Not Forgotten International Inc., (NFI) is a humanitarian aid organization that exists to serve refugees and other oppressed or suffering people around the world.  This is accomplished through advocacy, education programs and through providing humanitarian relief and other programs of assistance to those who are in need.  NFI’s current areas of focus are the Saharawi Refugee Camps in Algeria and water and food programs in Hinche, Haiti.

While there are many organizations that have similar missions, NFI is unique in the sense that central to its purpose is the development of strong and ongoing relationships with the people groups it serves.   In addition, programs are geared toward empowering the people of these countries with basic skills and education, and increased nutrition and health to better their standard of living and provide hope for the future.



Since we were introduced to the Saharawi in 1999, many opportunities surfaced to come alongside them in their suffering.  Not only telling their story, but demonstrating through our actions that they have not been forgotten, we developed a trusting relationship that blossomed into an ongoing partnership ever since.

It started with the Saharawi Children’s Program, bringing hundreds of Saharawi children to multiple states around the US to live with host families for the summer since 1999. After a few years, the question was asked, “What about all the children left behind in the camps?” This inspired Project:Left Behind which, since 2002, has brought countless Americans and other foreigners to the camps to work with children.  As the relationships grew, the Saharawi leaders invited us to have an ongoing presence in the refugee camps. This came in the form of Essalam English Center which was inaugurated in Spring of 2005 and serves growing numbers of Saharawi each year.  Out of the English Center has come many other opportunities to join hands with the Saharawi, most recently including the Gardens in the Desert project.  We invite you to take some time to explore these projects and find how you can join hands with us to help remember those who have been forgotten.


In the Sahara Desert of western Algeria…where temperatures reach 130, water is scarce and nothing can grow…there survives a people, the Saharawi– refugees since 1975. Against all odds, they have survived on sorely–deficient humanitarian aid rations.

But thanks to one Saharawi man’s dream, the Desert is beginning to bloom with fruits and vegetables– necessities for health for the 160,000 children and families living in the refugee camps. Taleb Brahim had the opportunity to study agriculture and brought his talents back to the camps, where he started to experiment in his own home. With the right materials, he soon found he could grow a great variety of fruits & vegetables year round.


The Saharawi now have the possibility of planting small family gardens using small greenhouses, a simple drip irrigation system, and protective netting that offer hope for families to be able to provide important nutrients for themselves both now and in their future.


You can help bring about this miracle of creating gardens in the desert by supplying a refugee family with a plot’s worth of growing material and seeds by donating $25, $50, $75 or more. Please join us in helping the Saharawi help themselves and ease their suffering as they wait for justice and restoration to their homeland of Western Sahara, North Africa.

For $50 anyone can sponsor a Saharawi family garden (CTR)

Read at : the CTR Blog

Rivers in the Desert

Posted on January 20, 2009 by CTR

Posted by Julie Kelly, CTR’s Writers & Storytellers Team

I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys.  I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.
(Isaiah 41:18, NIV)

A Saharawi woman reaps a bountiful harvest where once there was only sand.

The beauty of the Kingdom of God is that there comes with it a great reversal of all things. The greatest will be the least, the least of us will be a King, the broken are put back together, and the desert, the dry desolate desert, is turned into a pool of water. Absurdity, it would seem, except it is happening today.

Terracottem® was developed by scientists to combat desertification in U. N. and other humanitarian projects in Africa.

That’s what the Saharawi Desert Project is all about.  Dr. Willem Van Cotthem of Belgium invented a soil conditioner, TerraCottem, that allows plants to grow and thrive with very minimal water usage. Along with TerraCottem, greenhouses, and drip irrigation systems, Saharawi families are able to grow tomatoes, peas, squash, lettuce, beets and watermelon, among other things,  year round.

This project had been funded by UNICEF until about a year ago, when money for the program was pulled.  But it’s Christ The Rock’s vision to keep this project going.  And  it is easier than you think. For $50 anyone can sponsor a Saharawi family garden and provide a sustainable and nutritious source of food.

If this is something that you would like to be a part of, you can designate monies to The Saharawi Desert Project on your tithe envelope or on your check memo.   Please prayerfully consider sponsoring a family and sharing in this glimpse of the Kingdom of God and we will join in prayer together.

Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth, as it is in Heaven.

Life springs from the sand in Saharawi refugee camps/ W. Sahara (CTR)

Read at : Christ The Rock Global

Life springs from the sand

Posted on April 24, 2009 by CTR


Posted by Janet Lenz

If you participated in the 5 Day Hunger Challenge and experienced what it is like to live on beans or rice, flour, sugar and oil, it’s not difficult to understand what a thrill it is to be able to add fresh vegetables and herbs to your bland, simple diet.

The Saharawi people with whom CTR has been involved since 1999 have lived on that simple refugee diet for over 30 years. And God has put it into our hearts to help families in the refugee camps to grow simple vegetable gardens in the desert sands surrounding their tent homes.

The family gardens project continues to excite us as we see the potential for Saharawi families living in refugee camps in Algeria to provide healthy nutrition for themselves. Continue reading “Life springs from the sand in Saharawi refugee camps/ W. Sahara (CTR)”

I rest my case (Willem Van Cotthem)

Having read the former posting on this blog :

One Laptop Per Child and the East African Community Commit to Providing Laptops to 20 Million Primary School Students by 2015 (OLPC / NGO News Africa)

there is only one single question that came to my mind :

“What will the 20 million malnourished primary school students eat before going to school and use their laptop ?”.

At many occasions, together with many other caring organizations and people, I have advocated that time has come to offer to all families in the drylands a chance to start up their own small kitchen garden in order to alleviate child malnutrition and chronic hunger.

Although agreeing that providing technical equipment, like mobile phones (see a former posting on this blog) or laptops to children, is a “commitment in line with the UN Millennium Development Goal of enabling a generation of children to think critically, connect to each other and to the world’s body of knowledge, in order to create the conditions for real and lasting peace“, I can difficultly accept the idea that it could be more important to have a laptop than to have at least one decent meal a day.

Thinking of a very simple solution (providing every family a small and inexpensive kitchen garden) and dreaming of 20 million well-nourished primary school students, I can only use the phrase “I rest my case”.


Read at : UNNews


New York, Mar  5 2010  2:05PM

The United Nations, together with the Guatemalan Government and aid partners, today launched a $34 million appeal to counter food shortages affecting 2.7 million people living in the Central American country’s so-called ‘dry corridor,’ which even before last year’s drought had one of the highest rates of chronic malnutrition in the world.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (<“”>OCHA) said today’s appeal will complement national relief efforts and provide support for food, health, nutrition, agriculture and early recovery, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene projects for six months for some 680,000 people living in departments in the eastern section of the country, including the dry corridor – Jutiapa, Santa Rosa, Zacapa, Chiquimula, El Progreso and Baja Verapaz – and the neighbouring Izabal and Quiché. Global acute malnutrition among children under the age of five in the dry corridor and the two neighbouring provinces is at 11 per cent, and at 13 per cent among women of child-bearing age. Both figures are above the emergency threshold of 10 per cent.  The dry corridor had faced annual food shortages before, but this year, the situation is exacerbated by a combination of bad weather and bad economics. Continue reading “$34 MILLION TO ASSIST DROUGHT-STRICKEN GUATEMALANS (UNNews)”

Delightful news from FAO and IRIN : urban gardens and food security (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!

Our message on smallholder farming came over loud and clear, five on five (Willem VAN COTTHEM / UNNews)

For many years we have been promoting the idea that the battle against global hunger can only be won by using small-scale farming as the most effective “war strategy”.  Offering smallholder farmers, in particular the women, the necessary minimal means (tools and seeds) to grow their own fresh food, instead of spending enormous resources at shipping them food aid year after year, is our everlasting “credo” and conviction.  It is based on the results of uncountable success stories with family gardens on different continents, where repeatedly was shown that families owing a small kitchen garden are always in a position to cope with the most adverse situations of drought and poverty.

Burkina Faso : successful community gardens of the Committee Maastricht-Niou

Smallholder farming is the best protection against all kinds of climatological and economic misfortunes, for there will always be something to eat within hand reach.  For mothers, it is the most practical and direct way of providing vitamins and mineral elements for the children, totally independent of the food prizes at the local market.  Farmers having a family garden are not totally handicapped by poverty, excluding them from access to costly fresh food at the market.

02-02Senegal 04
2002 Senegal (Toubacouta) : Splendid production of vegetables in a community garden installed by the Belgian TC-Dialogue Foundation

Moreover, if in better seasons production level in the family garden is high enough, there will also be a possibility to sell some of the vegetables or fruits at the local market place, thus enhancing a bit the annual income.

2001-07 - Pakistan (Gadap Malir) : Small-scale farming test on the use of a soil conditioner with the local Farmers' Union was a significant success
2001-Sanuara yield
2001 - India (Sanuara, Himachal Pradesh) : RUCHI-project on small-scale farming on mountain slopes resulted in extraordinary tomato production

Needless to say, we feel very happy with the echoes of today’s official declarations at the Food Summit in Rome.

Here is the UNNews report on Mr. Ban Ki-moon addressing the Summit :


New York, Nov 16 2009 10:05AM

“A three-day United Nations summit on world food security opened in Rome today, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warning that on this day alone more than 17,000 children will die of hunger – one every five seconds, 6 million a year – even as the planet has more than enough food for all.

“Today, more than one billion people are hungry,” he <“”>told the assembled leaders, calling for immediate action on long-term remedies, a day after he himself fasted for 24 hours in solidarity with all those billion. “It was not easy. But, for too many people, it is a daily reality.”

He laid out a full, comprehensive spectrum of measures to combat a scourge gravely exacerbated by climate change and population growth that will see two billion more mouths to feed in 2050 — 9.1 billion in all — with an overall need to grow 70 per cent more food.

The steps
range from
immediate needs such as food aid,
safety nets and social protection to the longer-term goals achieved through increased investments in agricultural development, including provision of seeds, water supplies and land to ensure higher productivity, better market access, and fairer trade, above all for smallholder farmers, especially women.

“These smallholder farmers are the heart and soul of food security and poverty reduction,” Mr. Ban declared. “We must resist protectionism and end subsidies that distort markets. This, ladies and gentlemen, lies at the core of food security.

Our job is not just to feed the hungry, but to empower the hungry to feed themselves.”

He warned of a chain reaction over the past year that threatens the very foundations of life for millions of people, with rising energy prices driving up food costs and eating away the savings that would otherwise be spent on health care or education.

“It is a vicious cycle that impoverishes not only its immediate victims but all people,” he said. “Millions of families have been pushed into poverty and hunger. Suffering on this scale spills over borders. It sets back development and undercuts social order, as we well know.  Over the past year and a half, food insecurity led to political unrest in some 30 countries.”

But it is not enough just to deal with the crisis when it arrives, even though the world responded with the greatest-ever food aid, pledging funding and improved policies at various summits, and even worse potential damage was averted.

“Because the underlying problems persist, we will continue to experience such crises, again and again – unless we act,” Mr. Ban said. “The food crisis of today is a wake-up call for tomorrow.”

He stressed the inter-relationship between the food and global warming crises, pleading for agreement at next month’s climate change summit in Copenhagen on curbing greenhouse gas emissions to keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

The melting of Himalayan glaciers would affect the livelihoods and survival of 300 million people in China and up to 1 billion people throughout Asia, while Africa’s small farmers, who produce most of the continent’s food and depend mostly on rain, could see harvests drop by 50 per cent by 2020, he warned.

“Today’s event is critical.  So is the climate change conference in Copenhagen next month. There can be no food security without climate security,” Mr. Ban declared. “They must produce results – real results for people in real need, results for the one billion people who are hungry today, real results so millions more will not have to suffer when the next shock hits.

“The world is impatient for us to make a difference. I, too, am impatient. And I am committed.”

Money for food or aid for a small kitchen garden ? (Willem Van Cotthem)

Please read at the website of WFP: (What causes hunger?)

“Food has never before existed in such abundance, so why are 1.02 billion people in the world going hungry?

In purely quantitative terms, there is enough food available to feed the entire global population of 6.7 billion people. And yet, one in nearly seven people is going hungry. One in three children is underweight. Why does hunger exist?”


“Hunger, in most cases, is caused by lack of money rather than a shortage of food production, according to the World Food Programme (WFP)” :

I found this quote in today’s IRIN’s message : In Brief: World hunger increases despite growth in food production

(see my former posting on this blog).

If this is really the case, my logic tells me : poor people remain hungry because they cannot afford food due to the high food prices.

Shall we make the poor richer to eliminate hunger ?

Or shall we offer them a chance to construct their own family garden, school garden or hospital garden to produce fresh food locally ?

Shall we continue to spend trillions every year at shipping food to the undernourished ?

Or shall we set up cost-effective international aid programs to lay-out at least a small kitchen garden for every family in need ?

Combining traditional methods with cost-effective technologies to create sustainable small-scale farming is nowadays widely accepted as “the policy for a better future”.

For me, lack of money is not the problem, but the choice of the right strategy is.

African and Asian friends, what’s your choice ?  Ships, planes, trains and trucks full of dry or canned food every month, or small gardens full of fresh vegetables and fruits.

But who is listening ?

A simple question about school gardens (Willem Van Cotthem)

Did you notice during the last months the growing number of publications, messages and mails about child and maternal undernutrition ?  Did you read attentively on this blog the first two sentences in the former post ?

“An astonishing 200 million children under the age of five, almost all in Africa and Asia, suffer from the debilitating impact of stunted growth resulting from a lack of food and the right nutrients, a new United Nations report warned today.  The UN Children’s Fund (<“”>UNICEF) report, <I><“”>Tracking Progress on Child and Maternal Nutrition</I>, also stressed that undernutrition contributes to a third of  deaths of all children under five each year, which in 2006 stood at almost 10 million globally.”

With great interest I also read yesterday the UNNews message about FAO’s new report published ahead of next week’s World Summit on Food Security, in which the following sentences kept my attention :

“The report details factors underlying the success of four countries that have significantly reduced hunger, namely Armenia, Brazil, Nigeria and Viet Nam. It cites four common factors to successfully reducing hunger. They are the creation of the right environment promoting economic growth and personal wellbeing; investment in the rural poor and outreach to the most vulnerable; ensuring achievements are maintained and safeguarded against threats; planning for a sustainable future. Nigeria, for example, through its National Programme for Food Security, succeeded in more than doubling production and incomes of small farmers who practice rain fed agriculture by introducing improved technologies that enabled them to grow two or three crops each year instead of just one.

I wonder if Nigeria’s National Programme for Food Security contains a chapter on school gardens. Wouldn’t it be nice if practicing rain fed agriculture with introduction of improved technologies leads to 2-3 crops each year for all the school children, not only in Nigeria ?

1998 - One part of a school garden in Niamey (Niger) with different vegetables for the children. Another part of the school garden is an orchard with different fruit trees. Project of the former Belgian TC-Dialogue Foundation.

As a scientist interested in success stories and best practices to combat hunger and malnutrition, I am looking for an answer on the following question :

“Taking into account that a school garden, producing fresh vegetables and fruits, is a tremendous tool to provide food full of vitamins and mineral elements, why doesn’t one set up a large-scale international aid program to offer such a kitchen garden to every school in the developing countries ?”.

I remain looking confidently forward, knowing that a school garden is also an extraordinary educational tool, preparing all the school children for a better insight in plant growth and agricultural techniques.  With school gardens, the international agencies and the national governments would pave the way to a better life for the children.

Why not ?  It would most certainly be a nice “outreach to the most vulnerable”.


Every now and then we read about the huge problem of malnourished children being at great risk of contracting infectious diseases.  Repeatedly the same causes are mentioned : lack of food, lack of knowledge of good nutritional practices, high prices for many basic food products, poor  drinking water quality and extreme poverty leading to hungry mothers having no milk for breastfeed.

We all appreciate the wonderful achievements of UNICEF’s vaccination programs for children.  Countless children have been protected from the major infant’s infections. And yet, the results of these vaccinations do not reach the highest scores, mainly because the children’s malnutrition  remains at the same level throughout the year or between harvests with the highest rates of global acute malnutrition (GAM).

How to alleviate this general malnourishment, which is so typical for developing countries, in particular those in the dryland areas where nutrition levels are continuously low and even deteriorating constantly ?  What kind of initiatives should we take to lower the percentage of children under the age of five classified as underweight for their height ?

There are of course those magnificent efforts of the World Food Programme (WFP), providing food to people in need.  Take for instance the WFP interventions described in some of the former posts on this blog :


“Since September, to coincide with the start of the school year, the UN World Food Programme (<“”>WFP) has been providing daily hot meals to 360,000 children attending primary schools in rural Tajikistan. The agency also delivers food to an estimated 260,000 Tajiks considered to be in hardship regions, and also to 15,000 tuberculosis patients and their families. WFP provides a series of other forms of assistance, including take-home rations for schoolgirls, food-for-work projects and nutritional supplements for malnourished children and their mothers.”

2. “SYRIA: WFP pilots SMS food distribution”

“A new pilot project by the World Food Programme (WFP) in Syria has come up with a novel way of getting food aid to Iraqi refugees. WFP claims the project is a world first.

Under the pilot scheme, 1,000 Iraqi families (3,500 beneficiaries) living in Damascus are to receive vouchers worth US$22 per person sent to their mobile phones every two months. These vouchers are redeemable against certain goods in government stores in Jaramana and Saida Zeinab, areas with high Iraqi populations.

Beneficiaries continue to receive 50 percent of their rations under the usual handout system. However, if successful, the pilot could replace the traditional food handouts from distribution centres for all refugees.”


“The United Nations has begun to parachute food aid into isolated areas of conflict-ridden southern Sudan with the aim of reaching more than 155,000 people cut off from road access by heavy rainfall, the World Food Programme (<“”>WFP) announced today.

The airdrops, which began last week, are slated to continue for another two-and-a-half months, providing some 4,000 tons of food to people hit by conflict, high food prices and poor harvests in three of the 10 states in southern Sudan – Jonglei, Upper Nile and Warrap.

“We can’t wait for food prices to drop or the roads to be passable again,” said WFP Sudan country director Amer Daoudi. “Airdrops are the only way for us to reach them.”

4. “East Africa Rains Arrive, Too Little, Too Late?”

“The long drought caused the number of people needing aid to soar in recent years.  More money’s needed to feed them.

“It’s a pretty serious situation as far as funding for WFP and other agencies and NGOs.  The World Food Program, for instance, for its operations in the Horn of Africa for the next six months, needs…one billion dollars, which is a lot of money for six months of operations, and we need it now,” he says.

The WFP has appealed to donors for the money, but collecting it may take some time.”


I could go on and on showing the fantastic achievements of the WFP, delivering food aid all over the world.

However, one question always comes back to my mind : “What is done at the real causes of malnutrition and hunger ?“.

Is it by providing daily hot meals to hundred thousands of children attending primary schools , to people living in hardship regions or in hospitals that we mitigate “the long droughts causing the number of people needing aid to soar” ?

Is it by sending vouchers to mobile phones every now and then that we will alleviate the poverty of the owners of these mobile phones ?

Is it by parachuting food aid into isolated areas that we will combat the disastrous effects of desertification ?

Let me be very clear : I am not against any form of food aid and I  strongly believe that WFP and FAO, or any other institution or organization helping the people in need, have to be supported as much as possible. But !

But I also believe that large-scale initiatives should be taken to eradicate the causes of malnutrition and hunger.  Food aid can only be a temporary relief.  As long as the causes mentioned above will subsist, we will have to continue to spend incredible amounts of money for food aid.

But if we would decide to create opportunities for the people in need, the malnourished, the hungry, the thirsty and the poor ones, to let them start, at the smallest scale, with production of their own vegetables and fruits, we would put a decisive step in the direction of solving those problems.  It has been done at demonstration projects in the past, it should be duplicated at the largest scale.

Time has come to consider seriously to set up a world program of construction of small kitchen gardens for all people in need : school gardens for the malnourished children, family gardens for the complete family, hospital gardens, community gardens in refugee camps and even allotment gardens for the urban poor, who show their needs by creating “guerilla gardens” in the cities.

Do you really be serious when you tell me this is impossible ?  Let me simply ask you if you are aware of the fact that numerous examples of these gardens exist already, even in unbelievably harsh areas like deserts.  You think it will be a problem of costs ?  What if a small garden can be laid out at the monthly cost of a mobile phone ?  You think it will be a problem of irrigation water ?  How comes one can create family gardens in the desert ?

I believe in the optimal combination of local traditional methods with cost-effective modern technologies to change gradually, but completely the outlook of this world.  We should start this global initiative ASAP.  But if no major efforts are produced to do something about the causes, if we keep healing the wounds, we will eternalize our  aid programs and aid projects, “pouring heaps of money in the desert“.

Who again was that good Chinese guy telling us : “Don’t give this man a fish, teach him how to fish !” ?  Well, I am a Belgian telling you : “Don’t give this man some food, teach him how to grow it !“.

Let’s pray …

2008 – Fresh zucchinis produced in the Sahara desert with a bit of brackish irrigation water.  An example for all the drylands.
2008 – Juicy vegetables on different square meter beds in the desert sand. Fresh food should grow in millions of small kitchen gardens in all the developing countries, in rural and urban areas. Yes, we should make it possible ! And we can !

Community gardens or kitchen gardens to combat hunger (Willem Van Cotthem)

Saving families from chronic lack of vitamins and mineral elements : installing a small kitchen garden for every family in the drylands or a community garden for a village or a refugee camp.  Here are some examples in the Sahara desert (refugee camps in S. W. Algeria) :

2006-05 - Community garden of Aussert, an oasis in the desert
2006-05 - Remarkable production of fresh food for the refugee camp and the nearby hospital
2006-05 - Fantastic return on investment. Why don't we lay-out these community gardens in all the drylands to create food security ?
2006-05 - A community garden produces fresh food for many people, even in the desert.
2006-05 - At the very start of a kitchen garden only a few vegetables are growing. It's a promise for a better future for the family.
2006-05 - The UNICEF-team of the family garden project, accompanied by Algerian foresters, local agronomists and horticultural technicians, ready to advise local people on the lay-out of their kitchen garden.

UNICEF’s seed has germinated in the Saharawi refugee camps (Taleb BRAHIM / Willem VAN COTTHEM)

Please read a message from Engineer Taleb BRAHIM, in 2006-2008 responsible for the coordination of UNICEF ALGERIA’s project “Family gardens in the refugee camps of the Saharawi people in the Tindouf area, S.W. Algeria” :

Dear Professor Van Cotthem,
It´s nice to hear from you once again. For more than two months I was busy with some modifications in the irrigation systems in the family gardens of the  camps of Laayoun, Bougarfa and “The 9th June”. As you know, there are no means of communication in those gardens, that is why it was impossible for me to send any e-mails during that time.

However, here is some very good news :

Many new family gardens in the different camps have been sponsored by different NGOs from all over the world.

You see that the “seed” that UNICEF and you have sown some years ago has already become a big tree, blossoming with hundreds of family gardens.  Thanks for all your efforts for the Saharawi people. I will try to raise a fund for  purchasing a laptop and a satellite internet line in order to cope with the difficulty of communication.

Yours sincerely,


2009 - massive production of vitamin rich tomatoes and other vegetables in a family garden in Smara camp
2009 – Massive production of vitamin rich tomatoes and other vegetables in a family garden in Smara camp (Photo Taleb BRAHIM)



UNICEF ALGERIA started creating family gardens in the Saharawis refugee camps in 2006 in order to combat a permanent lack of vitamins in the diet of the refugees, influencing public health and in particular that of the children.

In 2006-2007 more than thousand kitchen gardens have been created in different camps, with application of a water and fertilizer absorbing soil conditioner, keeping the sandy desert soil sufficiently moistened to produce a wealth of vegetables.  Seeds of different vegetables and fruit producing species were offered to the owners of these gardens.

2009 - Who wouldn't be happy with such nice lettuces in a small kitchen garden close to the house in the Sahara desert ?
2009 – Who wouldn’t be happy with such nice lettuces in a small kitchen garden close to the house in the Sahara desert ? (Photo Taleb BRAHIM).

H.E. The President of the Saharawi Republic and all the Ministers concerned were very enthusiastic about the swift success of this project.  They expressed the wish to see the number of family gardens and school gardens growing in the shortest time, as the production of fresh food in the camps is not only important for the children and their family, but also for the possible creation of small shops were people without a garden would go and buy the surplus vegetables and fruits.

2007 - Saharawi women happy with the production of fantastic radishes (Photo WVC).
2007 – Saharawi women happy with the production of fantastic turnips (Photo WVC).

The growing number of gardens got the attention of the media and the refugees themselves were strongly motivated to contribute to the project.  Many of them started the lay-out of their own new garden without any external help.  In no time, the local population was convinced of the tremendous potentialities in those kitchen gardens and expressed the hope that a maximum of them would be constructed.

Of course, there were still some problems to be solved, e.g. the necessity to find ways and means to distribute some irrigation water to camps without a well.  The authorities were hoping to receive some tanker-lorries for this distribution and a small reservoir (water-tank, e.g. blue drums) for every garden owner.  But everyone was convinced that these “material” problems could be solved.

After the December 2007 attack on the UN-building in Algiers, UNICEF Algeria decided to halt its efforts for this garden project temporarily.

Today, Taleb’s good news made me very happy : “Many new family gardens in the different camps have been sponsored by different NGOs from all over the world” andthe ‘seed’ that UNICEF and you have sown some years ago has already become a big tree, blossoming with hundreds of family gardens”.

Isn’t it wonderful that some NGOs decided to take over UNICEF’s role, contributing to enlarge the number of families having a small garden ?

Therefore, I wish to express my most sincere thanks to these “anonymous” sponsoring NGOs who realized that the incredibly positive impact of fresh food production in such a hostile environment as the Sahara desert should never be stopped for what reason whatever.

Human beings deserve to be helped to fresh vegetables and fruits, whoever they are, wherever they live.  Who can ever forget the hope created in a child’s heart ?

2007 - Twinckling eyes after tasting the first radish in her life. "Please bring also sweet melons !".
2007 – Twinckling eyes after tasting the first radish in her life. “Please bring also sweet melons !”.

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