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


IRC New Roots newly resettled refugees to grow food in community gardens and on urban farms

Photo credit: Food Tank

Resettled refugees grow food as part of the International Rescue Committee’s New Roots Program.
Susanna Byrd


Refugees Grow Roots in the United States

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is a non-profit organization helping refugees rebuild their lives and livelihoods. Every year, the IRC works with thousands of displaced people, whose lives have been shattered by war and oppression, to find new homes, jobs, healthcare and educational opportunities in 24 cities in the United States. The IRC New Roots program provides newly resettled refugees with opportunities to grow food in community gardens and on urban farms. New Roots assists resettled refugees in finding land, supports participants to hone their food production skills, and is building marketing and food access opportunities in several communities around the country.

Aley Kent, an IRC National Technical Advisor for Food Security and Agriculture, and Elizabeth Moore, Farm Manager of the New Roots Farm in Charlottesville, Virginia, spoke with Food Tank about the important role of food production in the refugee resettlement process.

Food Tank (FT): How did the New Roots program begin?

Aley Kent (AK): Around 2005, a staff member working in the San Diego office was talking to some Somali women about options for them in the U.S. A lot of them did not have your typical job readiness skills that most employers look for in this country. However, the women were saying, “We want to farm! Is there a place that we can grow food? We want our kids to understand our roots. Can you help us do that? Maybe we can make money that way!” So, the idea of New Roots was born.

FT: How is New Roots an important piece of the resettlement process?


Grow food on an A-riser or a H-riser to alleviate malnutrition

Photo credit: 

* Wooden Riser A-form – Photo Jojo ROM – 283225_4230820167045_1991451138_n.jpg

One of the best practices: The A-riser or the H-riser

By Willem Van Cotthem (University of Ghent, Belgium)

My good friend Jojo ROM (Davao City, The Philippines) is one of the famous experts on container gardening.  He was one of the first to construct in his own backyard an A-riser on which he grew (and still grows) vegetables and herbs in different types of containers.

It has been clearly shown that this is one of the best practices to grow vegetables and herbs in the smallest space.  As container gardening has many advantages over traditional gardening (mostly in bad soils !), this successful method deserves to be promoted at the global level, in particular in an environment with poor soils, e.g. in the drylands.

One of the applications to be strongly recommend is: construction of risers for the refugee camps, where people never have sufficient space or the necessary means to install a kitchen garden for their family.  Imagine the refugees’ joy being enabled to grow fresh food close to their tents: interesting time spending, being busy for a nice part of the day, and producing their own fresh food, herbs and mint for their tea.

Impossible you say ?  Have a look at the pictures below and convince yourself that minimal investment in risers loaded with containers will automatically yield a maximal food production.

You want to forget about the refugee camps ?  OK !  But please remain convinced that risers can be installed in small backyards and even on a flat roof, all over the world, also in your own neighbourhood.

Now then, enjoy the pictures !

* Wooden Riser - A-form - Photo Jojo ROM - 942231_10200263483608038_661084805_n
* Wooden Riser – A-form with bottles – Photo Jojo ROM – 942231_10200263483608038_661084805_n
* Riser - Bottles, Tetrapots - Photo Jojo ROM - 299197_2027431123696_1181604134_31907234_795222_n
* Riser – with bottles and tetrapots – Photo Jojo ROM – 299197_2027431123696_1181604134_31907234_795222_n
* Bamboo Riser with clay pots - Photo Victor S. Cabag (Philippines)  - 10422170_10201509648703265_4177847876384089747_n
* Bamboo Riser with clay pots – Photo Victor S. Cabag (Philippines) – 10422170_10201509648703265_4177847876384089747_n
* Riser with jugs - Photo Berlin ramos Sadler - 528880_3501510093823_1437046645_n
* Riser with jugs – Photo Berlin Ramos Sadler – 528880_3501510093823_1437046645_n
* Riser -with bottles, canisters and tetrapots - Photo Almar B. Autida430068_2870346474042_1121267916_32155811_1625702319_n
* Riser with bottles, canisters and tetrapots – Photo Almar B. Autida – 430068_2870346474042_1121267916_32155811_1625702319_n
* Riser - bottles and jugs - Photo Berlin Ramos Sadler - 549094_3575738549488_607260712_n
* Riser with bottles and jugs – Photo Berlin Ramos Sadler – 549094_3575738549488_607260712_n
* Riser with different containers - Photo Fe Mondejar - 66729_373215606134201_1286771557_n
* A simple riser with different containers – Photo Fe Mondejar – 66729_373215606134201_1286771557_n
*  An impressive riser for massive food production - Photo Almar B. Autida - 10255663_10201730750126773_1525730629288922985_n
* An impressive riser for massive food production – Photo Almar B. Autida – 10255663_10201730750126773_1525730629288922985_n
* Riser A-form with canisters and tetrapots - Photo Almar B. Autida - 578325_3062890287517_1121267916_32233687_1268465493_n
* Riser with canisters and tetrapots – Photo Almar B. Autida – 578325_3062890287517_1121267916_32233687_1268465493_n
* Riser with jugs - Photo Ako Si Arvin - 9999_363495210436408_1949884367_n
* Riser with jugs – Photo Ako Si Arvin – 9999_363495210436408_1949884367_n
* Riser - different containers with flowers - Photo Berlin Ramos Sadler - 538869_3628175340375_1965966353_n
* Riser – different containers with flowers – Photo Berlin Ramos Sadler – 538869_3628175340375_1965966353_n
* Riser - H-form -Photo Big Bug Creek Farm Store and Garden Center - 971804_565714960118122_175305211_n
* Riser – H-form – Photo Big Bug Creek Farm Store and Garden Center – 971804_565714960118122_175305211_n
* Philippinos constructing a metal riser - A-form - 12003284_1255229017836495_6671859800920701771_n
* Constructing a metal riser – A-form – in The Philippines -12003284_1255229017836495_6671859800920701771_n
 * Constructing a metal riser - A-form - in The Philippines -11218075_1255229134503150_2797106863206369602_n
* Constructing a metal riser – A-form – in The Philippines -11218075_1255229134503150_2797106863206369602_n


Still not convinced about the great value of this method to alleviate malnutrition and hunger ?  Please, send us your better idea.

Family gardens in the Algerian Sahara desert

Photo credit: Willem Van Cotthem


One of the family gardens in Smara refugee camp

Some people seem to have forgotten Peter KENWORTHY’s 2012-article:


but we didn’t. So, here it is :

The UN says that it seeks sustainability in its work and programmes, that it seeks “integration of the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development in policy-making at international, regional and national levels”.

And the UN’s Children’s Fund, UNICEF, says on its website that “UNICEF has worked from its founding on nutrition programming aimed at fulfilling every child’s right to adequate nutrition,” because “good nutrition benefits families, their communities and the world as a whole.”

But these principles have seemingly not been applied in the Tindouf refugee camps. Here approximately 150.000 Saharawis have been in a desert exile for 35 years, since their homeland, Western Sahara, was invaded by Morocco.

Over the last 25 years, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) has spent many millions of dollars on keeping the Saharawis in the camps from starvation – although malnutrition in the camps is still widespread and WFP funds for the camps are decreasing.

According to the WFP, “opportunities for self-reliance in the harsh, isolated desert environment where the [Tindouf refugee] camps are located are extremely limited, forcing the refugees to rely on international assistance for their survival. Malnutrition rates remain high, with acute malnutrition at a critical level of 18.2 percent, chronic malnutrition at 31.4 percent and underweight at 31.6 percent.”

But until it was abruptly terminated in late 2007, UNICEF ran a successful and seemingly sustainable family garden project in the camps. The project saw 1200 family gardens constructed in extremely adverse agricultural conditions, vegetables and fruit trees being produced by means of minimum water and fertilizer input, using special water-stocking soil conditioners, and agricultural techniques taught to the participating families and school children.

“Any neutral observer will understand that there is a dramatic difference between shipping food aid to the refugee camps for 35 years, as has the WFP, and creating local food production in a sustainable way, as has the UNICEF project,” says Botany Professor Willem Van Cotthem, who was a UN scientific consultant on the gardens project from 2005 to 2007.

Van Cotthem is still puzzled why the UN suddenly ended the project. “The enthusiasm about the successes with the family gardens in the camps was unprecedented,” he says. “All the Saharawi ministers and the President himself expressed their hope that UNICEF would continue that magnificent project until every refugee family had its own garden.”

And the reason for the terminations of the project was not a lack of information of the project’s accomplishments, he insists, nor any misgivings about its achievements. “Staff members of UNICEF, UNHCR and the World Food Programme visited the camps several times to observe the progress made. Medical doctors and consultants of UNICEF repeatedly confirmed that the consumption of fresh food and fruit had a very positive effect on the level of malnutrition.”

Small-scale family gardens that produce fresh food are widely accepted as being an important part of a successful food production, and subsequently on the nutritional intake of desert populations such as in the Tindouf refugee camps, and they are also a cheaper and more sustainable way of supplying food than shipping it from abroad, Van Cotthem insists.

“A growing production of vegetables and fruits forms the embryonic stage of a potential local market development in the camps,” he says. “And training the refugees in agricultural and horticultural techniques, as a group of experts and technicians did, is a rewarding investment in knowledge and skills that is applicable in any future situation, even if the dispute with Morocco gets settled and the refugees return home.”

According to Van Cotthem, the reason given for terminating the project was an Al-Qaeda-executed terrorist attack on a UN building in Algiers that killed over 60 people, including 17 UN staff members – an attack UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called an “abjectly cowardly strike.” “And if lack of funds is the reason for stopping the garden project,” says Van Cotthem, “then one cannot understand why a project for sustainable development of local food production is stopped in favour of shipping food.”

And Van Cotthem is adamant that the results of this omission, on top of food aid cutbacks, are and will be disastrous. “Malnutrition will enhance and hunger will be looming. Already in 2007-08 the level of food stocks in the camps was catastrophic. But the international organisations are fully in a position to compensate the reduction in shipped food by offering the Saharawis the chance to develop a maximum number of gardens.”

In the mean time, the Saharawis themselves and private initiatives such as the “Be Their Voice” –programme, which runs small-scale family gardens, have attempted to fill the gap left by the UN. But as the Saharawis are strapped for cash and NGO-driven programmes rely mostly on private donations to a mostly unknown refugee crisis, the capacity and scope of such projects is by no means sufficient.

Read More:

Willem Van Cotthem’s website

The case for Western Saharan independence

Chronic food and malnutrition crisis in the Sahel

Photo credit: UN NEWS Centre

Drought has affected residents of the Mbera refugee camp, Mauritania, in the Sahel region of Africa.

Photo: WFP/Justin Smith

UN, partners seek $2 billion to help millions of people across Africa’s Sahel region


The United Nations and its partners today launched an appeal for nearly $2 billion to provide vital humanitarian assistance to millions of people in nine countries across Africa’s Sahel region.

Some 145 million people in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal live in a region that is constantly challenged by chronic food and malnutrition crises, and is vulnerable to climate change, droughts and unpredictable rainfall.

The Sahel humanitarian appeal for 2015, launched today in New York and totalling $1.96 billion, is part of a regional multi-year strategy to respond better to the chronic challenges in the region by emphasizing early intervention and forging closer partnerships with governments and development actors.

Over 20 million people in the region are short of food, 2.6 million of whom need life-saving food assistance now; and nearly six million children under the age of five are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2015.

Violent conflict and insecurity have worsened over the last 12 months in many of the countries. As a result, 2.8 million people have been uprooted from their homes, over one million more than this time last year.

Read the full article: UN NEWS Centre

Strategic counter-attack against the actual food crisis

Photo credit: Eng. Taleb Brahim 2008-04

Vegetable production in a family garden

UNICEF project

Family gardens, school gardens and urban gardening against the actual food crisis

by Willem Van Cotthem – University of Ghent (Belgium)


Application of water stocking soil conditioners, keeping the soil moistened with a minimum of irrigation water, and seeding or planting more drought tolerant species and varieties will definitely contribute to solve the food crisis. Scientists in China and the USA have recently discovered important genetic information about drought tolerance of plants. It was thereby shown that drought tolerant mutants of Arabidopsis thaliana have a more extensive root system than the wild types, with deeper roots and more lateral roots, and show a reduced leaf stomatal density. My own research work on the soil conditioning compound TerraCottem has led to similar conclusions : treatment with this soil conditioner induced enhancement of the root system with a higher number of lateral roots. More roots means more root tips and thus a higher number of water absorbing root hairs, sitting close to the root meristem. As a result, plants with more roots can better explore the soil and find the smallest water quantities in a relatively dry soil.

Read the full article : European Tribune


Homeless and hungry in East Africa


Sudanese Refugees in Ethiopia (file photo).

East Africa: Over 11 Million East Africans Homeless and Hungry, Says UN

The number of displaced people in the East African region stood at 11.4 million by end of September, a new situation analysis report shows.

According to the report, released by the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha), at least 2.47 million people of the total of displaced population are refugees, while another over 8.97 million are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and others severely affected by conflict.

This represents an increase of 1.4 million people.

Experts say it is a major humanitarian problem for regional governments with the charity office warning that funding for aid response is proving to be a challenge at a time of critical need.

“Out of the $4.44 billion requested for humanitarian response, only $2.54 billion had been received by December 2,” says the report.

The statistics are provided in the context of populations facing serious food insecurity situations.

‘265,000 Rwandans hungry’

The report says at least 12.8 million people in some 10 countries in the region , including Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, are actually facing severe food insecurity.

The report claims that in Rwanda, at least 265,000 citizens and 74,590 refugees are hungry in a country of about 11 million people.

Read the full article: allAfrica

Women Plant Seeds of Hope : “We need all the nutrients we can get here” in Dabaab (Somalia) – IPS

Read at :

Braving Dust storms, Women Plant Seeds of Hope

By UN Women

“The lack of livelihood opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp.” — Idil Absiye, Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya

In the world’s largest refugee complex – the sprawling Dadaab settlement in Kenya’s North Eastern Province – women listen attentively during a business management workshop held at a hospital in one of its newest camps, Ifo 2.

Leila Abdulilahi, a 25-year-old Somali refugee and mother, has brought her five-month-old along, while her four other children wait at home. She asks question after question, eager to learn more. Leila has lived in the camp for the past three years and has no source of income, so her family depends on the rations distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP).

Unlike others, who have called Dadaab home since 1991, at the start of the civil war in Somalia, Leila is a ‘new arrival’ – a term used for those who came after the 2011 drought and more recent military intervention against extremist groups.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, as of September 2014 there were 341,359 registered refugees in Dadaab — the world’s largest refugee camp — half of whom are women.

“We are afraid to go fetch firewood in the forest. Bandits also attack us in our own homesteads and rape us,” says Leila. “If I had the money I would just buy firewood and I wouldn’t have to go or send my daughter to the forest.”


I want to open a shop. With the profit I make, I will buy clothes, vegetables and fruits for my children,” says Leila.

She and 300 other vulnerable women will be trained in business management and horticulture agriculture and supported to start a business that will help sustain their families.

Higala Mohammed, a farmer from Somalia, is optimistic about the group’s labour. Inspired, she has also set up a small vegetable garden next to her makeshift tent where she grows barere, a traditional Somalian vegetable. “We need all the nutrients we can get here,” she adds.

Leila’s pathway to independence makes her hopeful. “I want to work and support my family, even when I return home someday — and I will open a bigger shop,” she says.


Shall we continue to carry water to the Danaids’ jars? (Willem Van Cotthem)

Did you read my former (2011/12/22) posting on the combat of child malnutrition  on this blog ?  Maybe you didn’t read my reaction on that UN-message ?  Here it is :


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 Saharawis 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 ?  Would you, for instance after a period of more than 35 years of food supply to the refugee camps in Algeria, continue to send truckloads of food without trying other successful and sustainable ways of local fresh food production ?

No, we can’t let these hungry people starve, but don’t you think food aid for decades is carrying water to the Danaids’ jars ?

In 2005-2007 UNICEF showed undoubtedly in the Sahaara desert that setting up small family gardens was a huge success.  Who is authorized to tell us five years later why this magnificent, rewarding sustainable project was stopped?  Don’t tell these refugees anymore that the silence is golden.

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)

Starvation in refugee camps or salvation by family gardens (Newstime Africa / Comment Willem Van Cotthem)

Read at :

Refugee starvation could trigger new war over Western Sahara says Minister

Written by Peter Kenworthy on February 23, 2012.


The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has given basic assistance to the “most vulnerable” Saharawi refugees in the Tindouf refugee camps since 1986 after the Algerian government had supported the refugees for 11 years. According to the WFP, “opportunities for self-reliance in the harsh, isolated desert environment where the [Tindouf refugee] camps are located are extremely limited, forcing the refugees to rely on international assistance for their survival. Malnutrition rates remain high, with acute malnutrition at a critical level of 18.2 percent, chronic malnutrition at 31.4 percent and underweight at 31.6 percent.”

But even this inadequate level of aid is being cut back, according to Hach Ahmed. “The UNHCR and the EU, who are the main donors, have only promised half of the aid they normally give. The economic crisis, especially in Southern Europe, has a very bad influence on the social and aid programmes.”

The Saharawis are becoming increasingly impatient with the UN, he says, and many are willing to break the ceasefire between Western Sahara’s liberation front, Polisario, and Morocco, which has been in place since 1991, and return to war.



MY COMMENT (Willem Van Cotthem)

It remains astonishing that UNICEF, who started the project “Family gardens in the refugee camps of the Saharawis” in 2005, suddenly stopped this successful project after the terrorist attack on the UNO-building in Algiers in December 2007.

2007-01 - Family garden in Dahla refugee camp (Photo WVC)

Between December 2005 and December 2007 more than 1200 family gardens have been constructed.  Vegetables and fruit trees were massively produced and the Saharawis authorities’ hope to get every single family of refugees growing fresh food in the Sahara desert was increasing accordingly.

2007-01 - Checking the production of vegetables in the Sahara desert near Tindouf (S.W. Algeria) - (Photo WVC)

UNICEF, WFP, UNHCR and the EU were fully aware of the successes booked with local food production and welcomed the fresh greens as a valuable tool to alleviate hunger, malnutrition and deficiencies of vitamins and mineral elements.  Their delegates visited the green gardens several times.

2007-04 - Fresh vegetables in a kitchen garden in Layoun refugee camp (Photo WVC)

Whatever the reason is why UNICEF suddenly stopped its own garden project in the refugee camps and never since 2008 gave a signal that the project could once be reopened, it remains a real shame that such a remarkable initiative came to an end.

2007-11 - Several species of vegetables and fruits grown in this family garden in Layoun (Photo WVC)

For the same reason I am now wondering why Peter KENWORTHY is not mentioning this UNICEF-project in the article mentioned above.  If one is talking about Western Sahara refugee starvation, one should also be documented on a splendid initiative to avoid that starvation by local food production.

2007-11 - If one can grow melon and water melon in these family gardens, the combat against hunger and malnutrition can be won (Photo WVC)

If according to WFP “opportunities for self-reliance in the harsh, isolated desert environment where the [Tindouf refugee] camps are located are extremely limited, forcing the refugees to rely on international assistance for their survival. Malnutrition rates remain high, with acute malnutrition at a critical level of 18.2 percent, chronic malnutrition at 31.4 percent and underweight at 31.6 percent.”, the same WFP knows, without any doubt, that UNICEF showed in 2006-2007 that self-reliance by producing of fresh vegetables and fruits by the refugees themselves is possible, even in the Sahara desert.

2009 - Seeing this small family garden, no one would think about starvation of the refugees (Photo T. BRAHIM)

If nowadays the main donors UNHCR and the EU are cutting back by half their level of aid due to the economic crisis, time has come to compensate this by reopening the garden project and offer all the refugee families again a chance to produce the complementary quantity of food.

2010 - If only all the families could get such a garden - (Photo T. BRAHIM)

You think it’s impossible in the desert ?  Well, have a close look at these photos.  They show sufficiently that the official aid organizations should not remain silent any longer.  The economic crisis is no excuse for refusing the refugees this chance.

2010 - With the help of the international organizations all the refugee families can be enabled to produce sufficient food and alleviate the malnutrition of their children (Photo T. BRAHIM)

Success with bottle gardening in Tindouf nursery (UNICEF / WFP / UNHCR / Willem Van Cotthem)

From October 2005 till December 2007, UNICEF ALGERIA booked a lot of successes with its project “Family gardens in the Saharawis refugee camps” in the region of Tindouf (S.W. Algeria).  The main objective of this project was to offer to every refugee family a small kitchen garden in which fresh food can be produced, in order to provide continuously vitamins and mineral elements for the family members, in particular for the children.  The project was abruptly stopped by UNICEF after the terrorist attack on the UNO-building in Algiers in December 2007.

Within the framework of this UNICEF-project, the Tindouf Bureau for the Conservation of the Forests (Algerian Ministry of Forestry) offered UNICEF a large number of saplings to be planted in the refugee camps.  Foresters also advised the Saharawis engineers about tree planting and growing techniques.

As the scientific UNICEF-consultant for the garden project, I had the pleasure of setting up an interesting collaboration program with the Tindouf foresters.  We exchanged a lot of practical ideas and at several occasions I had the pleasure of offering them seeds of drought-tolerant tree species for their collection in the magnificent Tindouf nursery.

One of the practical ideas that got full attention of the foresters was the use of normally discarded plastic bottles for growing tree saplings in the nursery, instead of the classical black plastic nursery bags.

This “bottle gardening”-technique has a number of advantages :

  1. It is cheap, recycling otherwise littered bottles.
  2. It protects the environment from pollution.
  3. It is easier to handle the stiffer bottles than the softer bags (less rootlets are broken at planting time).
  4. It is easier and better to transport the saplings in their bottle to the plantation field (generally a lot of rootlets are broken during transport).
  5. When a sapling grown in a bottle has to be planted, it is easy to cut (with scissors) the bottom part of the bottle, partly freeing the roots, and partly keeping some roots undisturbed in the bottle to continue water uptake after planting, thus enhancing survival rate.
  6. Saplings are positioned in their plant pit with the major part of the bottle still around the root ball, only the lower part of the root ball is set free by cutting off the bottom part of the bottle.

With the foresters we decided to set up a large comparative trial : plastic bottles versus plastic nursery bags.  Therefore, staff members of UNICEF, WFP and UNHCR in Tindouf offered their cooperation by collecting plastic bottles during a couple of months.

The trial was set up in August 2007 in the Foresters’ nursery.  The following photos show the excellent results already registered in November 2007, one month before UNICEF stopped its project.

2007-11 - Tindouf nurser y : UNICEF, WFP and UNHCR staff members collected an impressive number of plastic bottles. Hamid BOUGUEDOUR (UNICEF), one of the foresters and Willem VAN COTTHEM with the pile of bottles remaining (Photo WVC)
2007-11 - Bottles are stocked everywhere in the nursery (Photo WVC)
2007-11 - Hundreds of plastic bottles filled with local potting mix. The first ones seeded are those in the background with Hamid FEKROUNE (UNICEF), one of the Tindouf foresters and Hamid BOUGUEDOUR (UNICEF) (Photo WVC)
2007-11 - Bottles at the foreground start showing germination. Those in the background, seeded earlier, contain young saplings (Photo WVC)
2007-11 - Nursery labourers confirmed that it is easier to fill the bottles wit potting mix than the softer plastic bags (Photo WVC)
2007-11 - Left: the classical black plastic nursery bags. Center and right: transparent soda bottles (Photo WVC)
2007-11 - A forester and Hamid BOUGUEDOUR (UNICEF) discussing the remarkable success of the bottle trial (Photo WVC)

To steal the food delivered by humanitarian agencies (AfricaFiles / IPS)

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Somalia: Armed militia grab the famine business

Summary & Comment: “Tens of thousands of desperately hungry Somalis displaced from the drought-stricken south are not receiving the food aid meant for them. Gunmen have set up unathourised refugee camps in Mogadishu just to steal the food delivered by humanitarian agencies. It is believed the food is being sold on the local markets.” JK

Author: Abdurrahman Warsameh
Date Written: 7 September 2011
Primary Category: Africa General
Document Origin: Inter press service
Secondary Category: Eastern Region
Source URL:

Somalia: Armed militia grab the famine business

Armed gunmen running camps for famine victims steal their food and prevent them from leaving to search for aid elsewhere. Armed groups are withholding aid and preventing Somali famine refugees from leaving camps to ensure the continued supply of food by aid agencies that they are presently selling on the open market.

Since Mohamed Elmi, 69, and his family arrived at a camp for famine refugees in Mogadishu they have barely had enough to eat. Armed gunmen running the camp steal their food and prevent them from leaving to search for aid elsewhere, he says. Elmi told IPS that this happens because aid agencies deliver food to the people running the camp for distribution and not to the famine victims themselves. And they are prevented from leaving because aid will no longer be delivered to the camps if they do. “I don’t know who is running this, but we have said time and again that we are never, never given anything by the foremen running (the camp). Let them kill me if they want… We cannot leave here to find a better place,” an emancipated Elmi told IPS. He asked IPS not to publish the name of his camp as he fears for his safety.

Tens of thousands of desperately hungry Somalis displaced from the drought-stricken south are not receiving the food aid meant for them. Gunmen have set up unathourised refugee camps in Mogadishu just to steal the food delivered by humanitarian agencies. It is believed the food is being sold on the local markets.



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