About Our Mission

For many years already I have been building an e-mail network for people interested in desertification, poverty and dryland gardening. Recently, I opened a part of this blog to “container gardening“. The main reason for the establishment of such a network is that I noticed, when speaking with my colleagues of the Committee for Science and Technology (CST) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), that we all spend a lot of time searching the internet for interesting publications concerning our fields of interest. Everyone is looking for the same information, spending considerable time to find mostly the same articles, all of us reading these texts to see if their content is important enough, and if it is, to use that info for our own purposes.

There is no general communication whatever between the members of the CST and between many more people interested in desertification, poverty, agriculture, horticulture and sustainable development. It does not suffice to send them the addresses of interesting websites, because not all the articles on that sites deal with dryland gardening, desertification, poverty, sustainable development or container gardening, so that we all have to start again searching and reading the content of the different sites. In other words: we all waste the same amount of time !

Therefore, I started selecting messages on these topics and all related subjects that can be important for people interested in the issues mentioned above and republishing the texts (some entirely, some partly) on my blog, so that my visitors do not have to switch again to all those websites to look for the entire texts they possibly want to read. My main aim is to reflect the diversity of publications on these topics. Thereby, I try to ease up the access to a panoply of articles and stories and to a panoply of sites and blogs. From time to time, I am also publishing my own contributions, mostly about my own experience with ways and means to improve plant growth in the drylands with a minimum of water and fertilizer.

Some people seem to be not so happy with this system, claiming their property rights. If so, I respect their views. I do not wish to harm their proper interests, whatever their objectives to create a public site or blog may be. I only tried to bring the attention of thousands of people worldwide to their messages.

Again, for me all this is a question of offering time-saving to my readers. This is not MY BLOG, it is OURS for I am only the administrator to easy up the work of many colleagues and friends. My blog visitors seem to be very happy with this system, as I offer them a chance to save plenty of time by aggregating valuable information on all aspects of the topics in a sort of newsletter, in which I (re)publish that what seems to be of some interest to most of us. This way, we all save time for more practical things to do and meanwhile we bring interesting websites and blogs to the attention of many more people worldwide than one single site or blog could do for itself.

Personally, I spend this time for collecting and aggregating the info because I am a retired professor of the Ghent University (Belgium) and I want to serve my colleagues and friends in an efficient way, without any other personal advantage than having the pleasure to serve and to do it the best way I can.

Of course, I mention always the source of the info I collect from the internet, so that the visitors of my blog can be immediately linked to my sources and go to these websites for additional interesting messages. Moreover, I am listing the links with important sites and blogs under my “Blogroll”, so that visitors of my blog can click directly the website’s address.

Observations, remarks, critics or additional ideas are always welcome. I also hope to find ways and means to improve cooperation and networking between people working for closely related websites. There is still a lot of improvement and collaboration to realize. Let’s do it together, in full respect for the work achieved by all of us, instead of “combating” each other in the battle of worldwide information!

Thanks for understanding.


64 thoughts on “About Our Mission”

  1. Thank you Willem for this valuable site. Yes, you can save a lot of peoples’ time by providing this information. I am very pleased to read the interesting outcomes of COP8 without having to wade through all the documents

  2. thank you very much your web site is intereting and educative .I was very interested in the article on Why developing countries seem to to have challlenges in development by Tungamirai Fambirai Nharo .
    It gives a starting point to African Leaders and ither developing countries.
    Keep on the good work

  3. Dear Prof

    Its me again, your friend Tanveer Arif. Greetings for Chritmas and New Year.

    This is wonderful, really wonderful blog. Please include http://www.dry-net.org which is a EU supported networking project, of which SCOPE Pakistan in also a partner, including 14 NGOs around the world. The main objective of DRYNET is to strengthen capacities of civil society organizations in all regions to strengthen implementation of UNCCD.

    We launched DRYNET at CoP-8 at Madrid, where we missied you a lot.



  4. Hi ALL, Good news for me, Why because at last I can tell the world on this website there’s no need for people to starve any more using what little water they have to feed them selves using my system. Please visit my website http://www.recycling.moonfruit.com to see what I’m talking about, which you might like to try out to help feed people and reuse waste at the same time. May you and yours and what you grow live long and happy. Happy New Year. John.J.R.P.

  5. 15-1-2008

    Why has my post been taken off when this is a website dealing with new ideas on how to grow things in a drought, is it because I know how to do it and you don’t, and my website http://www.recycling.moonfruit can prove it, as I grow nothing in the ground on a large scale, where as others are only interested in making money from the poor, which is NOT the reason I posted on here, it was to help save lives by spreading the word, I know how to help to feed people for FREE, done by reusing waste plastic containers and unwanted wooden pallets, in the UK and in the rest of the world, if I can with the help of others. or do I add you to my list of no helpers. John.J.R.P.

  6. Hi Doctor:

    Thank you for aggregating and linking to my recent post on Seabuckthorn and soil reclamation; I just wanted to drop you a line to let you know that I’ve profiled your blog on ours, as our monthly ‘Heal the World’ candidate. Here’s the link: http://www.seabuckthorn.net/index.php/?p=87.

    Best wishes for 2008, I look forward to reading about your trip to India. – Natalie Anne Lanoville

  7. Hi Doctor:

    I’ve come across a couple of links I thought you or your readers might find interesting:

    An article on the attempts by the Canadian, US and Argentinian governments to pressure the EU to accept our GMOs: http://thetyee.ca/Views/2008/01/28/FoodFight/

    A blog post at a Canadian human rights blog on the same topic: http://rightoncanada.wordpress.com/2008/02/11/gmo-food-fight-canada-vs-europe/

    And an Irish anti-GMO organisation: http://www.gmfreeireland.org/

    Best wishes, and Gang Hay Fat Choy

  8. I discover this blog and shall certainly rely on it as a valuable source in formation for our Watershed Development project in Madagascar :

    Ir Ph. Grandjean
    Projet BV Lac Alaotra

  9. First time here. Very impressed with the resource and user base…I’ll be checking back and offer my thoughts as well. Keep up the great work.

  10. You may want to check out our Self Watering Container planter and flower boxes at our website. http://www.GreatLakesflowerboxes.com

    These are all green, use a water retention system that hold water for 6-8 hours. Solid way to cut back on water use.

  11. Thank you very much, you are doing a good job here in getting all this valuable information collected in one place.

    Best regards

  12. Dear Doctor,
    Thank you again for spend your wealthy time for me and expriment of my soil conditioner,I am very happy to see amazing results of my soil conditioner,I hope I can be helpful to the people of world.thanks again for your great efforts for me when ever you come to india please inform me ,I would like to meet you and give thanks to you.

  13. Dear Doctor,
    Thank you again for spend your wealthy time for me and expriment of my soil conditioner,I am very happy to see amazing results of my soil conditioner,I hope I can be helpful to the people of world.thanks again for your great efforts for me when ever you come to india please inform me ,I would like to meet you and give thanks to you.

    yogesh patel

  14. Willem,
    Merci pour ton excellent travail.
    Je voudrais communiquer avec toi au sujet d’un gros projet autour de OPUNTIA pour l’Algérie que mes collègues et moi-même vont présenter au Colloque de l’Association des Compétences Algériennes dans 10 jours; à Alger.

    Je suis en train d’écrire un prospectus sur le sujet qui doit être éventuellement présenté au Ministre de l’Agriculture.


    Ta collaboration serait idéale pour nous, à tout le moins pour commencer.

    Merci. S’il te plaît donnes moi tes coordonnées.

    Ali Ferrane

  15. Thank you, Professor… very helpful. I am researching dry gardening projects here in northeast Brazil. There’s plenty of sand up here.

  16. Professor… I was interested in seeing the photos of the wetting patterns around the vegetables. I think we can help to conserve more water. You may not have seen our system but it has shown very good wetting pattrens in the sands of Dubai through the summer period and I am interested in helping to conserve water and nutrients too. Our website is http://www.kisss.com.au

  17. Hello,
    Just want to thank you for this excellent website. Combatting desertification and eradication of poverty are my main interests. I have joined an international tree planting organisation whos aim is to plant 5 billion trees in Kenya and Uganda. Visit http://www.betterglobe.com/8812 for details.
    Have found many very interesting topics here, which I read with great interest.
    Thank you again!


  18. Just found your site. Would like to know more about women’s cooperatives working with the Argania spinosa if other folks have information. Thanks

  19. Dear Willem,

    Thank you for maintaining this wonderful blog. I am wondering if you or any of your subscribers could point me to organizations and/or pilot projects that are having the greatest success in container gardening in slums in developing nations?

    Thank you.


    Willow Lundgren
    Small Planet Partners

  20. Restoring Degraded Soils for Carbon Credits

    Poor farming practices have degraded the world’s soils causing them to release carbon that should have stayed in the soil. In the past 150 years soils have released twice as much carbon as fuel burning. Improved farming methods could quickly rebuild degraded land and store enough carbon to offset the damage already done by fuel burning. Dr Rattan Lal of Ohio State University, a leading expert on soil carbon, estimates that the potential of economical carbon sequestration in world soils may be .65 billion to 1.1 billion tons per year for the next 50 years. This is enough to draw down atmospheric CO2 by 50 ppm by 2100. This is a one-time opportunity, however. We must ultimately stop burning fossil fuels.

    Man has already degraded about five billion acres of land on the planet by misguided farming practices and overgrazing. In fact, many of the world’s deserts were once rich land. Desertification from overgrazing, plowing and growing annual crops has greatly reduced the carbon retained in the earth’s soils. Many of our deserts started as forests which were cut or burned down to clear the land and then ruined by overgrazing. If we could reclaim these ruined lands we could restore the carbon balance of our planet.

    We have only recently begun to understand the destructive effects of plowing and overgrazing. The delicate surface crust is an almost invisible biotic network of algae, cyanobacteria and lichens that hold the soil together with tiny filaments. This thin crust takes in an amazing amount of CO2 by photosynthesis and also fixes the nitrogen in the air to a form usable by plants. Tilling the soil breaks up and buries the biotic crust, stopping photosynthesis. The dust bowl in Oklahoma in the 1930s was an example of the bad effects of plowing the land. Wind and erosion almost turned that once-rich grassland into a desert. In China and Africa the sand dunes have been advancing southward, turning more and more land into sterile deserts. Dust storms in the Gobi desert often block the sun in Beijing and many Saharan dust storms ultimately evolve into the hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.

    One very encouraging project in China has restored a desert community and given them a source of revenue growing sand willow for making wood planks. This experiment was so successful that the restored area is growing rapidly as individuals plant sand willow as a source of income. Even more exciting, is the plan to build hybrid solar power plants in the area that will use the sand willow as biomass to feed boilers when the sun doesn’t shine. Esolar will provide heliostats and a solar tower for generating solar power in the daytime. The same turbines will be driven at night by steam, generated by burning the sand willow. A total of two gigawatts of these hybrid power plants are planned.

    The sand willow matures in only three years and quickly regrows when cut. Villagers sell sand willow timber to plank companies for $30/ton. This economic boom has driven more and more plantings which are greening of the desert. Once a beachhead is established, the local micro climate is changed. Trees provide shade and shelter from the desert winds. Ultimately moisture brings clouds and increases in rainfall. A whole new ecosystem evolves.

    Carbon credits could drive this kind of renaissance even faster. It is very important that we develop inexpensive soil carbon monitoring systems so that such important changes in land use can be rewarded. Farmers are already receiving millions of dollars for no-till farming in the US but some have challenged their legitimacy as being “non-additional.” Hopefully, projects with multiple benefits should not be deprived of carbon credits which could drive the fast progress we need. A “green wall” project has been proposed by the UN which will plant trees along a 7000 km strip which is the current southern edge of the Sahara desert. It is floundering now for lack of money but carbon credits for land restoration could restore it to health.

    One of the biggest challenges is re-educating people in degraded areas to keep them from turning it back into a desert. Grazing goats and sheep were practical only when population density was much less than it is today. Under crowded conditions animal hooves quickly trample the soil crust. Denuded plant life soon leads to erosion and desertification. Goats and sheep are particularly destructive as they pull up vegetation by the roots. Too much of our agriculture has been dedicated to feeding animals which is inefficient at best. It takes 15 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beefsteak. Fish, being cold blooded, are much more efficient. They eat as little as two pounds per pound of meat.

    The “green revolution” doubled cereal production between 1961 and 1985. Unfortunately, much of the increase was based on use of cheap fossil fuels to make fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and to irrigate and cultivate the land. The energy content of food has reached frightening levels. Worse yet, the whole philosophy of this movement treats nature as an enemy to be conquered. Other plants, insects and microbes are simply poisoned. Unfortunately, the result has been degraded soils that need even more chemicals. Good healthy soil can hold three times more carbon than the plants themselves, mostly in the form of humus, bacteria, algae and other organic matter. The University of Illinois has maintained corn-growing test plots for over 100 years. Since 1955 synthetic nitrogen fertilization has been applied which contained 90-124 tons of carbon per acre. Today, all of that residue has disappeared into the atmosphere adding to global warming and there has been a decrease in soil carbon of 4.9 tons per acre.

    Today, there is a healthy revival of permaculture principles that work with nature instead of against it. Annual crops only do photosynthesis during the growing season, leaving bare dirt the rest of the year. By growing perennials, the root mass and the biotic community can grow steadily larger year after year instead of starting from scratch. Roots go deeper and deeper with each season, increasing drought resistance. Yearlong Green Farming maximizes carbon and water storage in the soil by keeping soil covered with greenery all year long. The world’s soils hold three times as much carbon as the atmosphere and four times as much as all of the plants in the world. A large part of the carbon storage is in the biotic soil community and humus, which forms only when the community is kept intact. Restoration experiments in Australia found that conventional cropping practices had reduced soil carbon to half to one third of original levels.

    Biomass can be grown from perennial grasses harvested regularly like a lawn that is repeatedly mowed. This allows undisturbed roots to continue to grow larger every year. Symbiotic fungi called mycorrhizae form an association with the roots which can increase their efficiency by a factor of ten. They are powered by the grasses’ metabolism but pay back by creating nitrogen and collecting nutrients. By putting rows or clumps of perennial grasses in fields of other crops, yield can be increased while collecting carbon credits. In some cases 8 tons of CO2 stored per acre per year have been recorded with virtually no biomass inputs. Grazing animals can help restore soils if the grazing patterns simulate migrating herds. They are an important part of the grassland ecosystem. The more the soil has been degraded the easier it is to earn credits with changes that store significant carbon. A recent study by Stanford University’s Carnegie Institution identified 1.8 million square miles of abandoned farmland worldwide.

    Heavy use of chemical fertilizers is unnecessary if the soil’s crust is kept intact. Even in barren deserts specialized cyanobacteria on the very top surface remove CO2 and nitrogen from the air through photosynthesis. They protect and colaborate with other species in the next layer that fix the nitrogen but cannot stand oxygen. These species have coevolved to work together to hold the soil together and support the growth of more complex vascular plants. Almost invisible to the naked eye, this crust ecosystem stabilizes the soil while fixing carbon and nitrogen. When the delicate crust community is destroyed, plants starve for nitrogen unless they are given massive fertilizer applications. Chemical fertilizers are an environmental nightmare which release lots of nitrous oxide into the air. Nitrous oxide is 298 times worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Fertilizers also pollute streams, consume fossil fuels and emit CO2 in their manufacture.

    Bioinoculants can restore degraded soils by adding natural microorganisms that greatly reduce the need for chemical fertilizers and even water in the soil. Dramatic increases in soil carbon are possible in a single season. Damaged soil crusts could be healed by aerial spraying of tiny amounts of cyanobacteria mixtures which remain viable through long periods of dryness yet rehydrate and begin growing within minutes of receiving rain or even dew condensation. Cyanobacteria were responsible for creating the oxygen on our planet from CO2 billions of years ago. Perhaps they can help us to rescue the planet today.

    Another promising approach to greening deserts is seawater farming. Coastal desert areas lacking fresh water can grow plants like Mangrove and Salicornia along with fish and shrimp that provide the fertilizer. The first commercial-scale saltwater farm was built by the Seawater Foundation on a barren desert in Eritrea, on the west coast of the Red Sea. Before the project, ecologists found only 13 species of wild birds in the area. By the time the farm was completed in 2002, the count had increased to 200. Here is a movie about that farm.

    Another massive farm is planned for Abu Dhabi. Boing and Honeywell are partners in the project which will grow salt-water biomass to be used for making green fuel for jet aircraft. There are 25,000 miles of coastal desert in the world that could be developed in this way. Carbon trading could be the driver for these projects if we can only develop sound verification protocols and measuring instruments.

    Download my free renewable energy book, Fuel Free: Living Well Without Fossil Fuels here.

  21. I was very delighted to locate this web site.I desired to say thank you to you with regard to this wonderful examine!!! I certainly enjoyed every single small bit of it and We have you bookmarked to examine out new things you submit.

    San Francisco 华人
    Also welcome you!

  22. I really liked it when you emphasized that this is “our” blog and not yours alone. 🙂 That made me feel really welcome as I am sure is everyone else as well. Thanks for sharing your ideas, your time and your site. 🙂

  23. Dear Dr. Cotthem, I’d like to introduce my partner Dr. James Lu’s patent, HiROS, waste treatment technology to produce high-quality organic fertilizer not only to promote agricultural production, and can be used for many purposes of ecological protection, far-reaching contribution to mankind.

  24. Prachtig, en uw kennis zo toepasbaar in onze regio, zo vlakbij! Groeten uit Kapelle-op-den-Bos.

  25. I totally agree with about the importance of structuring, coordinating and integrating scientific work rather than listing them in random, scattered and fragmented manner. Blogs are very important in this respect as they can make knowledge coherent, identify further gaps and most importantly couple science and technology to market and society needs, raise public awareness and critically inform the citizens. They also provide interactive means of communication to address issues of importance for how to run the society in much more democratic manner. They, also, are meeting platforms for improving life quality through engaging the citizens in real life issues with importance for achieving sustainable socio-economic developments world-wide. In this context we invite you to visit, share and contribute in http://sustain-earth.com

  26. This is helpful, indeed! I’m sure it will come in handy for my Economics project. Otherwise, also, this is quite an informative blog. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  27. Pingback: Impulse || Home
  28. Hello Dr. Willem,

    I am a high school student in China, and I wish to devote my humble effort into the control of desertification. I find your blog really prolific and profound, and I believe it will be incredibly beneficial for Chinese people to learn these resources. Therefore, I would like to ask for your approval for the translation of articles in your blog into Chinese.

    For further discussion, please contact me via email: liu.camilla@yahoo.com. I am looking forward to your response.

    Wish you to be much further down the road of anti-desertification!

    Camilla Liu

  29. I would like to start a project on urban food production in Nigeria. I am thinking edible bamboo varieties (Phyllostachys, Chimonobambusa, etc), Wisteria Sinensis, (and controlled Anredera Cordifolia).
    Do you know of a plant nursery that sells these?

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