(photo credit: KKL)
As part of the events that took place at the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, the Israeli delegation held a side event that addressed the various ways of adapting to life in arid regions. KKL-JNF initiated the side event together with the government of Israel in order to present and share the knowledge Israel has acquired on adapting to hot and arid climates. The event was moderated by Dr. Orr Karassin, head of the KKL-JNF delegation to the conference, who emphasized that the purpose of the side event was not to debate policy, as was the case at most of the conference discussions, but rather to present practical solutions in the fields of agriculture and afforestation in hot and arid regions: "In spite of the different topics of the lectures that were presented at the side event, they have a shared motif, which is the challenges and practical solutions that were implemented in Israel for life on the edge of the desert. It is self-evident that in an era of global warming, increasingly more countries will have to learn how to farm and prevent damage to the environment in hot and arid conditions. It is our hope that some of the knowledge that we have already acquired in Israel will be useful for the rest of the world. It is clear that there is still a long road in front of us.
"In Israel, we need to better study the ramifications of climate change for our region, and the effects of our ways of dealing with it. The Carmel forest fire was a terrifying reminder of this necessity. Climate change is one of the greatest challenges the state of Israel and other countries have ever faced. I will make every effort to ensure that KKL-JNF's research department will devote itself to investigating the ramifications of climate change on Israel's forests and to the ways of protecting forests in an era of global warming and changes in annual rainfall."
The first lecture was by Mr. Itzik Moshe, deputy director of KKL-JNF's Southern Region, on desert afforestation and agriculture in semi-arid and arid regions. Itzik presented the methods developed by KKL-JNF, including harvesting runoff water and planting species that can survive in harsh climatic conditions. Itzik answered the many questions that the audience asked regarding the amount of rainfall necessary to grow trees and the effects of harvesting runoff water, which has a positive effect on preventing floods and erosion in those regions that have a tendency for damage to land quality. Itzik emphasized that Israel's unprecedented success in foresting areas with an average of 250-350 mms. of average rainfall is based on ancient methods that were used by local inhabitants for hundreds of years: "Actually, there is not too much that is new in our forestry methods. All we are doing is combining ancient knowledge with modern tools. The methods developed in Israel could instigate a revolution in semi-arid regions. KKL-JNF is eager to share its expertise with countries throughout the world."
The next lecture was presented by Dr. Gabi Adin, director of the Cattle Raising Department of the Ministry of Agriculture. Dr. Adin described Israel's success in raising dairy cows that produce the highest average yield in the world, approximately 11,000 liters per year, far exceeding the European average of about 8,000 liters annually. There are, however, claims that raising cattle for dairy and meat are the cause of about 30% of global warming, due to energy outputs and the methane emissions of the cows. According to Dr. Adin, besides the commercial advantage of the Israeli dairy cow, this cow also has an ecological advantage, since it emits less methane gas per liter of milk.
The concluding speaker at the KKL-JNF side-event was Dr. Alon Ben-Gal, an expert on irrigation from the Volcani Institure, who spoke on irrigation in arid regions where various crops are grown, including dates and olives. Dr. Ben-Gal emphasized the benefits of drip irrigation as a means of enabling people to make a livelihood in these regions, without which it would be impossible for them to inhabit them. People in the audience asked about the use of brackish water for irrigation, questioning whether it wouldn't cause salification of the land which would render it unusable for farming, as was the case in Australia. Dr. Ben Gal answered that this was in fact a problem, and that so far, Israeli farmers in the Arava had been lucky, since irrigation water penetrates the Arava soil, preventing salification. "For this reason," Dr. Ben Gal concluded, "the answers and solutions that future research will provide are critical for enabling Israel to continue farming the Negev desert and to continue taking advantage of the local aquifer, which has copious amounts of brackish water."