Reforestation without any irrigation: Arbolle Part 2 (Burkina Faso) – (Committee Maastricht-Niou / Canadian Cooperation / Willem Van Cotthem))

See Part 1 : former posting on this blog.

Wood of Fraternization (1988-1998)

Hundreds of tree seedlings were planted on a barren clayey soil (“glacis“).  Remarkable success was registered with TerraCottem application on Acacia nilotica-trees. In a few years time, a nice wood was formed with a luxurious vegetation layer under the shady canopies.  The spectacular improvement of the local soil conditions in that short period of 10-12 years, initiated by the higher water retention capacity, offered new possibilities for local farmers to open small fields to grow some crops within the young wood.  In August 2000, a lot of earthnut (Arachis hypogea) fields were started up within the young wood.

Last photo of Part 1:

1990-07 : Arbolle (Fraternization Wood) - Within the young wood grasses start to form a ground cover. (Photo WVC)

Photos of Part 2:

1994-07 : Arbolle (Fraternization Wood) - Only 6 years after plantation of the 50 cm high seedlings these trees reach 3 meters and more wothout any irrigation, only due to the treatment of the soil with TerraCottem in the plant pits (Photo WVC)
1994-07 : Arbolle (Fraternization Wood) - Not only the trees developed remarkably well, but also the ground cover with grasses and weeds. The original barren soil (see photos of 1988 in Part 1) is almost copmpletely covered with a vegetation layer. (Photo WVC)
1998-12 : Arbolle (Fraternization Wood) - In 10 years time a splendid wood developed on the original barren soil. Acacia nilotica trees are already 6-8 meters high and the soil is completely covered with a herbaceous layer. (Photo WVC)
19989-12 : Arbolle (Fraternization Wood) - Who could ever show such an unbelievable succesfull reforestation on hard and dry clayey soil without any irrigation in Burkina Faso? This fantastic 10 year-old wood is only due to the application of 100 g of TerraCottem soil conditiooner in every plant pit. Who did better in such harsh conditions? (Photo WVC)

Uses of Hydrophilic Polymers in the Landscape (Soviet Soil Science)

Read at : Google

Effect of soilconditioning polymers on the mechanical properties of sand.

Soviet Soil Science 13(4): 111-115.

Hydrophilic Polymers – Effects and Uses in the Landscape

Daniel Peterson


Hydrogels have the potential to have a large number of benefits on the landscape. They have proven to be an aid in decreasing erosion, thus reducing nutrient and sediment losses to sensitive environments, and adsorbs nutrients for slow release. Hydrogels have also, in most circumstances, aided in the establishment of plants, mycorrhizae, and bacteria. However, the most important aspect concerning hydrogels is that responses associated with them are site-specific variables (i.e. soil structure, salt and fertilizer concentration) and often species-specific variables (i.e. what conditions the plant normally grows). Given the adverse side effects potentially associated with the hydrophilic polymers, care should be taken in determining what the ultimate objectives of the project are (i.e. temporary plant establishment or permanent, irrigated or unirrigated, etc.). Therefore each field use must be carefully analyzed for organism responses expected due to the wide range of results possible when using these products.


Hydrogels commonly found in horticultural markets are sold as water super-absorbers with the capability of absorbing 400 g to 1500 g of water per dry gram of hydrogel (Bowman and Evans 1991, Johnson 1984, Woodhouse and Johnson 1991). Hundreds of types of hydrogels exist (Bouramis et al. 1995). The term hydrogel itself is rather generic referring to hydrogels used in oil recovery (Emiseh et al. 1999), to medical grafting supplements (Ohkawa et al. 1998), clarification of potable and waste waters, dewatering sludges, mining separations, food processing, personnel care products, laboratory supplies, as well as many others (Barvenik 1994). Hydrogels have been used for many years (e.g., over forty years alone in the diaper industry) (Orzolek 1993). The uses of alternative water holding amendments and watering methods will become more important over time, especially in locales in reduced water availability. Hydrogels may have great potential in restoration and reclamation projects where opportunity for post planting irrigation is limited and thus storing more water available for plant establishment and to avoid desiccation is critical.



Van Cotthem, W. 1999.
Addressing desertification: combination of traditional methods and new technologies for sustainable development.
UNESCO International Hydrological Programme.
CSIR Conference Centre – Pretoria, South Africa.
On line at

Sand dune fixation (UNCCD / Willem Van Cotthem)

Read at : Google

A very interesting project with unknown results, once set up in Iran

Sand dune fixation in TPN3 member countries of UNCCD…/sand%20conclusion%20proposal%20rev%201.pdf


TPN 3 pILOT PROJECT – SAND Conclusion Proposal_rev 1

File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat – Quick View
Waterabsorbing polymers to enhance the water retention capacity Thereby, TC can be used as a soil conditioner for sand dune fixation Professor Dr. Willem VAN COTTHEM. TC Dialogue Foundation. Beeweg 36. B- 9080 Zaffelare, Belgium…/sand%20conclusion%20proposal%20rev%201.pdf

Combining biochar with other soil amendments to combat desertification (T.R. KIEHL)

Read at :

Combination of biochar with other soil amendments

Is anyone aware of projects that have combined biochar with other types of soil
amendment to improve farming in the drylands ?

I am thinking of examples like TerraCottem:

Perhaps there is a limit to the benefits, as there might be some overlap in the
properties of the materials, especially with regards to moisture retention.
Still, it’s worth checking out.

Related Blog:


Suggestion for all people interested in desertification and sustainable development

The soil conditioner TerraCottem has been developed at the University of Ghent (Belgium) in 1983-1992. Since then, the TerraCottem International company is marketing this unique product on all the continents.

This soil conditioner is unique because it is performing several beneficial actions with one single application:

  1. Stocking water in the rooting zone, in particular in dry soils.
  2. Stocking mineral elements, fertilizing poor soils.
  3. Enhancing the organic content of the soil.
  4. Enhancing microbiological activities in the soil.
  5. Activating root growth, producing more roots and a larger root volume.
  6. Improving plant production with a minimum of irrigation water or rain.
  7. Aerating the soil.

Applied all over the world since 1992, in rural and urban areas and for different applications (reforestation, landscaping, agriculture, gardening, floriculture, sports turf, etc), never a negative report on the results of its application was written. On the contrary, all users recognize the beneficial effect of TerraCottem on several soil parameters and on plant production. In particular the fact that this soil conditioner has to be applied only once in a period of several years gives it a lot of advantages over related substances. This shows clearly its potentials and merits in the combat of desertification and hunger, and the alleviation of poverty.

2008-07 : TerraCottem application in the Sahara desert (Tindouf area, S.W. Algeria). Small family garden in the refugee camp of Smara. Desert soil treated with TerraCottem soil conditioner (50 g per linear meter). Drip irrigation from a nearby drum. Different vegetables developing splendidly with a minimum of water. For the first time in 30 years fresh vegetables are growing in these refugee camps (Photo ir. Taleb BRAHIM).

One of the most common remarks is that this commercial product is not affordable for poor people in the drylands, who need it most of all. That unfortunate situation is not only due to the marketing policy of the producing company, but also to the fact that extremely high import taxes are imposed on it in many countries, even in those where a larger part of the population would significantly be better off if the TerraCottem prize could be kept at an affordable level.

Aware of the seriousness of the poverty level in most of the rural areas in all countries affected by drought and desertification, international agencies, aid organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) seemingly still have serious problems to decide that TerraCottem should be applied to combat drought and land degradation and to help the poor people to more food and better standards of living. Although a serious debate on the affordability never took place, most of the hesitation to apply this soil conditioner originated in its prize level.

Today, after many years of informing thousands of people on the benefits of TerraCottem, I come to the conclusion that one should consider a new way of making it affordable to the poor. Taking into account the remarkable success of the micro-credit system, I an now convinced that one should set up “a system of micro-loans of TerraCottem

It should be feasible to offer a loan of a 20 kg bag of soil conditioner to every rural family, with which a garden of 200 m2 can be treated (application rate being 100 g per m2 to be mixed with the soil to a depth of 20 cm).

Supposing that a development bank, an organization, an association or a sponsor can provide the necessary financial resources for building a stock of soil conditioner at the lowest commercial prize, ways and means can be found to offer “a micro-loan of a 20 kg bag” to any interested person, particularly in the drylands.

If this “BANK” pays the import taxes, it can also incorporate them in the interest to be paid by the farmers borrowing a bag of 20 kg. That way, the investment flows back to the “bank”, which allows it to renew the stock in a revolving way.

Suppose the “bank” buys 10 containers of 16 tons (+ import taxes): 8000 farmers borrow each a bag of 20 kg to be used on 200 m2 of land. Thus, they increase their cash crop production, which allows them to take it to the market. With that money gained, they repay the loan. And they can possibly get a second loan to enlarge their treated garden surface.

The “bank” determines what the farmers should repay: the prize of 20 kg of soil conditioner, the import taxes on 20 kg, the handling costs to bring it to the farmers, and on top of that a certain percentage for the interest on the loan (small benefit for the “bank”). With this input, the “bank” buys a new stock and, with the benefits, those stocks can slowly be increased, which can bring down the prize again and allow more and more farmers to improve their land or gardens.

In the meantime, the first farmers who received the soil conditioner continue to make profit, because the soil conditioner remains active in the soil for many years.

Wouldn’t this be profitable for the entire country as well?

Anyway, it seems to me to be the purest form of sustainable development and an excellent way to avoid the burden of prizes and high import taxes for the poor population in desertified areas.

1998-02 : Niger / Niamey : TerraCottem (TC)-application in school garden, kept by the pupils. Different vegetables and fruit trees growing well on TC-treated beds with a bit of water brought every morning by the pupils in soda bottles. Enrichment of the school cantine at lunch time, important for the health of the children (vitamins, mineral elements).

Improving plant growth with a soil conditioner in the drylands of Tamil Nadu (India)

A Belgian group around the Past-President of one of the Rotary International clubs in Antwerp (Belgium), Dr. Stany PAUWELS, and SCAD (Social Change and Development), an Indian NGO directed by Dr. Cletus BABU in Tamil Nadu (South India) were recently introducing trials on the use of the soil conditioner TerraCottem (TC) for improving plant production in the drylands of Tamil Nadu. The Belgian group offered an important quantity of TerraCottem to SCAD and trials were set up at SCAD headquarters in Cheranmahadevi, at SCAD KVK Agricultural Center and in different villages in the drylands of Tamil Nadu.

SCAD has initiated intensive training programmes to promote the use of Terracottem and to motivate the rural people to set up kitchen gardens. The period of June – July is the prime Agriculture Season of Tamil Nadu. Farmers who received some soil conditioner have started application in their test plots.

As far as the test plots raised at KVK are concerned, the Terracottem-treated fields are showing a lot of favorable results. The Bhendi (okra)-fruits harvested from the treated plots are healthier and more vigourous than those of the control plots.

Since the farmers have started their work with TC recently, they are yet to see the results.

This year, SCAD has fixed 2000 Kitchen Gardens as a target in the Tuticorin District alone. In the first phase local native seeds have been distributed to 1250 gardens, along with the seeds offered by the Belgian groups. The production in these gardens will be closely monitored.

SCAD is also interested in “bottle gardening“, an idea launched in a former posting on this blog (see “My vegetable garden in plastic bottles“, 2008-02-13). SCAD has already given a training on bottle gardening to the Self Help Groups (SHG)-members. They showed a lot of interest on that method, motivating local people to eliminate plastic bottle from their environment.

Nowadays, SCAD KVK-scientists are closely monitoring the effect of TerraCottem (TC) on vegetables and other plant species and on the planned Kitchen Garden programmes. Promotion of TC among the farming community is going on in selected SCAD-sponsored villages. Feedback from the communities will be send later.

Family gardens or kitchen gardens are relatively new to this dryland region. The rural population has no tradition in gardening during the dry season. Together with bottle gardening, this method can improve food patterns and public health in a significant way. It can also alleviate poverty, offering farmers a chance to take their vegetables produced locally to the nearby market, thus competing with vegetables important from distant production centers in other Indian states.

Here are some pictures illustrating the actual situation in June-July 2008 :

2008-06 : Village Vedanatham – Mrs. Mariyammal – Crops raised : Gourds, Sesbania, Cluster beans, etc. (DSCN 1768)

2008-06 : Village Vedanatham – Mrs. Mariyammal – Crops raised : Gourds, Sesbania, Cluster beans, etc. (DSCN 1769)

2008-06 : Village Vedanatham – Mrs. Mariyammal – Crops raised : Gourds, Sesbania, Cluster beans, etc. (DSCN 1770)

2008-06 : Village Vedanatham – Mrs. Mariyammal – Crops raised : Gourds, Sesbania, Cluster beans, etc. (DSCN 1787)

2008-06 – Village M.Velayudhapuram – Mr. Muniyasamy – Crops raised : Gourds, Sesbania, Cluster beans etc. (DSCN 1835)

2008-06 – Village M.Velayudhapuram – Mr. Muniyasamy – Crops raised : Gourds, Sesbania, Cluster beans etc. (DSCN 1838)

2008-06 – Village M.Velayudhapuram – Mr. Muniyasamy – Crops raised : Gourds, Sesbania, Cluster beans etc. (DSCN 1839)

2008-06 – Village M.Velayudhapuram – Mr. Muniyasamy – Crops raised : Gourds, Sesbania, Cluster beans etc. (DSCN 1840)

2008-06 – Village Thulukkan kulam – Mrs. Pushparani – Crops raised : Zinnia, Bhendi, Amaranthus & other greens (DSCN 4430) – Mixing the TC with top soil.

2008-06 – Village Thulukkan kulam – Mrs. Pushparani – Crops raised : Zinnia, Bhendi, Amaranthus & other greens (DSCN 4439) – Applying TC to Drumstick (Moringa) tree

2008-06 – Village Thulukkan kulam – Mrs. Pushparani – Crops raised : Zinnia, Bhendi, Amaranthus & other greens (DSCN 4449) – Mrs. Pushparani applying TC to Brinjal (Egg Plant) raised in a small pot (Container Gardening). Asparagus and Alternanthera in the small containers.

2008-06 – Village Thulukkan kulam – Mrs. Pushparani – Crops raised : Zinnia, Bhendi, Amaranthus & other greens (DSCN 4464) – Proud owner of the garden with Zinnia, Marigold plants. In the rear end, some papaya trees.

2008-06 – Village Thulukkan kulam – Mrs. Pushparani – Crops raised : Zinnia, Bhendi, Amaranthus & other greens (DSCN 4477) – Little girl sitting in her TC-treated kitchen garden with Amaranthus greens.

2008-06 – SCAD KVK – Women SHG members – Test Plots showing healthy Bhendi (Okra) fruits – (DSCN 7690) – SCAD Anbu Illam cook is harvesting the Bhendi fruits (Abelmoschus esculentus).

2008-06 – SCAD KVK – Women SHG members – Test Plots showing healthy Bhendi (Okra) fruits – (DSCN 7692) – Healthy bhendi plants with long fruits.

2008-06 – SCAD KVK – Women SHG members – Test Plots showing healthy Bhendi (Okra) fruits – (DSCN 7695) – SCAD Anbu Illam cook in the TC-treated Bhendi garden

2008-06 – SCAD KVK – Women SHG members – Test Plots showing healthy Bhendi (Okra) fruits – (DSCN 7696) – Fresh and healthy bhendi fruits harvested from TC-treated bhendi garden.

2008-06 – SCAD KVK – Training for Kitchen gardens by KVK Staff Members – (DSCN 7712)

2008-06 – SCAD KVK – Training for Kitchen gardens by KVK Staff Members – Self Help Group of Women after training. -(DSCN 7713)

India : Kitchen gardens and fruit tree afforestation to combat drought, desertification and poverty (SCAD)

On all continents success stories in the combat of desertification have been booked in different fields of soil management and conditioning, water conservation, harvesting and management, plant production in agriculture and horticulture, afforestation and reforestation. Mitigation of drought, combat of desertification and alleviation of poverty are the main battlefields of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Excellent practices for achieving the Millennium Development Goals have been described. The best of these practices should now be applied at the largest scale in order to “attack” those problems in the most efficient way.

In cooperation with SCAD (Social Change and Development), an Indian NGO in Tamil Nadu (South India), trials on kitchen gardens and afforestation with fruit trees have been set up in January 2008. The main objectives of these trials are :

  • To show that drought and desertification can successfully be combated with the soil conditioning TerraCottem-method.
  • To show that productive kitchen gardens can be installed on poor soils.
  • To show that massive production of vegetables with a minimum of irrigation water and fertilizer is possible.
  • To show that afforestation with fruit trees in the drylands is possible without excessive irrigation.
  • To organize workshops for the local farmers on these technologies and techniques .
  • To organize training sessions for the local Women’s Self Help Groups (SHG).

Thanks to initiatives taken at the level of Rotary Antwerp (Belgium) and Rotary Duisburg (Germany), Dr. Stany PAUWELS and his wife Kiki have conducted a Belgian group of 20 to SCAD Headquarters in Cheranmahadevi in January 2008.

A donation of 500 kg TerraCottem soil conditioner and 40 kg of seeds, collected in Belgium and The Netherlands with the action “Zaden voor Leven – Seeds for Life” (, enabled the setting up of trials at the Agricultural Center SCAD-KVK and at the SCAD headquarters.

More trials and a workshop for farmers were organized by SCAD.

SCAD Engineers and Administrators, under the able leadership of Dr. Cletus BABU, President of SCAD, and his wife Amali, produced the following report on the results of this project in February – June 2008. Interesting observations have already been made.

All people concerned are now looking forward for interesting conclusions of these trials. They will certainly contribute to the sustainable development of the farmers and the many Women’s Self Help Groups, living in the drylands of Tamil Nadu.

Kitchen gardens and orchards with different species of fruit trees are very promising tools in the combat of drought, desertification and poverty.

Continue reading “India : Kitchen gardens and fruit tree afforestation to combat drought, desertification and poverty (SCAD)”

China : grape production enhanced with TerraCottem (Willem)

With the support of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture (NATESC), the Bureau of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry of Lanzhou (Gansu Province), the Chinese Academy of Forestry (Hepingly Dongjie, Beijing), the authorities of Inner Mongolia, the Bank of America in Beijing, the TerraCottem International Company, the Chinese Tellus Company and the Belgian TC-Dialogue Foundation and other donors, we have been setting up, since 1995, an impressive number of demonstration projects with the soil conditioner TerraCottem, developed at my laboratory at the Ghent University (Belgium). The distribution of these projects over the Chinese territory can be deduced from this map (situation of 2001-08) :

In 2000, one of the projects was organized at the Headquarters of the Lanzhou Bureau of Agriculture (Hong Gu). The main objectives of this project were :

  1. To show that one can stimulate (revitalize) the growth of adult plants by applying a dosage of the soil conditioner TerraCottem around the root system.
  2. To show that grape production of vines can be enhanced with TerraCottem, even when reducing irrigation volume.

Two rows of vines had been planted years before 2000 and this “vineyard” suffered considerably of the heavy drought. Grape production was exceptionally low. Grapes were small.  Hence, market prizes were extremely low too.

Different dosages of TerraCottem (TC) were applied to the vines at one side of the lane (left hand side in the pictures). These vines were getting only 50 % of the irrigation water given to the control plants at the right hand side of the lane, where the vines were left untreated.

In 2001, together with my colleague Prof. Dr. ir. Donald GABRIELS (Ghent University – Soil Management) and Mrs. ZHANG Wanjia of the Tellus Company (Beijing), I visited this project for an evaluation of the effect of TerraCottem. The results were remarkable : with half of the irrigation water the revitalized vines produced more than the double of grapes (more fruits, bigger grapes). The cost-benefit analysis was positive, taking into account that :

  1. Bigger grapes are more expensive on the market.
  2. The doubling of the production.
  3. Lower watering costs.
  4. The fact that TerraCottem (TC) has to be applied only once, showing its positive effect for a very long period of several years.

Here are a couple of pictures of this evaluation visit to Hong Gu in August 2001 :

The evaluation team in Hong Gu Headquarters of the Bureau of Agriculture (Lanzhou). Left : the TC-treated row of vines. Right : the untreated row.

Very happy with the extraordinary grape production with only 50% of the normal irrigation volume.

Reforestation/Reboisement in/au Burkina Faso (4) – (Willem)

This the fourth part of a survey on some of the successful reforestation projects in Burkina Faso (see the former parts in earlier postings on this blog). It consists mainly of pictures and their legends in English and French language. More information can be obtained at :

Voici la quatrième partie d’une revue de quelques projets de reboisement réussis au Burkina Faso (voyez les parties précédentes dans des message antérieurs à ce blog). Elle consiste pour la majeure partie d’images et leurs légendes en Anglais et en Français. Des informations supplémentaitres peuvent être obtenus à l’adresse suivante :

1994-07: Burkina Faso/Arbolle/Prov. Passoré/ – Six years after the start of the project a young wood is already formed.  More and more weeds are covering the surface, young trees are flowering and forming seeds, which will in turn germinate and complete the vegetation cover.

1994-07 : Burkina Faso/Arbolle/Prov. Passoré/ – Six ans après le début du projet un jeune bois se forme.  De plus en plus les mauvaises herbes envahissent la surface, les jeunes arbres fleurissent et les graines germent pour compléter la couverture végétale.

1994-07: Burkina Faso/Arbolle/Prov. Passoré/ – Unbelievable !  This was a completely denuded surface 6 years ago.  Now trees are creating shady areas in the young wood and grasses, mixed with flowering weeds, are covering the soil.

1994-07: Burkina Faso/Arbolle/Prov. Passoré/ -Incroyable !  Ceci fut une surface totalement dénudée 6 ans avant.  maintenant les arbres créent des aires ombrageuses dans le jeune bois et les graminées, mélangées aux herbes florissantes, couvrent le sol.

1994-07 : Burkina Faso/Arbolle/Prov. Passoré/ – Who could ever believe that in 6 years time such a splendid wood could be developed on such a hostile surface as that clayey soil in Arbolle.  This is the “Bois de la Fraternisation”, one of the successes booked with a reforestation project, using the TerraCottem soil conditioner.  Seeing is believing !

1994-07 : Burkina Faso/Arbolle/Prov. Passoré/ – Qui aurait pu croire qu’en une période de 6 ans un tel beau petit bois pourrait être développé à une surface tellement hostile que le “glacis” à Arbolle.  Ceci c’est le “Bois de la Fraternisation”, un des succès enregistré avec un projet de reboisement, utilisant le conditionneur de sol TerraCottem.  Voir c’est croire !

(Will be continued – A suivre)

Effect of a new Indian organic fertilizer (Willem)

My Indian correspondent Yogesh PATEL has sent to me 5 kg of a new organic fertilizer he has developed. With my friends of the allotment gardens Slotenkouter in 9040 ST.AMANDSBERG (Belgium) we have set up some tests on different vegetables. In due time we will present a detailed report on the results. Today and with great pleasure, I can publish the first pictures showing the very positive effect on the growth of carrots. Please enjoy with us this remarkable success in one of the allotment gardens :

Edward VUEGHS in his nice allotment garden, showing proudly the effect of the PATEL- fertilizer on carrots.

Four rows of carrots sown the same day. A few weeks later the soil along the rows was treated from left to right as follows :

Row 1 and Row 2 (left) : carrots treated with a mixture of 4kg of PATEL-fertilizer per 80 kg of local garden soil.
Row 3 (center) : carrots untreated, growing in local, quite fertile garden soil.
Row 4 (right) : carrots treated with a mixture of 2 kg of PATEL-fertilizer per 80 kg of local garden soil.

See the remarkable difference in growth and this only 14 days after treatment.

Row 1 and Row 2 (left) : carrots treated with a mixture of 4kg of PATEL-fertilizer per 80 kg of local garden soil.
Row 3 (center) : carrots untreated, growing in local, quite fertile garden soil.
Row 4 (right) : carrots treated with a mixture of 2 kg of PATEL-fertilizer per 80 kg of local garden soil.

Still any doubts about the positive effect of PATEL’s fertilizer ?

In a couple of weeks, I will gladly inform you on the results of the carrot harvest by Edward VUEGHS. Stay tuned on the value of Yogesh PATEL’s organic fertilizer !

I am now wondering if this fertilizer can help us to combat drought and desertification. Therefore, I intend to use it in combination with our TerraCottem water and fertilizer stocking soil conditioner in some of the drylands, e.g. In the refugee camps in Algeria or in Tamil Nadu (India).