American Associates of Ben Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU) have launched
a new funding initiative that will provide for the growth of an olive tree
forest at a university agricultural research farm.
The project, called
“Plant a Tree to Seed Desert Research,” will take place at the Wadi Mashash
research farm, located about 32 km. south of Beersheba.
Contributing to a
BGU mission of “making the desert bloom,” the initiative will also allow donors
to dedicate individual trees to the person of their choice.
the area where the olive grove will crop up, is the only site in Israel where
agricultural production is based solely on the collection of the desert’s rare
flood-waters, according to the AABGU. Tactics developed at this specific farm
have already been used to promote sustainable development projects in other
drylands – particularly tree growth projects in African nations, the
“The olive tree is a symbol of Israel, a reminder
of our extraordinary heritage in our biblical homeland and a prized example of
the remarkable agricultural and energy potential of drylands around the world,”
said Doron Krakow, AABGU executive vice president, in a statement released by
his office. “The research done at Wadi Mashash will bring knowledge to the world
– knowledge that will help produce food, cash crops and more sustainable farming
Planting, managing and researching at the olive grove is
being carried out by students at the Albert Katz International School for Desert
Studies, from BGU’s Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research based in Sde
The first phase of planting – about 240 olive trees – has already
been completed, as the Wadi Mashash area had “good luck” with receiving
rainwater this winter, according to Prof.
Pedro Berliner, director of the
Blaustein Institutes and head of the olive grove project.
is ancient Nabatean type in which we collect runoff,” he told The Jerusalem Post
on Wednesday. “Our plot was flooded. The moment our plot was flooded we
planted our trees.”
Two more successive plots will follow, in which the
researchers are aiming to plant 600 to 700 additional trees, Berliner
Olive trees, a staple food provider for the region, were the ideal
new crop choice for the research farm, according to Berliner.
trees are originally from this area,” he said. “Any research we carry out here
is relevant to the whole area.”
Meanwhile, he explained, olive trees are
not customarily irrigated – they rely on rainwater only – so in areas where
precipitation is highly variable, an ample supply of runoff can be a great
advantage for tree survival.
While at one point crops thrived on runoff
water in both Shivta National Park and in Avdat National Park, the Wadi Mashash
research farm is now the only place in the country where this watering method is
being actively used in agriculture, Berliner confirmed.
are planting the groves using an “intercrop system,” in which a row of grain
grows between each row of olive trees. Because of the wide breadth of their
roots and branches, trees cannot be planted that close to each other, and a lot
of water loss therefore occurs in the top portion of the soil, according to
“Instead of letting that happen we developed a system in which
we put plants in between the rows of trees,” he said. “These plants take up the
water that would be lost to the atmosphere.”
If the olive tree branches
eventually become overgrown and provide too much shade over the grain plants in
between them, the researchers will then need to do some selective pruning to
ensure that enough radiation is reaching the other plants, Berliner explained.
The researchers already began developing this “runoff agroforestry system” by
intercropping grain plants between trees used for firewood and fodder only. But
in this scenario, pruning was much simpler, as there were no olives to worry
Now, the researchers have the slightly more complicated challenge
of determining the best ways to simultaneously grow olives and grains, using
runoff as the sole source of irrigation, and analyzing economic return per unit
area, Berliner explained. Only then will they be able to transfer their
techniques to farmers in the region, he said.
A single olive tree costs
$180, three cost $500, 10 cost $1,600 and 18 cost $3,000, according to AABGU.
The university will specially acknowledge donors of 36 trees, which costs
$5,000, by permanently recognizing their names on the BGU Sde Boker campus.