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 -
Small scale food production in the Sahrawi refugee camps, south west Algeria. In  July the average daytime temperature is 45°C. – Photo Philip Hittepole –

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 -
Localised Food Growing in the Sahrawi refugee camps, South West Algeria. – Photo Philip Hittepole –


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 -
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 –

A small child peeks from behind the sacks of dry food distributed in the Laayoune camp, South West Algeria. - Photo: Dominik Sipinski - Article here: -
A small child peeks from behind the sacks of dry food distributed in the Laayoune camp, South West Algeria. – Photo: Dominik Sipinski – Article here:

Sahrawi refugee camp. Photo by Olivia Wimmer part of a series entitled "Borrowed Land" -
Sahrawi refugee camp. Photo by Olivia Wimmer part of a series entitled “Borrowed Land”

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

Sludge implant to combat desertification

Photo credit: Google

What can we do with all that sludge ?

Sludge Implant for Prevention of Desertification and Removal of Carbon Dioxide

by Dahee Chung (Cheongshim International Academy(CSIA) Gyeonggido, Republic of Korea°


International Journal of Engineering Research & Technology (IJERT), Vol. 4, Issue 04, April-2015


Bacillus pasteurii has been getting much attention recently as part of the anti-desertification measures, producing calcium carbonate ions and organic supply.

This study focuses on the sludge implants to prevent desertification and reduce carbon dioxide. Absorption of sewage sludge was made of moisture around the roots of plants that mimic the structure over time, and it slowly melts Bacillus pasteurii to supply organic matter to the sludge implants.

Sludge implants are cured in a screw shaped. Implants were easily transplanted in the sand because of its screw-like shape; desertification has been used as one of the treatments.



Through my experiments, I have observed the following: There are the protein components in sewage sludge. Microorganisms in concrete debris with stained gram were confirmed of having positive reaction with stain-gram but it is not sure whether it is Bacillus pasteurii or not since we didn’t conduct the genetic analysis of the microorganisms. Also, it is found out that microorganisms increase more when nurtured with sewage sludge.

Through experiments, it is confirmed that the sludge implant absorbs moisture in the surroundings and melts down. Furthermore, by the foam produced from the reaction between hydrochloric acid and sample, we could see the formation of calcium carbonate. From various experiment results, I found out that this sludge implant is feasible. However, if we get an opportunity to conduct further research, it is necessary to buy Bacillus pasteurii and design and make a real model of this sludge implant. It would be wonderful to go to desert, plant this implant and change the ground into grass field. If it is successful, it would be innovative to have various environmental effects so we can also get a patent of this idea.

Read the full article: IJERT


DeJong, J.T., Mortensen, B.M., Martinez, B.C., and Nelson, D.C. (2010), “Bio-mediated soil improvement”, Ecological Engineering, Vol.36, pp.197-210.

Whiffin, V.S., van Paassen, L.A., and Harkes, M.P. (2007), “Microbial carbonate precipitation as a soil improvement technique ” , Geomicrobiology Journal, 24, pp.417-423.

How farmers can adapt and survive in a changing climate

Photo credit: Willem Van Cotthem

TC-Dialogue Foundation (Belgium) horticultural project – Oualidia Morocco 2002-07 – testing TerraCottem soil conditioner

Could better soil management reverse global warming?

by Sami Grover


For folks who enjoyed my piece on gardens and carbon sequestration, Peter Bane offered this practical advice on enhancing carbon storage: engineer “soil climaxes”, and lots of them—meaning we need to grow plants, be they cover crops, annual food crops, or perennials, trees and shrubs, and then we need to cut them back before they flower. As plants get cut back, their roots die underground, leaving packets of food for the underground food web. And that food turns into guess what? Soil carbon.

For more on the fascinating interaction between soil and climate, I highly recommend The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson. And in the meantime, we’d probably best build some gigantic solar farms too.

Read the full article: Treehugger


Chinese Academy of Desertification

Photo credit: WVC 1999-11

Lawn in front of Ministry of Forestry, Beijing, P.R. China

Lawn treated with soil conditioner TerraCottem

Chinese Academy of desertification project organized by the National Natural Science Foundation of China will apply for academic exchange

State Forestry Administration Network Feb. 10 hearing on January 30, the Chinese Academy of desertification was held in 2015 by the National Natural Science Foundation Project Application Symposium.

At the meeting, Chinese Academy of desertification are ready to apply for the National Natural Science Foundation of researchers reported the project research ideas and specific programs. Participants conduct extensive exchanges and discussions to help the project application was explicitly critical scientific issues and to further clarify research ideas.

The exchange will mobilize scientists declared the National Natural Science Foundation of enthusiasm, active academic atmosphere of the Institute, to improve the success rate researchers of the National Natural Science Foundation of China has an important role in promoting.

Member of the Chinese Academy of desertification Academic Committee and more than 20 researchers participated in the exchange( (Chinese Academy of Forestry

Source: Chinese Academy of Forestry

Reforestation and agriculture in Burkina Faso

Photo credit: WVC 1997-12

Acacia nilotica in Bois de la Fraternisation (Arbolle, Prov. du Passore, Burkina Faso) – Reforestation project of TC-Dialogue Foundation (Belgium): trees planted in 1988 with soil conditioner TerraCottem

Farming the Desert | EARTH A New Wild

As the desert in West Africa’s Sahel region began growing faster than ever in the 1970s and 1980s and many farmers left the land, a farmer in a small town in northern Burkina Faso developed creative methods to restore soils damaged by drought. Yacouba Sawadogo innovated on regionally well-known farming techniques to create a large, easy-to-farm forested area, working with his community to reinvent agriculture in the region.

See the video: PBS Learning Media


3rd UNCCD scientific conference

Photo credit: WVC 1989 Toudou scan 399

TC-Dialogue Foundation’s reforestation project in Toudou (Burkina Faso) : planting saplings with the soil conditioner TerraCottem

Agropolis International is leading the STK4SDconsortium for the organization of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) 3rd Scientific Conference (CNULCD) in March 2015 in Cancun (Mexico)

Agropolis International and CSFD co-organizers of the 3rd UNCCD scientific conference

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) 3rd international scientific conference on “combating desertification, land degradation and drought for poverty reduction and sustainable development – the contribution of science, technology, traditional knowledge and practices” will be held from 9 to 12 March 2015 in Cancun (Mexico).

The conference aims to attract the widest possible range of scientific, local and traditional knowledge that can be harnessed to achieve poverty reduction and sustainable development in areas susceptible to desertification, land degradation and drought.

One of the major challenges facing delegates to the conference is the development of new scientific insights and recommendations to policy makers with regards to the assessment of vulnerability of socio-ecosystems to climate change and current and future capacities to adapt.

Read the full article: Agropolis International

Experiments with TerraCottem soil conditioner in Czechia

Photo credit : Libor RAK

Experiments with TerraCottem in Czechia

The Effect of Hydroabsorbent Polymers on selected soil biological and biochemical characteristics and their possible use in revitalization

in Czech language : (Vliv hydroabsorbentů na vybrané biologické a biochemické charakteristiky půd a jejich praktické využití při rekultivaci antropogenních recentních substrátů)

by Libor Rak – Magistrát města Hradec Králové


A limiting factor in large areas in the world is water. This problem can also be met with at sites after gravel and sand mining where following recultivation the soil might suffer from a lack of water, organic matter and nutrients.

This problem can be solved during revegetation by the addition of hydrogels – hydroabsorbents. One of the hydroabsorbents is TerraCottem, a mixture of more than twenty components, hydroabsorbent, nutritive, root growing activators, carrier material, all assisting the plant growth processes in a synergic way.

During three years of research statistical differences were described between plots with hydroabsorbent application and the control in all the studied parameters: CO2 production, cellulose decomposition and chosen enzymes activities (phosphatase, dehydrogenase, protease and urease).

These studied soil biological and biochemical parameters are connected with other soil properties which were influenced by hydroabsorbent application and previously described in the scientific literature.

Read: CBKS

See the full article in Rožnovský, J., Litschmann, T., Středová, H., Středa, T. (eds): Voda, půda a rostliny Křtiny, 29. – 30.5. 2013, ISBN 978-80-87577-17-2

A fruitful diary in 2008, and now … ?

Photo credit: WVC 2007-01

UNICEF’s Representative Raymond JANSSENS and his delegation visiting one of the hundreds of family gardens in the refugee camps of S.W. Algeria (Sahara desert)

THE DIARY OF : “Family gardens, school gardens and urban gardening against the actual food crisis”

by Willem Van Cotthem

See more: European Tribune

Six years after publishing my contribution at the EUROPEAN TRIBUNE,  I am still reading with great interest the comments in the diary. However, enchanted by so many positive reactions in 2008, I remain wondering why this message has not been leading to new initiatives in the field.

UNICEF’s project of “Family gardens in the refugee camps of the Saharawis in S. W. Algeria” was a remarkable success in 2005-2007. Why was it stopped ?

The diary about my posting in the European Tribune in 2008 was extremely fruitful.  And now ?

Here are some interesting comments:

gardening against the actual food crisis (4.00 / 5)
Sounds like this story could be relatedIndependent – Malawi’s farming revolution sets the pace in Africa

A green revolution taking place in the fields of Malawi has, in three years, turned a nation that was once reliant on international aid to feed half its population into a food exporter. In doing so, it has set an example for other developing countries struggling to feed themselves. But it has done it all against the express wishes of Britain, the United States and the World Bank – its largest donors.

Malawi suffered a catastrophic drought in 2005. The World Food Programme estimated that five million people – out of a population of 12 million – needed food aid and many villages reported people dying of starvation.

A new government, led by Bingu wa Mutharika, believed the problem was straightforward. Farmers were using seeds that were highly susceptible to disease and weevils, and too few were using fertiliser. If farmers could afford high-yield maize seeds and fertiliser, the government argued, they would be able to grow enough food. At a cost of £30m, the government launched a subsidisation scheme. With a state coupon, the price of a bag of fertiliser fell from 6,500 kwacha (£23) to 900, while a 2kg bag of hybrid maize seed dropped from 600 kwacha to 30.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon May 5th, 2008 at 02:39:34 PM EST

Re: gardening against the actual food crisis (4.00 / 5)
Thanks Helen.  You are completely right : the recent “Green Revolution”in the drylands of Malawi is at least partly due to small-scale horticulture by the rural population.  NGOs play a very important role in this (r)evolution.  Their successes should inspire donors, and not only the largest ones, to provide substantial financial aid for duplication of these “best practices” at the largest national and even international scale.Food aid can only be a temporary relief, because it is never eliminating the causes of the drought catastrophe. Think at my variant of the Chinese proverb : “Don’t bring these people food, teach them how to grow it”.

Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem Beeweg 36 – B 9080 Zaffelare (Belgium)

by willem vancotthem ( on Tue May 6th, 2008 at 03:34:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Re: Family gardens, school gardens and urban gardens (4.00 / 3)
Welcome to ET, Willem.I tend to agree with you that small farming (and, why not, urban etc gardening, about which I have a diary in preparation, with application to Europe)is likely to feed people more and better than large-scale industrial plantation enterprises.

But can you tell us why the drought management techniques you propose could not be used by big farms as well as small?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon May 5th, 2008 at 03:59:37 PM EST

Re: Family gardens, school gardens and urban garde (4.00 / 2)
Hello afew.  Small-scale gardening in rural or urban areas is more effective for the poor, hungry people than the industrial farms, for different reasons.  It is determined by daily actions at their own level and not by sophisticated mechanization or high-tech production schemes.  Return on investment is always significantly higher, because investment in simple horticultural tools and materials is low and production is always close to the kitchen, without intermediary transport and stocking costs.The drought management techniques I mentioned (water stocking soil conditioners) can certainly be used by big farms too.  However, it is my personal experience that it is very difficult to convince industrial farmers to change their traditional farming methods (e.g. use of mineral fertilizers and fine-tuned irrigation systems).  Investment in “new” soil conditioners seems only possible after years of experimentation.  But the day will come …

Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem Beeweg 36 – B 9080 Zaffelare (Belgium)

by willem vancotthem ( on Tue May 6th, 2008 at 03:50:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Re: Family gardens, school gardens… (none / 0)
Can someone provide some numbers on family/urban/school garden productivity? It’s important to get a handle on this, in terms of kilocalories per day on an annualized basis.Adult diets are around 2000 kilocalories per day (about 2.3 kilowatt-hours, if you prefer those units for some inscrutable reason — about like a 100 W light bulb).

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Mon May 5th, 2008 at 05:08:28 PM EST

Re: Family gardens, school gardens… (none / 0)
The range of climates, micro-climates, technological level, cultivar availability, weather patterns, land use patterns, farming/gardening practices – to name a few – of urban areas, considered globally, make it impossible to determine useful comparative statistics.In general, horticultural techniques yield more food value per land area and diverse agricultural production operations (many different crops and mixed-use areas) yield the highest food value.

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. — Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Tue May 6th, 2008 at 01:28:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Re: Family gardens, school gardens… (4.00 / 2)
Hello technopolitical.  I take the point of the next comment below : it is almost impossible to make valuable statistics on comparative horticultural productivity because of the dramatic differences in location, climatic variation, soil quality etc.Data on adult diets and the number of kilocalories or joules are undeniably important. However, one should also take into account that the daily consumption of fresh food (vegetables and fruits) plays an extremely important role in public health, particularly for children, because of a significant enhancement in vitamins and mineral elements. Having a small family garden or a school garden will perhaps not solve ALL the food problems of the rural or urban poor, but it certainly will avoid a number of classical diseases and hunger.

Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem Beeweg 36 – B 9080 Zaffelare (Belgium)

by willem vancotthem ( on Tue May 6th, 2008 at 04:04:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Re: Family gardens, school gardens and urban garde (none / 1)
Thank you Prof. van Cotthem for this diary.

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.

This is exciting information as it implies a means to halt the desertification of sub-Sahara Africa, a path to reclaiming land lost to desertification, as well as the developing world’s food crisis.

A triple win.

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. — Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Tue May 6th, 2008 at 01:45:21 AM EST

Re: Family gardens, school gardens and urban gardens (4.00 / 2)
Sincere thanks ATinNM. With my team at the University of Ghent (Belgium), I have developed this water and fertilizer stocking soil conditioner.  In more than 20 years it has shown its benefits for horticulture, agriculture and forestry in the drylands.  Several humanitarian projects in Africa and Asia have been remarkably successful.  Actual projects in Algeria (Tindouf area) and India (Tamil Nadu) show the same positive results.The question remains : why is it so difficult to convince the donors to invest in large-scale application of this cost-effective technology. Like you said, it is “a means to halt the desertification of sub-Sahara Africa, a path to reclaiming land lost to desertification, as well as the developing world’s food crisis.”

When will this message be understood ?

Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem Beeweg 36 – B 9080 Zaffelare (Belgium)

by willem vancotthem ( on Tue May 6th, 2008 at 04:34:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Getting funding to distribute TerraCottem (4.00 / 3)
Thank you for this informative and inspiring article.willem vancotthem: why is it so difficult to convince the donors to invest in large-scale application of this cost-effective technology.

In the article about that Helen referenced above, it says that Malawi’s largest donors (Britain, the United States and the World Bank) initially refused to fund Malawi’s “revolutionary” program that provided subsidies to farmers to buy high-yield seeds and fertilizer.  However, upon seeing the results, “international donors [including Britain], after early scepticism, now support the scheme”.

willem vancotthem: Several humanitarian projects in Africa and Asia have been remarkably successful.  Actual projects in Algeria (Tindouf area) and India (Tamil Nadu) show the same positive results.

What is the visibility of these programs to the decision makers in large donor organizations and bureaucracies?  Do you have anyone inside them to champion the use of your soil conditioner?

Also, have you approached deep-pocketed private donors, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation?  It seems probable that some of these large charitable organizations would be very interested in supporting you.  And assuming the results of these pilot projects continue to be positive with only minimal (if any) harmful side-effects, then such major philanthropies may also have the connections and/or influence on governments to persuade them to use TerraCottem on a more wide-scale basis (in addition, obviously, to the money to fund them).

A language is a dialect with an army and navy.

by marco on Tue May 6th, 2008 at 06:07:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Re: Getting funding to distribute TerraCottem (none / 0)
Dear Marco.  You are completely right : international and private donors, even deep-pocketed ones, are well-known. They could (should) be interested in providing funds for large-scale application of “success stories”.  However, this picture changes as soon as “a good idea” is “commercialized”.  The soil conditioner TerraCottem, which I developed at the University of Ghent (Belgium), showed its potentialities all over the world : plants can be grown easily and successfully with a minimum of water and fertilizer.  So far, so good for our nice idea !  But from here to convince donors to finance larger quantities of such a “commercial” product (produced by a spin-off company of the Ghent University) is far more difficult.  That small TerraCottem company is not in a position to fund large programs at the global level.  Thus the money should come from donors.  The question is : will they contribute to the prosperity of a business company, even if that soil conditioner can help to solve the problems of drought, desertification and poverty ?  We all know that TerraCottem can be one of  the best tools to make the life of poor rural or even urban people quickly better by making small kitchen garden very productive.  But who wants to purchase such a commercial product for humanitarian projects ?  It will need serious lobbying and introduction of numerous files.  And I am not a lobbyist !  Who is interested ?

Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem Beeweg 36 – B 9080 Zaffelare (Belgium)

by willem vancotthem ( on Sun May 11th, 2008 at 06:20:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Re: Family gardens, school gardens (none / 0)
welcome, professor!i enjoyed this diary, it is heartening to hear such good news from Academia, especially about issues as important as this.

i have seen consumer houseplants soil conditioners before, how is Terracottem different?

i have read in organic gardening magazines that simple rock dust adds great fertility to food gardening. i am thinking of going to the local quarry and getting a load to test out.

i have not heard of anyone doing this in my area, so they will probably give quite a funny look!

(rock dust is touted for its helping the longterm uptake of important nutirtional minerals in food crops, a bit OT from the thread about water retention, but similar enough not to be too much of a distraction, i hope).

if this works, wouldn’t it be a relatively inexpensive way to help the poor eat better from their own gardens, and wouldn’t it be smart to get this program running with the last of the fossil fuels we are burning so profligately? rock dust is heavy, and there’s only so much donkeys can carry!

thanks for adding your voice and reports of your good work to ET, we are fortunate to have more authoritative info on soil science joining us here. other than the quality of air we breathe and water we drink, (obviously very connected to the amount we waste on inefficient crop watering), what else can be more relevant to our continued survival as a species?

“We can all be prosperous but we can’t all be rich.” Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at) on Wed May 7th, 2008 at 03:17:24 AM EST

Re: Family gardens, school gardens (none / 0)
Dear melo.  Thanks for your appreciation of my work on the soil conditioner TerraCottem, which is a compound of more than twenty different substances, working in synergy to produce more biomass with less water and less fertiliser.  In this it differs from most of the available soil conditioners, which are mostly single products, consisting of one or two chemical substances.  TerraCottem’s most important objective, apart from other application possibilities, is to help poor rural and urban people to more fresh food with a minimum of water and fertiliser.  Small kitchen gardens can be made in almost every free space, even on roofs.  One can also switch to container gardening in almost every kind of container (flower pots, bottles, barrels, old wheelbarrows, yoghurt pots, etc.).  One can find a lot of applications of container gardening on my blog  You are right in saying that rock dust can be used as a good fertiliser for poor soils.  Indeed, rocks contain a number of fertilising mineral elements and rock dust, mixed with a poor soil (e.g. sand) will certainly contribute to the enhancement in dosage of certain, but not all mineral elements.

Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem Beeweg 36 – B 9080 Zaffelare (Belgium)

by willem vancotthem ( on Sun May 11th, 2008 at 06:37:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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


What’s desertification ?

Photo credit: WVC 2001-07

TC-Dialogue Foundation (Belgium) project in Pakistan (GADAP)

Soil conditioning training of local farmers (use of TerraCottem)


What Causes It

Desertification is when a grassland becomes a desert. Many grasslands throughout the world survive on only a few inches of rain per year more than a desert. Yet they provide grass for countless animals. The grass also holds the soil in place, preventing erosion. Sometimes, a long dry spell will affect the grassland to make it turn desert, but scientists have found that much of the world’s desertification is due to the actions of humans.

Over-grazing does the most damage to grasslands that experience desertification. If a dry grassland is overgrazed by cattle, horses and sheep, it loses the little protection it has against erosion. The plant roots that help the soil stay in place are lost so it blows away and washes away. Soon you have a new desert. Clearing forest can have a similar effect if all the vegetation is taken at once. This is done with the slash and burn technique for clearing land. The topsoil blows or washes away. An entire river valley can turn to desert if the river is rerouted upstream for agricultural irrigation or drinking water for a nearby urban area. More than 40% of the Earth’s land is thought to be dry (arid or semi-arid) and has more than 2 billion people living there. Scientists think that 24 billion tons of topsoil are lost to erosion every year.

How Does It Affect Us

In the United States, in the 1930s, the great plains underwent a drastic desertification from too many animals grazing it at once, too much plowing under of the natural prairies at once and then an unusual drought. This caused the dust bowl that lasted for ten years and fueled the great depression. So, desertification can affect the humans that cause it and in turn cause terrible hardship to those humans — us!

Read the full article: Exploring Nature

Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM)

Photo credit: The Guardian

From dust bowl to bread basket: digging the dirt on soil erosion

by Caspar van Vark

Pinpointed by Heriberto Lopez

Poor soil quality has seen agricultural productivity in Africa decline when it drastically needs to increase. Will 2015’s International Year of Soils help?


A recent report on conserving, restoring and enhancing Africa’s soils recommends a holistic approach to soil management called Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM). This includes adding organic matter such as crop residues and manure into the soil, applying small (and therefore affordable) amounts of mineral fertilisers and planting legume crops such as cowpea that naturally deposit nitrogen into the soil.

SHP has taught farmers about these methods via 130,000 demonstrations in 13 countries over the past five years. “The demos are on farmers’ land, school fields, churchyards or roadsides,” says Jama. “One plot might have little or no inputs, with a second plot showing the microdosing of fertiliser – very small amounts placed in the planting hole, along with manure – and another plot might have legumes where, in the next season, they can put sorghum where previously they had legumes.”

These methods have yielded results. In Ghana 117,000 participating farmers have seen maize yields increase from 1.5 to 3.5 tonnes per hectare. In Malawi, yields have risen from 2 to 4.6 tonnes.

Read the full article: The Guardian

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