Fruits and Veggies .
(photo credit: )
"There are at least 360 days of sun in the Central Arava, and at the most, five cloudy days. I can't believe that today is one of the cloudy days!" Ronit Ratner said to members of the KKL-JNF Eco-Media Foreign Press Mission. Ronit, from nearby Moshav Paran, was not the only person who was surprised. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was on his way to the Agricultural Fair with KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stentzler, but their helicopter could not land owing to the thick clouds.
The Yair Research & Development Station in the Central Arava hosted an open day that featured an amazing agricultural fair, where visitors could see the top-quality produce grown in Israel's Arava desert. Gershon Avni, Director of KKL-JNF Land Development explained the rationale behind the R&D stations. "KKL-JNF sponsors eight R&D stations, all of which are located in Israel's peripheral regions. We realized that in order for these regions to be successfully settled, it is not enough to prepare the land for farming. Without innovative solutions for the special problems of each region, agriculture simply will not succeed.
"The Yair station must deal with the major problem of the Arava - water. Basically, the only water available here is from floods, which may or may not occur once or twice a year, or from the brackish waters of a natural underground aquifer. KKL-JNF has built reservoirs that store floodwaters and scientists at the R&D stations find ways to utilize the brackish water, for example, by mixing it with the floodwater, as a lot of Arava agriculture is organic. However, as this region is far from other agricultural centers, we do not have to deal with problems of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Whenever local farmers have a question or a problem, they bring it to the R&D station, which can allow for mistakes that farmers simply cannot afford."
Ami Oliel, Director of KKL-JNF's Southern Region, said: "KKL-JNF accompanies Arava farmers throughout the various stages of agricultural development - land preparation, water reservoirs and agricultural innovations. We bring huge amounts of sand here to cover the land so that it will be more porous. Steve Ross, a friend of KKL-JNF America, contributed the money for the R&D station's new building that you see over there."
We walked through the labyrinth of the agricultural fair, and could not help but be astonished by what Israeli farmers were growing on this harsh, dry desert land, where the average summer temperature is 42ÂºC. One of the farmers' main problems was the Mediterranean fruit fly, which destroyed much of the local produce one season. The solution found by Yair R&D station researchers was to import sterilized male fruit flies from Guatemala and disperse them throughout the region by plane. The female flies simply don't get "pregnant"! The staff of "Bio-Fly" told us, "we don't bring the flies from Guatemala anymore, we raise them here. Furthermore, flies do not recognize international borders, so our Jordanian neighbors benefit from our success. In a cooperative venture, the plane disperses the flies on their side of the border also."
We return to Ronit Ratner, resident of the local community, Moshav Paran, who was the guide for KKL-JNF's Eco-Media Foreign Press Mission at their visit to the Arava Open Day fair. Ronit described what living in the Arava meant: "Let me put it simply - to live here, you have to be a dreamer. There are about 2,800 people living in the central Arava, which comprises about 6% of Israel's total land mass. We produce about 60% of all vegetables and flowers that Israel exports. During a good year, we get about 20 mm of rainfall so KKL-JNF built water reservoirs to trap the floodwater. We also pump brackish water from the underground aquifer. This water has a temperature of 62 degrees, so we prepare a cocktail with the floodwater before using it.
"When I first came to this region and saw how yellow and dry it was, I wondered to myself whether God had overlooked this area when He created the world. But part of what I love about living here is the sense of being a creator myself when we make this place green. We plant during the last week of July and harvest in November, just when the European, Japanese and American markets need us! The United Nations sends experts here to see what we have accomplished and to study our methods."
One of the journalists asked Ronit about KKL-JNF's role in making the Arava live-able. "As one who has lived here for the last thirty years, I can honestly say that if not for KKL-JNF, there would be nothing here. Individuals cannot prepare land, drill wells or carry out such research. KKL-JNF prepares the topsoil, importing sand from Jordan when necessary. Look around you - this is what KKL-JNF looks like in the Arava. Maybe it is not exactly the forests that people are used to identifying with KKL-JNF, but believe me, no less important. As far as I'm concerned, KKL-JNF's work here is sacred."
Ronit took us to greenhouses, where Dr. Shabtai Cohen showed us how peppers are grown on soil-less, detached platforms. "Since the Arava sits on top of an ancient aquifer of water that will not be replenished, we are concerned about nitrates and other chemicals seeping through the ground and polluting the water. One of the solutions is to grow vegetables and flowers in these detached platforms, in a mixture based on a material called perlite. We control the exact amounts of minerals and nutrients; we feed the plants, and optimize water and oxygen consumption."
One of the journalists, May Samre of Mexico, told us that KKL-JNF was rather famous in the part of Mexico where she lives, because KKL-JNF experts had taught local farmers how to grow olives in arid regions. "It's really amazing that our locals are earning their livelihood from these olives and this know-how."
We also spoke to Ezra Rabin, Head of the Central Arava Regional Council, and Alon Gadiel, Director of the Yair Central and Northern Arava R&D stations. They explained the history of KKL-JNF's involvement with Arava research and development. "I know that it is not easy for KKL-JNF to continue financing us, but I am certain that KKL-JNF supporters worldwide will help. Without the R&D's, the Arava agriculture, upon which local residents depend, has no future. We are depending on KKL-JNF!"
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