Local farmers discussing the results of a scientific experiment on enhancement of food production by application of the soil conditioner TerraCottem
SURVIVAL OR VICTORY GARDENS
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
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 !
Photo credit: WVC 2005-12-DRARIA WOMEN-41.jpg – with Gérard RUOT (SOS Village d’Enfants Draria, Algeria), Raymond JANSSENS (Representative of UNICEF ALGERIA) and Willem VAN COTTHEM (Ghent University, Belgium)
Within the framework of UNICEF’s project “Family gardens for the Saharawis refugees in S.W. Algeria” in 2005-2007, a workshop was organized in December 2005 to prepare a group of women for the construction of their own kitchen garden in the Sahara desert and in the Village d’Enfants of Draria.. They learned how to apply the water saving and fertilizer saving soil conditioner TerraCottem (www.terracottem.com). With some 2000 small family gardens in the Tindouf area (Algeria) constructed at the end of 2007, UNICEF’s project was a remarkable success.
About brown and green food revolutions, grasses and food crops
by Prof. Dr. Willem VAN COTTHEM (University of Ghent, Belgium)
If the lives of a group of people are at stake, “Women and children first” implies that the lives of women and children are to be saved first. If the lives of hungry and malnourished people are at stake, those of women and children are to be taken care of first. That was one of my thoughts after reading Shannon Horst’s article entitled: “Africa needs a brown (not green) food revolution” in The Christian Science Monitor on July 6, 2010 :
Africa’s long-term food security will come from nurturing the soil, not manipulating expensive seeds
First of all I want to confirm that I agree with most, but not all, of Shannon’s excellent points. One of my remarks is that some of her views are too generalized:
I do not believe that all Western initiatives to help Africa risk to cause more damage to that continent. Not all these initiatives are ‘grounded in manipulating seeds and increasing synthetic fertilizers to improve production’.
It is my sincere conviction that nowadays not all the aid groups ‘put more money, more science, or more business savvy behind the same old approach’. If this were the case, it would mean that ‘all scientists are looking in the wrong direction’. If Shannon Horst is a scientist herself, she certainly feels accused as much as I am by that statement.
Not all the scientists ‘are focusing on how to grow bigger, more, and disease- and pest-resistant plants’.
Not all the scientists ‘focus on how to manipulate the plants rather than how to produce both healthy plants and healthy soil’.
I therefore take for granted that Shannon Horst is aware of the content of my contributions on three of our blogs:
While manipulating seeds and increasing application of synthetic fertilizers to enhance plant production can be qualified as ‘looking in the wrong direction’, these two points do not cover fully the content of what is called the Second Green Revolution. There are no strong arguments to sustain the idea that the totality of this agro-industrial model ‘would further destroy Africa’s soil and water in the long run and exacerbate the problems: food insecurity, bare land, soil erosion, increased drought and then flooding when the rains finally do come; increased pests and invasive plants; and the collapse of the river systems and groundwater stores’.
Even at an overripe apple there may still be some tasty pieces!
So, let us not blame all the ‘Western’ scientists to be part of what Shannon is seeing as some destructive machinery, called the Second Green Revolution, described as exclusively using technologies to boost farm yields.
Very fortunately, we all know numerous people, men and women, scientists, aid workers, members of international, national and non-governmental organizations, who are not looking in the wrong direction. They are working continuously hand-in-hand with the rural and urban population on the African continent, like on all the other continents. By the way, we certainly know many respected scientists, whose research work has been contributing or still contributes to the improvement of the living standards of the poorest human beings. Many of them developed excellent and constructive methods or models, successful practices and inputs, applied in all kinds of development programs for the welfare of farmers and townspeople.
Grassland or farmland, or both?
Grasslands are dominated by grasses. Grassland with scattered individual trees is called savanna.
Savannas cover almost half the surface of Africa (not 70 %). They are characteristic for warm or hot climates with an annual rainfall from about 50 to 125 cm (20-50 inches), concentrated in 6 or 8 months of the year, followed by a dry period when fires can occur. The soil of a savanna is porous, rapidly draining water. It has only a thin layer of humus, which makes them inappropriate for agriculture.
Farmers sometimes cut down small parts of forests, burn the trees, and plant crops for as long as the soil remains fertile. When the field is abandoned a couple of years later, grasses take over and a savanna can be formed.
Elephants can convert woodland into grassland in a short period of time. Shannon Horst is right in saying that ‘Africa’s once vast, healthy savannas were produced by the hoofs and manure of vast herds of grazing animals and pack-hunting predators’.
Some activities are seen as environmental concerns regarding savannas: poaching, overgrazing and clearing of the land for crops. Nevertheless, I can’t imagine that people aiming at a Second Green Revolution would ever plan to turn all those grasslands (half of Africa!) into crop fields, risking the creation of another Dust Bowl or the collapse of all the grasslands.
As savannas are covering half of the African continent, the rural populations of these savannas are indeed ‘pastoralists or agropastoralists who do not farm’, although many of them do have a small garden. Do we really suspect the international organizations or the big agri-business to plan the transformation of these pastoralists into farmers?
If half of the rural populations of Africa are pastoralists, the other half must be farmers. If half of the continent is covered with savannas, the other half of Africa’s landscape must be farmland in tropical or temperate climate, humid, semi-humid, arid or semi-arid climate zones.
I can’t believe that neither ‘Millions have already been spent by US and European aid organizations throughout Africa on unsuccessful farming programs’, nor that ‘these approaches to increasing food security focus on production without considering the social, economic, and biological consequences’.
To the best of my knowledge, many successful programs and projects with contributions of numerous famous international scientists, with expertise in their different disciplines and belonging to highly qualified institutes, have been set up in collaboration with the very best national experts, to improve agricultural and horticultural practices in almost every African country. It is not even thinkable that all these programs merit the qualification ‘destructive’.
On the other hand, I gladly take Shannon’s point on the interesting aspects of Allan Savory’s work on the role of livestock for animal husbandry. My high esteem and appreciation go to his remarkable findings.
However, I must admit that I have a lot of difficulties to understand how Savory’s findings on
‘educating local people in practices that blend some older pastoral knowledge and techniques of animal herding with new understanding of how grazing animals, soils, plants, and organisms coevolved and function in a healthy state’ are applicable on Africa’s 50 % of farmland, an ‘ecosystem’ that is so completely different from grassland that the two impossibly can be compared.
Finally, I want to congratulate Shannon for her closing remark:
‘Does this mean we should not support technological innovation? Of course not.
But what we must do is find and support those technologies that not only solve a problem or achieve an objective, but also maintain or enhance the social, financial, and biological fabric of the whole system over the long term’.
If we accept that farmland and grassland are two different entities, with their own intrinsic finality, having a natural tendency to pursue their own good, one should treat them differently according to the traditional (local) knowledge. That knowledge can be optimized by combining it with modern technologies, aiming not only at improving the live of ALL the rural people, farmers and herders, but also that of the urban people, who will participate in the success of a revolution, be it a brown or a green one, ‘enhancing the social, financial, and biological fabric of the whole system over the long term’.
Honestly, considering all this, I strongly believe that one should first improve the live of women and children in Africa. Women deserve it to get a better live, because they play a key role in the ‘social, financial, and biological fabric’. Children deserve it, because they carry the future of a continent in themselves. Therefore, child malnutrition is a real shame.
The most important challenge for Africa is to improve food security, both on farmland and on grassland. I am convinced that container gardening will play an important role in the achievement of that food security goal. All over this beautiful continent women and children should sit first at the table and their daily fresh food on that table will undeniably come from their own kitchen garden and/or school garden, if only we really want to change nutrition as rapidly as the climate.
This text has already been posted on my desertification blog in 2010:
“Wow, that is interesting. My “yes – but” – is that growing food plants in containers in villages is an adjunct to improving the grasslands. There is much to be said for a paleo diet. I am diabetic and must follow it to be healthy. Some but not much fruit, mostly green vegetables and meat must compose my diet. I am looking to send Patrick Harry in Malawi some seeds of trees that grow well under arid circumstances and produce fruit without much or any care. “
(2) Frank Ziddah:
“Tons of “super” seeds of rice, maize, cassava and other local staples in various parts of Africa are made available by international development agencies every now and then. The problem with their programmes is that those agencies and their regional or local partners fail to effectively market and convince farmers [mostly educated] to make the switch. Hence, a year or so later adoption and usage rates are not surprisingly [very] low. In short, their efforts fail. Going forward I would suggest a 2-prong approach: better soils + better seeds. “
Frank Ziddah: Having read the post at Scribd, I must agree to your concluding remarks “the most important challenge for Africa is to improve food security,” using solutions suited to Africa’s soil and ecosystem.
(3) Tony Simeone:Very informative exchange that clearly articulates your interest and philosophy on land use – AND recipients of benefits.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE GROWTH OF OPUNTIA IN AND AROUND THE REFUGEE CAMPS ? IT’S A SUCCESS STORY. IT’S COMMON SENSE !
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)
Women farmers find cactus plants are a real money spinner
Cactus commerce boosts Morocco
By Sylvia Smith BBC News, Sbouya, Morocco
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.
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.”
SeedBroadcast travels around the country collecting stories about seeds and raising awareness about our connections to food and agriculture.
What is Your Seed Story?
Unprecedented losses in genetic diversity in agriculture are threatening food systems around the world. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that, over the last century, 75 percent of diversity in food crops has been lost, with more that 90 percent of once-cultivated varieties leaving farmer’s fields. The FAO also reports that 75 percent of the global food supply is composed of only 12 plant species, with rice, wheat, and maize composing 60 percent of the global population’s caloric intake. Within these species, there has been a sharp reduction in the number of varieties cultivated. To combat this genetic erosion, organizations around the world are working to protect disappearing plant varieties by promoting seed saving and community stewardship over biodiversity in agriculture.
SeedBroadcast, based in New Mexico in the United States, was created by Jeanette Hart-Mann and Chrissie Orr to address losses in crop biodiversity. While the project distributes information and raises awareness about the process of saving seeds, its main goal is to preserve the rich oral histories and stories that surround seeds. For many seed savers, saving these stories is just as important as saving the seeds themselves.
SeedBroadcast is an attempt to save the stories of seeds themselves and in doing so, to capture the rich culture in which seeds are embedded. This approach to seed saving recognizes the complex history and connections between people and seeds. It honors the knowledge passed down through generations, and the connection of all people to seeds and food. According to SeedBroadcast,“Seed Stories are the grassroots voices of courage, desire, memory, and dreams. They speak towards the complex relationships between people, seeds, food, ecology, and agency. They are as diverse as the places that nourish them and the people that breathe life into them. Seed stories are stories of knowledge, ideas, and actions, as well as histories and thoughts toward the future.”
Motivated by the power of these stories, SeedBroadcast travels around the United States in a bread truck turned Mobile Seed Story Broadcast Station collecting and sharing the stories of seeds. Along the way, they offer workshops, visit seed libraries, distribute information, and use creative approaches to raise awareness of and animate people’s connections with seeds.
New evidence suggests that organic practices are delivering sharp increases in yields, improvements in the soil and a boost in the income of Africa’s small farmers
Africa – Privatizing Land and Seeds
“The G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition was launched in 2012 by the eight most industrialised countries to mobilise private capital for investment in African agriculture. To be accepted into the programme, African governments are required to make important changes to their land and seed policies. … [for example] Despite the fact that more than 80% of all seed in Africa is still produced and disseminated through ‘informal’ seed systems (on-farm seed saving and unregulated distribution between farmers), there is no recognition in the New Alliance programme of the importance of farmer-based systems of saving, sharing, exchanging and selling seeds.” – Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and GRAIN, January 2015
Countless reports by global and African agencies highlight the critical role for agriculture in African development. Almost all agree that small farmers are key to addressing poverty and food insecurity. But many policies, such as those described in this new report from the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and GRAIN, lead in practice to empowerment of agribusiness giants rather than small farmers. By imposing legal frameworks based on Western industrial agriculture, powerful interests make a mockery of international pledges to help small farmers.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from the report “Land and Seed Laws under Attack: Who is pushing changes in Africa?” (full report available at http://tinyurl.com/m5g8zje)