planet)

Read at :

Five Fruits You’ve Never Heard of that Are Helping to End Hunger

No single fruit can put an end to hunger. But worldwide there are many different fruits and vegetables that are helping to improve nutrition and diets, while increasing incomes and improving livelihoods.

Today, Nourishing the Planet features five fruits that you have likely never heard of that are helping to alleviate hunger and poverty.



Less mango, more higher-earning crops like cotton, sugar cane and wheat in S.Pakistan (AlertNet)

A message of Saleem Shaikh :

Pakistan’s mango orchards disappearing as weather shifts

18 Aug 2011 22:46
Source: Alertnet // Saleem Shaikh And Sughra Tunio

MIRPURKHAS, Pakistan (AlertNet) – Increasingly harsh and unpredictable weather is hurting mango production in southern Pakistan, driving farmers to cut down trees in favour of higher-earning crops like cotton, sugar cane and wheat.

But the crop switch is reducing the region’s tree cover, leading to higher carbon emissions and hotter living conditions for many farmers, as well as a loss of culture in a region where mango growing has long been a part of life.

Ali Ahmed Brohi, who six months ago cleared 300 mango trees on his 10-acre plot in Mirpurkhas, 225 kilometres northeast of Karachi, is already wondering whether he made the right decision.

The cotton, sugarcane and vegetables he now plants earn him twice what he made from the 20-year-old mango orchard, Brohi said.

But increasingly hot summer temperatures in India, worsened by the lack of the shade and cool breezes the mango orchard once offered, worry him.

“I can feel a definite change in the climate in our area,” the 40-year-old said.

According to Pakistan’s Federal Bureau of Statistics, mango is cultivated on about 167,000 hectares in Pakistan each year, and the country produces 1.7 million tonnes of the fruit annually. Continue reading “Less mango, more higher-earning crops like cotton, sugar cane and wheat in S.Pakistan (AlertNet)”

An international movement to make use of urban-grown fruit (City Farmer News / The Globe and Mail)

Read at : Google Alert – desertification

Harnessing the abundance of urban orchards

Linked by Michael Levenston

An international movement to make use of urban-grown fruit that is normally left to rot has burst into full bloom.

By Jessica Leeder
Globe and Mail
Jul. 29, 2011


In Toronto, nearly 20,000 pounds of fruit was harvested last year, each haul divided among volunteers, homeowners and community partners, including shelters and food banks. But figuring out what to do with the abundance, much of which accumulates during a couple of short months, is an ongoing preoccupation every harvest organizations faces.

Some fruits are conventional – apples, for example – and can easily be donated to food banks. Others, such as elderberries, which need to be processed before they are eaten, or flying dragon, a lemon-like citrus fruit with a piney aroma that is harvested by an organization called Concrete Jungle in Atlanta, are tougher to figure out what to do with.




How to grow quality melons (Agriculture Guide)

Read at :

Growing Melons, Makings, Tips – A Grandfather’s Tenets

In these hot summer days, melons are one of the favorite fruits of the Turkish people, who produce 1.8 million tonnes of melons every year. This places Turkey at the second in the world melon production, right after China, who produces 6.6 million tonnes. All this information is leading to this:  We know how to grow quality melons, and now we’ll share our secrets with you.



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