Today, I received the new “About : Gardening” with interesting contributions of Marie IANNOTTI. My attention was immediately drawn to a message entitled “Plant A Row for the Hungry” (PAR).
Indeed, I have been spending the major part of my life combating desertification and alleviating poverty for the benefit of the rural people in the drylands. I always have tried to convince people to start this combat with programs and projects to eradicate malnutrition and hunger. There is a simple reason for that : no one can work with an empty stomach, every malnourished child is weaker for all kinds of diseases (see the fantastic programs of UNICEF).
Teach the hungry people how to grow their own food (vegetables and fruits) and you see the positive social effects within the shortest time.
For many years, we have been constructing community gardens, family gardens and school gardens in the drylands of developing countries. It can also be done, and even more easily, in the developed world. Two-three months later, the local people and children were eating the vegetables they had grown. What’s the kind of key we used to open that door to their “new way of life” ? It’s quite simple : we were teaching them first how to combine their traditional agricultural methods with cost-effective modern technologies (water harvesting, water stockage, keeping the soil moistened for a longer period with less water or water use efficiency, stockage of nutrients in the soil to limit leaching, enhancement of microbiological activity in the soil, choice of drought resistant varieties, even marketing their produce, etc.). It took us only a few days of teaching the local women, children and technicians or teachers. That’s capacity building to obtain almost immediate, but sustainable results.
These results are really remarkable : instead of spending millions or billions on huge programs or projects, it suffices to eradicate hunger by setting up small-scale projects of family gardens and school gardens. Forget about the large-scale projects, submerging the local people and leaving them disappointed when the aid stops. I have seen a good number of failures. We know the lessons learned. Let’s keep it small, so that they can handle it with their own capacities and skills when the project stops !
Healthy people are in a better position to take care of their own standards of living. Hungry people don’t have the force to react upon the deficiencies. So, first teach them how to produce their own food. Don’t leave them dependent on truckloads of food coming from others (international organisations, national aid programs, NGOs, etc.). It has been shown for decades that huge food aid programs are not sustainable. Yes, we have to help when famine shows up. No, we cannot let those people starve. But we should do more than offering them food alone : we should also learn them how to grow crops, even in the most difficult circumstances, e.g. in all the refugee camps of this world. That’s where applied science and technology are coming in, to be combined with successful traditional methods, based upon indigenous knowledge and local experience. It all depends upon the cost-effectiveness of such a combination. And such good combinations undeniably exist !
I have seen many times little stars twinkling in the eyes of people and children when they showed me proudly their first carrots, beetroots, onions, tomatoes, potatoes and cabbages in their little family garden or school garden, only a few square meter big. For me, that’s combating hunger, that’s combating desertification, that’s sustainable development of the poorest, not only in the drylands, but everywhere, even on the smallest open spaces in the cities, even in containers on all the windowsills : see therefore my other weblog
It would be a nice way to make all the cities completely green : from rooftops to basements, from balconies to window ledges, not only with ornamental plants, but in the first place with vegetables and fruit trees. Why would vegetables and fruit trees be less beautiful than exotic ornamentals ? Don’t we see the beauty of our crops anymore, or don’t we want to see it ?
Green cities, green drylands ? Only a dream ? Absolutely not ! But we cannot wait for the hungry themselves to take initiatives (think at the new wave : guerilla gardening). All depends on the goodwill of all of us. Thus, let us start small, for small is so beautiful. And so are family gardens and school gardens, green roofs, green balconies, green windowsills, green walls, green parking lots, etc., etc., etc.
In the meanwhile, I am sincerely wishing PAR (see below) a lot of success !
Willem Continue reading “Family gardens, school gardens, roofs, balconies and windowsills for the hungry (Willem / About: Gardening)”