How to motivate youngsters for the combat of desertification ?

Youth and desertification in 1997

by Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem (Ghent University, Belgium)

in Down to Earth 1997/7: 4

Read this article at:

Desertification and container gardening (2016)

Container gardening as a tool in the drylands

One of the most interesting aspects of the combat of desertification is the quest of the best practices (water saving, improvement of soil, successful reforestation, production of food crops, limiting erosion, etc.).

One of these best practices consists in the application of container gardening.

One can find a panoply of variants of this method or technique at :

Check the daily update for tips to be applied in the combat of desertification.Posted onCategoriesContainer gardeningDesertificationUncategorizedLeave a commenton Desertification and container gardeningEdit

Recommended: Tunnels in the drylands

Photo Pinterest mosiac+002.jpg

A tunnel of willow cuttings

Growing living tunnels with drought-tolerant trees to create possibilities to grow fresh food for each family in the drylands

by Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem (Ghent University, Belgium)

A living tunnel – Photo Pinterest baltimore+002.jpg

On all continents people are looking for success stories or best practices to combat desertification and to alleviate malnutrition or hunger.

Don’t we agree that food aid is not a sustainable solution.  Year after year one is looking for growing support to ship food to people in need all over the world.  Clearly, this will never stop because the causes of hunger and malnutrition are not halted.

But what if we could offer to the suffering people some solutions to grow their own food, even in the desert ?  Well, some success stories prove that this is possible.

Take for instance the possibility to grow drought-tolerant trees, e.g. some willow species, in the drylands.

Not too difficult to imagine how people in the drylands could grow their own fresh food in such a tunnel. Yes, they can ! – Photo Pinterest baltimore+006.jpg

My recommendation is quite simple: grow these drought-tolerant trees in the form of a tunnel (see pictures) and thus create a location in which one can permanently grow vegetables and herbs.

You think the soil can be a problem ?  Avoid that problem by growing fresh food in containers (sacks, bags, buckets, tubes, tubs, …)

You think water supply can be a problem ?  Water saving techniques offer lots of chances to grow food with a minimum of water (see examples at

The biggest difficulty to take this important step towards a better future : MAN.Posted onCategoriesAgriculture-HorticultureContainer gardeningDesertificationLeave a commenton Recommended: Tunnels in the drylandsEdit

Will they choose best practices to grow their own food or a free cell phone ?

Photo credit: DE STANDAARD Oct.30-Nov.01, 2010

From hunger, via best practices to produce fresh food, to ICT

by Prof. Dr. Willem VAN COTTHEM

(Ghent University, Belgium)

All over the world people are starting container gardening at home to react upon the high food prices and/or, in the drylands, upon the effects of drought and desertification.  Growing vegetables and herbs at home is nowadays so widely spread, that one can only admit that this is one of the best practices to combat hunger and malnutrition.

I therefore wonder what would be the answer of the African, Asian or South African (female) farmers if they would have the choice between a starting kit for container gardening or a cell phone, “the modern ICT challenge for poor farmers at the global level”.

Shall we first invest in ICT or give priority to local production of food for all those hungry families ?  Shall we opt for spending billions in new ICT technologies for malnourished children or shall we first offer them a chance to grow their own vitamins and minerals at school and at home, instead of providing ICT access?

Here are facts, not hopes or speculations: many success stories of container gardening are well known at the universal level, even in the poorest parts of the world, and the best practises are affordable by any poor family. Even for reforestation programmes, like the Great Green Wall in Africa (GGW), production of saplings in containers can lead to successes of survival rate with a minimum of water and thus accelerate the progress of this nice initiative.

Shall the farmers of today get a free cell phone, a free rechargeable battery, never an invoice for the use of their cell phone ?  Or shall they be enabled to pay for it ? To whom ?

Even if “ICT helps in the monitoring of crop growth, utilization of new techniques, field management and harvests” (FAO’s Director General Graziano da Silva, see former posting), priority should be given to the cheapest, but most effective way to create food security for the millions of hungry people on all continents, and that is CONTAINER GARDENING.

I keep wondering where the decision makers are heading to !

At this very moment I receive this message on my Facebook page ‘Container gardening and vertical gardening)::


Something that weighs heavy on my heart… I read all these posts where people in America are dying of starvation and the vast majority are underprivileged children.What makes me just … crazy … is that there are free(ish) resources to help. We could have every single school working on a garden program and giving kids food. We could be legislating that all yards could be, should be gardens. We could be and should be legislating that all of the trees planted for city “beauty” be it parks or just sidewalks, be fruit bearing trees. But how do we go about doing this? I’d so much rather see people picking apples or tomatoes to eat than see them bone skinny and miserable – thinking the only way to get ahead is to lie and steal. Am I the only one that bears this weight?


By Prof. Dr. Willem VAN COTTHEM (Ghent University, Belgium)

Nutritional deficiencies in the third world affect the daily life of almost all the poor, mostly hungry people. If one wants to alleviate those deficiencies, recurrent food aid will never be a solution. That’s where kitchen or family gardens get in the picture, not to produce more rather cheap carbohydrates, but to grow vitamin-rich, nutritious vegetables and fruits, generally quite expensive on the local market.

Low-tech kitchen gardens, simple and cheap like the successful, very efficient container gardens of the Urban Farmers Club in The Philippines, do provide the useful supplementary nutrition to poor families and their malnourished children. Moreover, container gardeners are recycling all kinds of discarded containers. They are composting household waste to enrich their potting soil and are reducing the volume of irrigation water by limiting evapotranspiration in containers.

Their kitchen gardens play an important role in their daily life.. They are not just an expensive hobby for poor households. Knowing that almost 1 billion poor people on earth suffer from continuous hunger or malnutrition, taking into account that the trillions of dollars spent every year at food aid are not fundamentally changing the global hunger problems, it sounds almost inacceptable to argue against kitchen gardens with “mixed feelings” about their effectiveness, mentioning problems like costs of gardening “doodads”, extra workload, lack of irrigation water, lack of extra income, wrong choice of vegetables etc.

Ask the thousands of people in The Philippines about the effect of their container garden on the families’ nutrition and you will notice that it is never seen as an expensive hobby, but as a real need to create changes in the structural food deficit issues.

China completes green area of 70,000 square kilometers in 2022, roughly the size of Georgia: report

China completed green area of 70,000 square kilometers in 2022, roughly the size of Georgia, according to an official report published on Sunday, China’s National Tree Planting Day.

A total of 38,300 square kilometers land were forested in 2022; 32,140 square kilometers of land were improved by planting grass and addressing desertification and stony desertification of 18,473 square kilometers of land, according to a report published by an official affiliated with China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration.

Currently, 2.31 million square kilometers of China are covered by forest, equal to a forest coverage rate of 24.01 percent. The country also possesses grassland area of 2.65 million square kilometers, making land covered by grass of 50.32 percent.

Over the past 10 years, areas impacted by water and soil erosion have decreased 212,300 square kilometers, and the land suffering from stony deforestation decreased 3,860 square kilometers, according to Wu Xiuli, an official from the National Forestry and Grassland Administration.

Besides, the country is devoted to urban greening, making the per capita green space in cities increased from 11.8 square meters in 2011 to 14.78 square meters in 2021. A total of 32.01 percent of rural areas were covered by green areas.

China has also selected dozens of candidate areas for building national parks, in order to better protect wildlife species and their habitats. The spatial layout plan for the country’s national park system was announced in 2022, selecting 49 candidate sites, including the five national parks, covering an area of around 1.1 million square kilometers. These sites were selected based on their ecological importance, unique natural landscapes and rich biodiversity.

The candidate sites consist of 44 land areas, three sections of water and two land-sea areas, according to the plan.

Climate-stressed Iraq Says Will Plant 5 Million Trees

Iraq’s prime minister on Sunday announced a campaign to combat the severe impacts of climate change on the water-scarce country, including by planting five million palms and trees.

Oil-rich but war-battered Iraq suffers from extreme summer heat, frequent droughts, desertification and regular dust storms, problems that are all exacerbated by a heating planet.

Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani told a climate conference that more than seven million Iraqis had already been affected by climate change and hundreds of thousands displaced by drought.

He cited challenges including “high temperatures, scarcity of rain and an increase in dust storms” as well as shrinking green spaces, which all “threaten food, health, environmental and community security”.

Sudani, who took office in late October, said his government was launching “a grand afforestation initiative, which includes planting five million trees and palm trees in all governorates of Iraq”.

In the spring of last year, Iraq was swept by about a dozen major sand or dust storms which blanketed Baghdad and other areas, causing breathing difficulties for thousands and forcing the closure of airports and schools.

Sudani said the government was working on a wider “Iraqi vision for climate action”, speaking at a conference in the southern city of Basra attended by foreign ambassadors and UN officials.

Belarus, Egypt intend to cooperate in water purification, prevention of desertification

MINSK, 9 March (BelTA) – Scientists of Belarus and Egypt intend to cooperate in the field of water purification and prevention of desertification, BelTA learned from the press service of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus (NASB).

The NASB delegation led by First Deputy Chairman of the NASB Presidium Sergei Chizhik visited Egypt to explore the prospects for cooperation with a number of research institutions. “An agreement was reached with the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology of Egypt (ASRT) to intensify scientific and technological cooperation in water purification, prevention of desertification, genetics, crop production, metallurgy and other areas. A decision was made to develop a roadmap for cooperation between the two academies of sciences, which is to be signed during the upcoming visit of ASRT President Mahmoud Sakr to Belarus in 2023,” the press service said.

The NASB delegation also visited a number of research organizations in Egypt, including the National Research Center, the Arab Organization for Industrialization, the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport, and others. Following the talks, the parties outlined the priority areas of cooperation, which will contribute to mutually beneficial cooperation between the organizations of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus and their Egyptian colleagues, and also to the promotion of Belarusian science and technology goods to the Egyptian market.

FALSE: Africa’s Great Green Wall is not because of carbon dioxide

The wall is an 8,000km belt of trees planted to restore land degraded by desertification.

Claims that Africa’s Great Green Wall is due to carbon dioxide are FALSE.

Various tweets, here and here, alleged that the wall is due to carbon dioxide (C02). The tweets were in response to climate activist Mike Hudema’s tweet about the African Great Green Wall project.

“The increased green wall in Africa is down to C02 levels being slightly up,” tweeted Essexcarpangler.

“The increased atmospheric CO2 is primarily responsible for the greening of these arid lands,” tweeted Edward Kallio.

However, the claim that the green wall is due to carbon dioxide is not true.

The Great Green Wall is a project initiated by the African Union in 2007. The project aims to plant a belt of trees of 8,000km across 22 African countries, predominantly in the Sahel region but also in North Africa.

The wall is an attempt to combat desertification and climate change, create jobs and increase food security. It aims to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land and sequester 250 million tonnes of carbon.

Outline of the Great Green Wall project. (Credit: United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation)

In 2021 the project was augmented by €17.5 billion to accelerate the project up to 2025. The project has stalled since inception, with only 4 to 20 per cent of the required trees planted in 2022.

Research has found that the Sahara has grown by 8 per cent between 1950 and 2015, which amounts to a 100km shift southwards. Another study found this expansion to be 10 per cent, based on the longer time range of 1920–2013, and that climate change was partly to blame for the increase.

The Sahel region is one of the most vulnerable to climate change. The area, particularly Somalia, is facing droughts worsened by global warming.

PesaCheck has examined a claim that Africa’s Great Green Wall is because of carbon dioxide and finds it to be FALSE.

Gansu fight desertification with straw barriers

By ecnsphotos

Locals make straw checkerboard sand barriers to combat desertification in Wuwei, northwest China's Gansu Province, March 2, 2023. Gansu has taken effective measures in fighting against desertification. (Photo/China News Service)

Locals make straw checkerboard sand barriers to combat desertification in Wuwei, northwest China’s Gansu Province, March 2, 2023. Gansu has taken effective measures in fighting against desertification. (Photo/China News Service)

Locals make straw checkerboard sand barriers to combat desertification in Wuwei, northwest China's Gansu Province, March 2, 2023. Gansu has taken effective measures in fighting against desertification. (Photo/China News Service)

Locals make straw checkerboard sand barriers to combat desertification in Wuwei, northwest China's Gansu Province, March 2, 2023. Gansu has taken effective measures in fighting against desertification. (Photo/China News Service)


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Unintended consequences of combating desertification in China

Xunming WangQuansheng GeXin GengZhaosheng WangLei GaoBrett A. BryanShengqian ChenYanan SuDiwen CaiJiansheng YeJimin SunHuayu LuHuizheng CheHong ChengHongyan LiuBaoli LiuZhibao DongShixiong CaoTing HuaSiyu ChenFubao SunGeping LuoZhenting WangShi HuDuanyang XuMingxing ChenDanfeng LiFa LiuXinliang XuDongmei HanYang ZhengFeiyan XiaoXiaobin LiPing Wang & Fahu Chen

Nature Communications volume 14, Article number: 1139 (2023)


Since the early 2000s, China has carried out extensive “grain-for-green” and grazing exclusion practices to combat desertification in the desertification-prone region (DPR). However, the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of these practices remain unclear. We quantify and compare the changes in fractional vegetation cover (FVC) with economic and population data in the DPR before and after the implementation of these environmental programmes. Here we show that climatic change and CO2 fertilization are relatively strong drivers of vegetation rehabilitation from 2001-2020 in the DPR, and the declines in the direct incomes of farmers and herders caused by ecological practices exceed the subsidies provided by governments. To minimize economic hardship, enhance food security, and improve the returns on policy investments in the DPR, China needs to adapt its environmental programmes to address the potential impacts of future climate change and create positive synergies to combat desertification and improve the economy in this region.

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