Growing and Planting Trees in the Desert:

A Visit to KKL-JNF Projects in the Negev: On Sunday, December 11, KKL-JNF Director of Tourism Esther Weinstein led a group of seventeen people on a visit to KKL-JNF projects in the Negev to learn about the growing of trees from seed to maturity, and coping with Israel's severe water shortage.

December 15, 2011 16:27

KKL_151211_E. (photo credit: KKL-JNF)


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On Sunday, December 11, KKL-JNF Director of Tourism Esther Weinstein led a group of seventeen people on a visit to KKL-JNF projects in the Negev to learn about the growing of trees from seed to maturity, and coping with Israel's severe water shortage. Susan Dilles, one of the participants, told us about the group: "This is a group of employees of the American embassy and their families, along with guests from the Kenyan and Japanese embassies. We want to increase our knowledge about issues related to water, the environment, forestry in Israel and other related fields. It's an opportunity for us to learn about daily life in the country we're stationed in."

Where it all begins – Seed Collecting

At the KKL-JNF offices in Beit Nechemia, in Israel's central region, the group was greeted by Aviv Eisenbad, Director of the Seed and Nursery Department of KKL-JNF's Afforestation Division. Aviv met the group next to a KKL-JNF fire truck and took the opportunity to explain a bit about KKL-JNF's firefighting system:
"Here at Beit Nechemia, we have three fire trucks which were donated by friends of KKL-JNF from Switzerland and the USA. They are specially designed for difficult forest roads and hold 3,000 cubic liters of water, along with 500 cubic liters of foam."

KKL-JNF is responsible for preventing and fighting forest fires, and trucks like these proved themselves during the terrible December 2010 Carmel fire.

"One of our most important tasks here is to supply seeds for KKL-JNF's two large tree nurseries in the north and the south," said KKLEisenbach. "We collect fruits from the trees, extract the seeds, treat them and store them. We deal with about 250 species, and one of our aims is to make the desert greener. KKL-JNF's tree seedlings are not for sale. We provide them free of charge to non-private entities like army bases, kibbutzim, moshavim and local councils. Some of the seeds are collected from the ground, while for others, we need to climb up to the tree canopies, which demands rappelling skills.

"We choose seeds from species of trees that serve KKL-JNF's goals, which include trees for forests, trees from whose flowers honey can be produced, and trees for wood production, a field we're currently trying to establish. After we collect the seeds, we dry them to prevent germination until the nursery is ready to sprout them. Everything we do is documented and meets the international standards determined by the International Seed Testing Authority, where Israel has a representative. Since the last few years have been very dry, and seeing as prospects for future precipitation are not bright due to climate change, we focus a lot of our efforts on developing drought-resistant species that need less water."

The visit concluded with a demonstration of how seeds are extracted mechanically from earth gathered from the forest floor

Recycling Water at the Aryeh Pools

Esther Weinstein, whom much to the delight of the group knew something about everything, provided background information on water issues in the Negev: "Israel's largest natural aquifer is actually located in the south, but the problem is that the water it contains is brackish and hot. Our local research and development stations, which are supported by KKL-JNF, develop ways of irrigation using this water. For example, we discovered that when irrigated by brackish water, tomatoes are actually sweeter, due to a chemical reaction in the brackishness," Esther explained.

Eran Etner, deputy director of KKL-JNF's Southern Region and director of KKL-JNF's Department of Engineering, laughed.
"Go understand a tomato. Here at Aryeh Pools, we treat and purify sewage water up to tertiary level, at which point it is almost fit for drinking. For some crops, second stage purification is sufficient. Aryeh Pools treat about 15 million cubic meters of effluents that are used to irrigate huge agricultural areas, KKL-JNF forests, and also to green Beersheba, the largest city in the Negev.

"Reservoirs like this cost a lot of money to build and maintain, and we are very grateful to friends of KKL-JNF from Australia who helped fund this project. Without water, it would be impossible to inhabit or make a living in the Negev. As I'm sure you know, water shortage is a huge problem in the Middle East, and we can't afford not to recycle this precious resource. KKL-JNF has built about 240 reservoirs throughout the country, with an operational capacity of 300-400 million cubic meters. It's a huge thing. We're small, but effective."

Gilat Nursery – Trees from Seed to Soil

Pablo Chercasky, director of KKL-JNF's Gilat Nursery in the south, welcomed the group and spoke about meeting the need for trees in an increasingly dryer climate: "Over the last five years, we've only received about 60% of the average rainfall, and this is a region in which the maximum precipitation was 450-500 mms per year at its northern extreme, dropping to as little as 20 annual mms in Eilat in the south. Add the maximum exposure to solar radiation, and one begins to understand the extent of the challenge facing KKL-JNF in its goal of preventing the arid and semi-arid areas of Israel's south from becoming total desert.

"Gilat Nursery is actually a fifty-acre base for growing various plants and a testing-ground to discover which flora can thrive in such difficult conditions. Although people are used to associating KKL-JNF with planting trees in forests, Gilat nursery also grows decorative plants for the benefit of local schools, towns and villages, and army bases. We experiment with plants and trees from all over the world, from the Americas to Africa, to see what might succeed here. We also educate people to realize that you can make a wonderful garden with plants that don't demand huge amounts of water."

Pablo took the group on a tour of the nursery, and the group was amazed to hear that over 800,000 plants could be produced from what didn't seem to be such a large space. Pablo also took the group to the "mother plantation", where mature trees of all shapes and sizes provide an invaluable source of seeds, cuttings and data for meeting the changing needs of Israel's forests and open spaces.

Planting Trees in the Negev

After a delicious lunch at the nursery, the group continued on to its last activity for the day, tree planting near the Negev village of Yoshivya, where they were greeted by KKL-JNF's Elisha Mizrahi. "Only 65 years ago, there were almost no trees in this region," Elisha said. "People would give directions by telling you to go from one tree to the next, which might be a couple kilometers away. This is an area where there is only about 200 mms of precipitation annually, so we build earth embankments to collect water where we plant trees, and that creates conditions similar to that of 500 mms of annual rainfall.

"You came at a really good time, because this is when we plant, before the rainy season. You'll be planting eucalyptus trees that we know to be successful here. One of our greatest challenges is to find the right species for each particular area, which is what you learned about at the Gilat nursery. Personally, I'm certain that there are types of trees in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and Yemen that would grow wonderfully in Israel. All we need is peace so we could travel to each other's countries and exchange our knowledge and expertise."

The group read the Planter's Prayer in English and got busy planting. Elisa Frankel, who is in Israel on a Fulbright scholarship and is studying chemical physics at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, said that she had never heard of KKL-JNF previously.
"I'm really glad I came on this outing," she said. "I come from Cornwall, New York, and in the United States, we basically have to take care of the forests that we found growing on their own. I'm really fascinated by the idea of planning and planting a forest, of creating an ecosystem and learning from experience, as you seem to be doing so well at KKL-JNF."

Kirsten Bodensteiner is visiting the region with USAID, which provides assistance for developing countries.
"I'm very interested in the environment and conservation," she said. "OKKLur base is in Washington, DC, but my husband and I do a lot of traveling, since we are stationed in all sorts of places around the world. We've been touring Israel, and I see the KKL-JNF logo all over the place, so I was curious to find out what this organization is about. I figured out that KKL-JNF had to do with forests and parks, but after today, I realize that it's really much bigger. For example, I had no idea that KKL-JNF was involved in research and development. I was excited to see what you're doing with wastewater and I think that we can learn from you about sustainable development. Seeing what KKL-JNF has accomplished has been very encouraging and honestly, it gives me a lot of hope for the future."

For Articles, comments or use please contact
Ahuva Bar-Lev
KKL-JNF – Information and Publications
Phone: 972-2-6583354 Fax:972-2-6583493

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