Women and children first at the table

 

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

http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2010/0706/Africa-needs-a-brown-not-green-food-revolution

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:

  1. https://desertification.wordpress.com,
  2. http://containergardening.wordpress.com and
  3. http://www.seedsforfoood.org.
p5120032-sos-042006-jard-fa
Women and children preparing their kitchen gardens in Draria (Algiers) at the local “SOS Village d’Enfants”- PHOTO Gérard RUOT – P5120032-SOS-042006-JARD.FA.jpg

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:

https://desertification.wordpress.com/2010/08/03/women-and-children-first-willem-van-cotthem/

It got 3 comments and was edited today.

 

THREE COMMENTS in 2010

(1) Carole Gonzalez:

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.

======================

See also:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1RPjvNMtE8Q7TH6w3WgnMlRa4AVEEtzg8NpNdLBz_u5s/edit?usp=sharing

 

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World Day to Combat Desertification

Photo credit: Google – Imgres.jpg

 

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification

World Day to Combat Desertification to be held on 17 June 

Let us find long‐term solutions, not just quick fixes, to disasters that are
destroying communities,” urged Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD.(See PRESS RELEASE below).

COMMENTS

Willem Van Cotthem: We keep hoping that success stories and best practices will be applied at the global level. Priority should be given to methods and techniques providing daily fresh food to the hungry and malnourished. It cannot be denied that hunger and malnutrition are constantly undermining the performances of people. Application of existing success stories in local food production (kitchen gardens, school gardens, hospital gardens, …) would positively influence the efforts to combat desertification (limiting erosion, stimulating reforestation, etc.). We keep hoping.

ReplyUnited Nations Convention to Combat Desertification Hi Willem Van Cotthem, would you like to share some success stories you have? We always welcome all to share!”

       ReplyWillem Van Cotthem : Hello Friends at the UNCCD Secretariat: It will be my pleasure to select a series of success stories in the literature. However, I am convinced that the UNCCD secretariat has the necessary documentation to compile even a book on this subject (to the best of my knowledge the documents, e.g. presentations at COPs and meetings of CST and CRIC, have been there during my active period in the CST and in Bonn). Please consider a consultancy to achieve top class work that would serve all member countries, the CST and the CRIC. To be presented at the next World Day June 17th 2016.

PRESS RELEASE
UNCCD’s Monique Barbut Calls for Long‐Term Solutions Not Just Quick Fixes To Drought Bonn, Germany, 22/02/2016 –
“Protect Earth. Restore Land. Engage People. This is the slogan for this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification to be held on 17 June. I am calling for solidarity from the international community with the people who are battling the ravages of drought and flood. Let us find long‐term solutions, not just quick fixes, to disasters that are destroying communities,” urged Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
The droughts and floods beating down on communities in many parts of the world are linked to the current El Niño, which is expected to affect up 60 million people by July. In some areas, including in North Eastern Brazil, Somali, Ethiopia, Kenya and Namibia, the El Niño effects are coming on the back of years of severe and recurrent droughts. It is impossible for households that rely on the land for food and farm labor to recover, especially when the land is degraded.
What’s more, these conditions do not just devastate families and destabilize communities. When they are not attended to urgently, they can become a push factor for migration, and end with gross human rights abuses and long‐term security threats.
“We have seen this before – in Darfur following four decades of droughts and desertification and, more recently, in Syria, following the long drought of 2007‐2010. It is tragic to see a society breaking down when we can reduce the vulnerability of communities through simple and affordable acts such as restoring the degraded lands they live on, and helping countries to set up better systems for drought early warning and to prepare for and manage drought and floods,” Barbut said.
Ms Barbut made the remarks when announcing the plans for this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification, which will take place on 17 June.
“I hope that World Day to Combat Desertification this year marks a turning point for every country. We need to show, through practical action and cooperation, how every country is tacking or supporting these challenges at the front‐end to preempt or minimize the potential impacts of the disasters, not just at the back‐end after the disasters happen,” she stated.
The United Nations General Assembly designated 17 June as the observance Day to raise public awareness about international efforts to combat desertification and the effects of drought.
Ms Barbut thanked the Government and People of China, for offering to host the global observance event, which will take place at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
“China has vast experience in nursing degraded lands and man‐made deserts back to health. This knowledge can and should benefit initiatives such as Africa’s Great Green Wall, the re‐ greening in southern Africa and the 20 X 20 Initiative in Latin America. We can create a better, more equal and climate change‐resilient world,” she noted.
“I also call on countries, the private sector, foundations and people of goodwill to support Africa  when the countries meet later in the year to develop concrete plans and policies to pre‐ empt, monitor and manage droughts,” Ms Barbut stated.
The 2016 World Day campaign is also advancing the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in September last year. The Goals include a target to achieve a land degradation‐neutral world by 2030. That is, a world where the land restored back to health equals to, or is more than, the amount degraded every year.
For more information on the Day and previous events, visit: http://www.unccd.int/en/programmes/Event‐and‐campaigns/WDCD/Pages/default.aspx
For background information and materials for the 2016 Observance, visit: For information about the Global Observance event, visit: http://www.unccd.int/en/programmes/Event‐and‐ campaigns/WDCD/wdcd2016/Pages/default.aspx
Contact for World Day to Combat Desertification: Yhori@unccd.int
For Media information: wwischnewski@unccd.int

How one can combat hunger and malnutrition in the desert

Photo credit: Martin Dewhurst

Engineer Taleb Brahim in one of the food producing gardens in the Sahrawi camps (Algeria)

Family gardens in refugee camps in the Sahara desert (S.W. Algeria)

Messages and photos published by Martin DEWHURST (UK) on Facebook

Small scale food production in the Sahrawi refugee camps, south west Algeria. In the July the average daytime temperature is 45°C.  - Photo Philip Hittepole - https://scontent-fra3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xpt1/v/t1.0-9/12112271_10153723290555844_4717751630392217978_n.jpg?oh=f47b818591fef4afc2d5528b2f87d4d2&oe=5695D8DE
Small scale food production in the Sahrawi refugee camps, south west Algeria. In  July the average daytime temperature is 45°C. – Photo Philip Hittepole – https://scontent-fra3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xpt1/v/t1.0-9/12112271_10153723290555844_4717751630392217978_n.jpg?oh=f47b818591fef4afc2d5528b2f87d4d2&oe=5695D8DE

There are a number of remarkable things about these gardens … where they are in the Sahara desert, the dedication involved in establishing the gardens, the lack of available resources, the difference the fresh food makes to families living with a constant threat of malnourishment.

Localised Food Growing in the Sahrawi refugee camps, South West Algeria. - Photo Philip Hittepole - https://scontent-fra3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xta1/v/t1.0-9/12122404_10153708485495844_807527384646669399_n.jpg?oh=06e8b65409137b33eb7f9c73d61c45ee&oe=568576D3
Localised Food Growing in the Sahrawi refugee camps, South West Algeria. – Photo Philip Hittepole – https://scontent-fra3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xta1/v/t1.0-9/12122404_10153708485495844_807527384646669399_n.jpg?oh=06e8b65409137b33eb7f9c73d61c45ee&oe=568576D3

 

Vegetable growing in the Sahrawi refugee camps, South West Algeria. (Dr. Willem Van Cotthem led the initial UNICEF funded "Family Garden Programme" in the camps) - Photo Philip Hittepole - https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xaf1/v/t1.0-9/11990694_10153664767110844_6757289647486191923_n.jpg?oh=87d9fd29fd361979c2673d879a450a50&oe=56974400&__gda__=1456167604_68c0ed932731befbf95beedb034ee570
Vegetable growing in the Sahrawi refugee camps, South West Algeria. (Dr. Willem Van Cotthem led the initial UNICEF funded “Family Garden Programme” in the camps) – Photo Philip Hittepole – https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xaf1/v/t1.0-9/11990694_10153664767110844_6757289647486191923_n.jpg?oh=87d9fd29fd361979c2673d879a450a50&oe=56974400&__gda__=1456167604_68c0ed932731befbf95beedb034ee570
A small child peeks from behind the sacks of dry food distributed in the Laayoune camp, South West Algeria. - Photo: Dominik Sipinski - Article here: http://www.joinmagazine.co.uk/article/a-permanent-crisis-in-the-desert/ - https://scontent-fra3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xft1/v/t1.0-9/11109666_10153449833530844_2918553993613655361_n.jpg?oh=95c08463cb5220695bf56ea0849cf96e&oe=5696E2C0
A small child peeks from behind the sacks of dry food distributed in the Laayoune camp, South West Algeria. – Photo: Dominik Sipinski – Article here: http://www.joinmagazine.co.uk/article/a-permanent-crisis-in-the-desert/
https://scontent-fra3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xft1/v/t1.0-9/11109666_10153449833530844_2918553993613655361_n.jpg?oh=95c08463cb5220695bf56ea0849cf96e&oe=5696E2C0
Sahrawi refugee camp. Photo by Olivia Wimmer part of a series entitled "Borrowed Land"  http://olivve.com/work/sahrawi-architecture/ - https://scontent-fra3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xtl1/v/t1.0-9/11951878_10153622287195844_3320971379922172524_n.jpg?oh=d5bc1e59c49a2172174fcbfe52dceb87&oe=568DEB72
Sahrawi refugee camp. Photo by Olivia Wimmer part of a series entitled “Borrowed Land”
http://olivve.com/work/sahrawi-architecture/https://scontent-fra3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xtl1/v/t1.0-9/11951878_10153622287195844_3320971379922172524_n.jpg?oh=d5bc1e59c49a2172174fcbfe52dceb87&oe=568DEB72

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

2007-01-SMARA-TV-P1000589 

One of the family gardens in Smara refugee camp

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

https://stiffkitten.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/un-unsustainability-in-the-tindouf-refugee-camps/

UN UNSUSTAINABILITY IN THE TINDOUF REFUGEE CAMPS

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.

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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

EXCERPT

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

Food shortages in South Sudan

Photo credit: UN News Centre

A child sips on therapeutic milk at a hospital in Juba, South Sudan, where nearly one million children are suffering from acute malnutrition.

Photo: UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

South Sudan: UN agency warns of catastrophic food shortages if conflict continues

The ongoing conflict in South Sudan is sharply reducing food supplies and slowing humanitarian access to people in need, the United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF) said today, urging warring groups in the country to follow up quickly on the ceasefire deal agreed on Monday.

Without such commitment, the country’s conflict areas face potentially catastrophic food shortages, UNICEF warned, pointing to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) group of experts’ report, which is released this week, and to its own latest nutrition survey, which supports the IPC’s findings.

“UNICEF needs access to remote areas made inaccessible because of the fighting,” the agency’s Representative in South Sudan, Jonathan Veitch, said. “This is where the crisis is forming. Both parties to the ceasefire need to reach a long-term settlement or face a growing food crisis by the end of the dry and lean season.”

Mr. Veitch said UNICEF and its partners are starting to see large numbers of people on the move in conflict areas because of food shortages. At least 229,000 children are estimated to be suffering from severe acute malnutrition in South Sudan – a number that has doubled since the start of the conflict just over a year ago.

“We remain on edge, and any increase in violence will see supply routes cut, markets disrupted and humanitarian access denied. This would be catastrophic for acutely malnourished children and could quickly lead to high levels of mortality.”

Read the full article: UN News Centre