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

How to rehabilitate an argan forest ?

Photo credit: WVC 2007-04 Oued Elmaa WVC  Ar#99EA1 copy

Argan forest in the Tindouf area (S.W. Algeria)

Rehabilitation of Tindouf argan forest and reforestation outside by seeds propagation and effect of interactions with mycorrhizal fungi on growth of the argan seedlings (Argania spinosa (L.) Skeels) in Algeria

by Benaouf ZohraMiloudi Ali and Kechairi Reda

in  International Journal of Innovative and Applied Research (2014), Volume 2, Issue (7): 32- 40

ISSN 2348– 0319
The Argan tree, being a xerophytic species, observed in the semi-arid and dry floor, presents specific ecological characteristics and numerous interests (forest, fodder, and fruit). The study concerns the highlighting of endomycorrhizal associations of the Argan tree (Argania spinosa (L.) Skeels) of Tindouf (southwest of Algeria).
Photo WVC 2007-04 Oued Elmaa WVC Ar#99EAE copy.jpg
Photo WVC 2007-04 Oued Elmaa WVC Ar#99EAE copy.jpg
This tree is an endemic forest gasoline of the Algerian southwest. According to the technique of tint in the acid fuschine indicates the presence of endomycorhiza to vesicles and to arbuscular.
Photo WVC  2007-04 Oued Elmaa WVC Ar#99EBE copy.jpg
Photo WVC 2007-04 Oued Elmaa WVC Ar#99EBE copy.jpg
The results show an increase of 70.5 ± 1.35cm from the average stem height, with high average number of branches of 1st and 2nd order reach 23.71 ± 0.97 and15.37 ± 1, 19 respectively and 52.36 ± 1.08 cm in average root length, with high average number of secondary roots reach brown 32.56 ± 1.45.
Photo WVC  2007-04 Oued Elmaa WVC Ar#99EC9 copy.jpg
Photo WVC 2007-04 Oued Elmaa WVC Ar#99EC9 copy.jpg
Similarly, ground biomass is increased by 11.45 ± 1.47 and root biomass of 7.47 ±0.52 in plants inoculated (mycorrhizal) against by the non-inoculated control plants were recorded as the values of the low plants inoculated values of the average stem height, average number of branches of 1st and 2nd order.
The average root length, the average number of secondary roots, respectively about 40.4 ± 0.44 cm, 07, 65 ± 0.71, 0,35.58 ± 0.92 cm, 13.83 ± 1.04. Even the root and shoot biomass recorded values within the range of 7.53 ± 0.86 and4.25 ± 0.48 respectively.
Photo WVcC2007-04 Oued Elmaa WVC Ar#99EC5 copy.jpg
Photo WVcC2007-04 Oued Elmaa WVC Ar#99EC5 copy.jpg
The index of relative mycorrhizal dependency (IRMD) is 45.77%. Under the effect ofmycorrhiza, the average air ratios parties / party root password from 1.05 to 1.50, indicating a greater efficiency of mycorrhizal root systems. As for the interest of the mycorrhizal symbiosis to the Argan tree, the mycorhization checked by an origin selected by endomycorrhizal mushroom was translated by a very positive effect on the growth of young seedlings of the Argan tree inoculated versus the non-inoculated seedlings.

Photo WVC 2007-04 Oued Elmaa Argan P1010157 copy.jpg
Photo WVC 2007-04 Oued Elmaa Argan P1010157 copy.jpg
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