The peak of unique projects with enormous financial ramifications - especially for developing countries - is connected to, of all things, a tiny insect discovered by Israeli scientists working in distant Australia - thanks to generous funding from the Australian Friends of KKL-JNF.

January 19, 2010 14:15

KKL-JNF IN THE INTERNATIONAL. (photo credit: kkl)


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By Ahuva Bar-Lev & Gabi Bron

It all started at the beginning of the 20th century with a blue tin box at the Zionist Congress in Basel, into which Jewish communities worldwide deposited their pennies to help acquire lands for Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel. Today, KKL-JNF is the largest "green" organization in modern Israel. KKL-JNF projects in forestry and open spaces, in water and river rehabilitation, in combating desertification, in land reclamation, and in applied agricultural research and development, are a focus of international interest. Thank to its achievements and expertise, KKL-JNF has attained major international status in global frameworks. This reputation is based on the understanding that many of the challenges that KKL-JNF faces in Israel are similar to the problems tackled by many other nations around the world. Organizations, institutions and governments worldwide relate to KKL-JNF as a partner for environmental projects with global ramifications.

Biological Pest Control
The peak of unique projects with enormous financial ramifications - especially for developing countries - is connected to, of all things, a tiny insect discovered by Israeli scientists working in distant Australia - thanks to generous funding from the Australian Friends of KKL-JNF. The objective of the project was to identify the creature that could put an end to the plague of gall wasps in Australia - insects that endanger millions of acres of eucalyptus tree plantations intended for industry and for energy production throughout South-East Asia, the USA, Africa and South America. The natural enemy of the gall wasp is a tiny insect less than 2 millimeters long. It was identified in Australia by Dr. Zvi Mendel from Israel's Volcani Institute of Agriculture and David Brand of KKL-JNF, who trapped and brought it to Israel. Like the gall wasp itself, this insect is also a wasp, a parasite, whose absence in nature outside Israel led to the unchecked development of eucalyptus gall wasps. By propagating the parasites in captivity at the Volcani Institute, new generations of the gall wasp's natural enemy have been produced. Wherever these tiny insects have been released in eucalyptus groves infested by gall wasps, they start operating immediately, and have a significant effect within a few months.

When the Israeli scientists realized that they were in possession of news of global importance, a special international workshop was held on the topic. It attracted scientists and wood industry executives from China, Thailand, India, Turkey, Italy, Kenya, Uganda, Brazil and the USA. The aim of the workshop was to provide the participants with information on operating biological pest control of the Australian gall wasp. At the end of the workshop each visitor received a unique present: a small cardboard box containing hundreds of the Israeli-grown wasp parasites that are the natural enemy of the Australian gall wasp. Today, about a year after receiving their special gifts, the international workshop participants are already reporting to KKL-JNF about the enormous success of the wasp parasites: they are exterminating gall wasps in eucalyptus forests and those forests are returning to life with renewed growth. The significance of this success is the rescue of entire branches of global economy with long-term importance for many participating countries, both in terms of raw materials for the wood industry and also of fuel for rural populations who lack any other source of energy.

In South Africa, millions of acres of eucalyptus forests have been saved since May this year (2009) from the damage caused by gall wasps that penetrated this area only recently and became a serious threat to its commercial forests. KKL-JNF representatives, Professor Zvi Mendel from the Volcani Institute and David Brand, director of KKL-JNF's Forestry & Land Development, took part in the annual forestry conference held in Pretoria. The conference's focus was mainly on the diseases that damage forest trees. KKL-JNF representatives brought with them those parasite wasps that are the natural enemies of gall wasps and helped researchers from the Forestry & Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) to release them into the FABI's securely closed quarantine facility of the University of Pretoria, also providing them with practical guidance on providing the optimal habitat for the natural predators of gall wasps.

The KKL-JNF representatives also gave a survey on the work of Israeli foresters and on KKL-JNF's areas of research to different teams and to the FABI head, Professor Mike Wingfield, as well as to forestry researchers and leaders of commercial forest projects. The audience was extremely impressed by KKL-JNF's knowledge and as a result of the conference an extensive foundation for forestry cooperation has been laid between KKL-JNF and South Africa.

Clean up the World
Another unique international effort originating in Australia that KKL-JNF was amongst of the first organizations in the world to join is "Clean Up the World" an Australian initiative, which has been adopted by dozens of countries worldwide. Every year about 40 million people in some 120 countries now participate and in Israel, KKL-JNF has turned Israel's "Clean Up the World" events into large annual happenings that educate about preserving the environment. During the last Clean Up the World Day in Israel, over 165,000 volunteers, from different ethnic and religious populations - Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Bedouin - in 106 towns and regional councils participated. Israel's president Shimon Peres, as well as foreign diplomats also playing their part in cleaning the environment and setting an excellent example to the general public. In order to help increase awareness of ecological cleanliness, KKL-JNF provided a goodly supply of biodegradable garbage bags!

Forestry and Water - New Researches
KKL-JNF's research projects are often backed by research in institutions of higher education in Israel. However in recent years, the numbers of KKL-JNF's research partners have expanded, even beyond the country's borders. Thus, for example, in the last few years there has been cooperation with the American Forestry Service, whilst several studies on water preservation became joint projects between KKL-JNF and Canada.

The researches of the US Forest Service in the field and in professional training are a highly valued source of information amongst those dealing with forests in Israel. With its help, advanced methods to monitor forested areas in Israel were introduced to the KKL-JNF, by means of information beamed down from satellites. This remote sensing technology enables mapping and identification of problems that arise in forest areas as a result of pests or from changes in yearly precipitation. Forestry experts from the USA come to Israel for annual advisory visits, while forestry staffers and scientists from KKL-JNF participate regularly in professional workshops in the US held by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Forest Service.

Two top KKL-JNF forestry experts, Yitzhak Moshe and David Brand, visited Indonesia. This visit to the largest Muslim state in the world, that still does not officially recognize Israel, led to meetings with Indonesian scientists and foresters and even to the first-ever reciprocal visit by several of them in Israel. The KKL-JNF executives found that they can supply their Indonesian colleagues with much, varied knowledge that they require, in spite of basic difference between Israeli and Indonesian forests, which are rain forests.

While KKL-JNF learns from the US about innovative forestry methods and systems to use runoff water in forests, in its interrelationship with Canada, the Canadian experts teach the Israelis about methods to preserve and rehabilitate water sources. In return, the Israelis instruct their colleagues from Manitoba, Canada, about methods developed in Israel to purify polluted water sources. Israelis also carry out joint research on water with colleagues in Alberta. Thanks to this cooperation, it quickly became apparent that in spite of basic differences between the Canadian and Israeli climates, the two nations have identical problems in preserving water sources and removing pollutants from natural bodies of water (rivers, lakes and aquifers). These shared interests speedily led to regular, permanent, joint research. As part of this cooperation, The Second Annual Manitoba-Israel Water Symposium is planned for the beginning of January 2010, on topics of Limnology, Wetlands and Water Conservation.

In order to address the growing water crisis in Israel, KKL-JNF is constantly examining new, creative ways of rehabilitating Israel's water network. Avri Kadmon, director of KKL-JNF's Department of Geographical Information, keeps abreast of negotiations taking place between various bodies, to enable KKL-JNF to tackle the vital challenge of setting up new, even more successful, water facilities in Israel.

There are even more innovations relating to water: through help of KKL-JNF in Australia, an Israeli scientist, Yaron Zinger, a PhD student at the University of Melbourne, is now undertaking a novel project aiming to pool surface runoff water (rain water) from an urban environment and to re-use it for secondary purposes. The Kfar Saba Municipality has already agreed to try out the first pilot project of its kind in this sphere and KKL-JNF staffers are very excited about this innovative effort.

KKL-JNF in the East-Mediterranean and European Area
International connections have encouraged KKL-JNF executives, headed by World Chairman Efi Stenzler, to paint a rosy forecast for KKL-JNF's role in the Eastern-Mediterranean. "In our immediate vicinity, there are many states facing crises similar to ours, whether in the availability of water in countries where tree planting is accelerated, or in combating desertification that constantly threatens the whole region with increasing severity. Regional cooperation among nations, with each focusing on finding solutions for one of the problems and then sharing its findings with its neighbors, is in KKL-JNF's opinion one of the solutions for the advancement of all states in the Eastern Mediterranean. KKL-JNF publicizes to all the results of its research and its technologies on combating desertification."

Within the Kingdom of Jordan, KKL-JNF has for many years had some shared research, modest in size but highly effective for both sides, one of which has been to eradicate the Mediterranean fruit fly, which harms extensive agricultural areas in the Aravah, on both sides of the border. The eradication method is biological - without any spraying of pesticides - involving scattering from the air millions of fruit fly males sterilized by radiation to prevent the fly's natural reproduction process. Cooperation on a more limited scale is also carried out with the Palestinian Authority. According Dr. Omri Boneh, KKL-JNF northern region director - who is also in charge of KKL-JNF's foreign relations - these first links bring great hope for extensive regional cooperation in the future, as its importance becomes clear for the success of projects that deal with regional phenomena.

Forest research has laid a strong foundation for international cooperation between KKL-JNF and other countries with especially close research links with scientists in Turkey, mainly owing to similarity of problems that foresters face in both countries. Good relations have also developed with foresters in Italy and Spain where cooperation focuses on a major "plague" in every forest - extinguishing forest fires and renewing the forests after a conflagration.

International cooperation sometimes brings results that could not have been gained in any other way. For example, during a study tour in Turkey, KKL-JNF representatives were able to collect seeds from cedars of Lebanon, bringing them to Israel for germination. These cedar saplings can already be seen planted in the Galilee, mainly in the Biriya Forest, which was badly damaged by fires during the Second Lebanon War.

At the end of 2008, a delegation of German forestry scientists visited Israel, to inspect at close range KKL-JNF's unique achievements in developing forests on the edge of a desert. This was their very first visit in Israel and the German scientists were amazed by the very existence of extensive stretches of forest in Israel. In several professional meetings, the visitors presented different aspects of forest-care problems in Germany, and once again it was seen that here too, there is a common denominator and a common language when delving into forestry topics. Not that every solution that is used in Germany can be applied in Israel, but as a result of this visit another network of scientific cooperation has been formed between Germany and Israel, and in particular with KKL-JNF.

Combating Desertification
Just as KKL-JNF lessons are learned from the experience of others so also does KKL-JNF teach others to use the experience it has accumulated in various spheres. KKL-JNF plays a central role in disseminating this information through its cooperation with Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Agriculture. In December 2008, the International Cooperation Department of the Foreign Ministry, in conjunction with KKL-JNF and the International Cooperation Center of the Agriculture Ministry, organized an international seminar under the rubric "Combating Desertification." David Brand, director of KKL-JNF's Forestry & Development Department, led a pivot of the seminar, which addressed various aspects of open space management, forest management, the propagation of tree and bush species, tree nursery management, forest and forest-product management.

Among the seminar participants, the representatives from desert and semi-arid countries stood out prominently: from Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, China and India. For some of the delegates, the fact that Israel also has the same desertification problems as they have came as a great surprise. And they were amazed that, contrary to the conventional wisdom they had imbibed, it is possible to cultivate sustainable forest even in conditions with very little rain - only 300 millimeters a year, or even less. In their countries it was thought that a minimal annual rainfall of 600 mm is needed for a successful forest. The seminar participants toured throughout the Negev to study the modern application of ancient methods of stopping floodwaters, soil preservation, and the restoration of wadi banks in flood regions. In addition, they also learned how to deal successfully with moving sand dunes that threaten extensive areas on the edge of the Sahara in Africa.

Many of the delegates requested that the educational and professional training frameworks in Israel for their co-patriots be expanded but Dr. Omri Boneh had better advice. "The most important outcome of this seminar is that new operating methods are adopted in different countries. Each country will have to apply these methods to match its own special conditions. That is why one has to examine whether it would not be more worthwhile and effective to continue the cooperation through suitable training given by Israeli experts in your own countries, after studying the specific data for each state and region. We'll still be here, keeping in touch with each country and able to give knowledge and advice on an ongoing basis, to provide answers for any special issues that the seminar delegates raise after their return to their own countries."

And indeed, this proposal is already being put into practice through professional Internet networks set up by the participants of several workshops held in Israel. These international networks constitute a boundless and timeless meeting place for experts from all points of the globe who came to know each other in Israel. They keep up regular, ongoing exchanges of information among themselves and with their friends in Israel, in the same spirit that KKL-JNF imparts in all the international arenas where it participates.

Global Warming
Israel's achievements in the sphere of desertification and the global struggle against the planet's warming are increasingly recognized around the world. At the forefront of these achievements is the Yatir Forest, the largest forest in Israel that flourishes east of Beersheba in a desert region where the annual rainfall is between 200-250 millimeters. The forest and the Research station set up there by the Weizmann Institute draw great interest among environment researchers all over the world.

The findings of the ongoing research in the Yatir forest have already been presented at international forums on the environment, and especially at the UN's Conference on Climate Change that was held in Bali about two years ago. At this conference, representatives of 189 countries heard about KKL-JNF's unique achievements and how they benefit the environment. For the first time they realized that today Israel is one of the few countries in the world where new forest areas are grown every year. At another conference, held in Cyprus, to address environmental issues in the Mediterranean basin, KKL-JNF's representatives were approached directly by representatives from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, requesting a system of cooperation and assistance. Following the UN's conference in Bali, KKL-JNF expects to participate in the Global Climate Conference 2009 in Copenhagen that will take place in December.

The Green Agriculture Revolution in Africa
KKL-JNF has been invited to join as a partner in an international forum - The Green Revolution - which will involve Israeli NGOs and government ministries in an international effort to improve the environment and agriculture around the world. It is being currently sponsored by noted experts who promoted the United Nations' Millennium Goals.

The Green Revolution is a term used to describe the period from around 1960 to 1990, when there was a tremendous boom in agricultural productivity in the developing world, especially in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Governments invested heavily in agricultural research and modern science was put to use to find ways of producing more food and fighting widespread famine. The current goal of the Forum is to ascertain that food production is sustainable, and that everyone, including poor farmers, can take advantage of the Green Revolution's resources and breakthroughs. KKL-JNF is confident that its experience and innovative groundwork can help developing nations and can make an important contribution to alleviating world hunger.

Farming Project for Genocide Orphans' Village, Rwanda
One of the most interesting international projects is now under way in Rwanda, where a model youth village has been set up, with a donation from KKL-JNF Friends in the USA. The aim is to educate youngsters from Rwanda for future leadership, by imparting to them knowledge on many spheres of life mainly on agriculture and the environment. KKL-JNF decided to respond to the request to take part in this educational effort by sending counselors and setting up a farm. KKL-JNF's activity will expand into other projects in commercial afforestation as a source of raw materials for industry and above all as a source of fuel for domestic use in a rural area lacking other sources of energy. The Forestry Department of KKL-JNF is a main partner in this assistance project.

The first KKL-JNF delegation to Rwanda was a study tour in July 2008, examining the conditions of the soil and the environment, to match different types of crops to the conditions at the farm. KKL-JNF also intends to collect the different species varieties of fruit trees and forest trees that grow in Rwanda and to set up a section in the farm to preserve them genetically. The aim is to prevent the extinction of these trees and, quite apart from income, to also contribute to the culture and values inherent in preserving nature and the landscape. Efi Stenzler, World Chairman of KKL-JNF, has said, "This delegation is one example among many of the export of KKL-JNF's knowledge and competencies to states and organizations around the world. By establishing plant nurseries and training the youngsters at the village, we are giving them tools to cope and helping them to support themselves with dignity in the future."

The Hula - Towards Becoming a World Heritage Site
A representative of KKL-JNF put forward a proposal to the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO to declare KKL-JNF's unique environmental project Lake Agmon Hula a World Heritage Site, as part of a serial nomination of birding sites along the Great Rift Valley. Owing to its location and central role in the semi-annual migration of millions of birds from wintry Europe to warm Africa and back, the location of Lake Hula at the approximate midway point of the bird's migration route, together with KKL-JNF's efforts to provide them with water, food and shelter, have transformed the valley into the hub of fascinating international phenomena.

Looking to the Future
According to Dr. Omri Boneh, "KKL-JNF's international ties help Israel to overcome its international isolation by forming professional connections with countries tackling problems similar to ours. Together with the International Cooperation Department of the Foreign Ministry, we will soon be hosting international workshops for professionals from around the world, many of them from developing countries. We are also expanding activities in Africa, China and even in Tahiti. In the future, we will also be involved in arid zone management in South America and Africa."

As for Middle Eastern countries, Dr. Boneh noted that "when we encounter professionals from the Middle East at international forums, there is always a friendly atmosphere, even with representatives from countries such as Syria or Iraq. As for our immediate neighbors, a joint project between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority is being planned. Its ambitious goal is the total rehabilitation of the River Jordan and the entire river basin."

KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler said that "there is tremendous importance to ongoing connections with governments, organizations and professionals from around the world. These ties give us opportunities to acquire new knowledge and to provide information to other countries. We must concentrate on the present while looking towards the future. Only if we work together and pool our resources will we be able to meet the challenges that threaten our very existence."

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