Open Day at Arava R & D: The Hi-Tech of Israeli Agriculture

The day before the exhibition, a study day on Agricultural Innovation in a Changing Environment was held for professionals in the field.

January 31, 2010 17:22

Arava. (photo credit: Arava)


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Thousands of visitors came to see the best of Israel’s agricultural technology and produce at the impressive exhibition organized by the Yair Northern and Central Arava Research & Development Station. Among the sponsors of this open day was KKL-JNF USA, which supports the R&D in the Arava, in order to promote technology that allows advanced agricultural methods to be used in arid regions.

The day before the exhibition, a study day on Agricultural Innovation in a Changing Environment was held for professionals in the field. Lecture topics included Climate Change in the Region (Professor Yigal Elad), the Future of Agriculture in the Next Thirty Years (Professor Haim Rabinowitz) and a number of talks on brands in agriculture.

The Arava R&D open day, which was held the following day at Yair Research Station, adjacent to Moshav Hatzeva, gave the general public the opportunity to observe a variety of innovative developments. Some 120 stands displayed agricultural produce from the Arava, modern growing and irrigation methods, efficient water use, advanced mechanical equipment, new varieties of vegetable and a riot of colorful flowers.

Among the many guests were Arava residents, visitors from other parts of the country, farmers from all over Israel and the rest of the world, KKL-JNF officials and local representatives. At the ceremony, KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler said: “Our farmers are the best in the world. The research station develops products that look like something out of science fiction: water melons that grow on trees, striped tomatoes and skinny peppers. KKL-JNF is a loyal partner in the funding of the research and development stations. We invest in this area because the 480 families who live here are responsible for 70% of Israel’s agricultural exports. We have come here, first and foremost, to say thank you to the farmers who, together with us, are doing magnificent work. Ben Gurion said that without the Negev there would be no Tel Aviv, and this is why KKL-JNF gives the Negev top priority. We shall continue to promote settlement in the Negev and to advance the development of the region. The success of the Arava is the success of the State, of Zionism and of the Jewish People throughout the world.”

Russell Robinson, CEO of KKL-JNF America: “There is no doubt that the Arava has a brilliant future, thanks to settlement, agriculture and tourism – three major areas of KKL-JNF involvement. If you want to know who the true guardians of Israel’s state lands are, you need only come here and meet the farmers who grow tomatoes and peppers in the very heart of the desert.  These are our true heroes. I salute them, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”

Eilon Gadiel, Director of the Central and Northern Arava R&D
station said: “We have a great many projects underway, but, with the help of all parties concerned, we shall prove equal to the task and continue to forge ahead with agricultural development and the development of the region as a whole.” After the ceremony, we spoke with Gadiel, who told us about the activities at the Yair Station, and how agricultural methods and various species were being adapted to the unique conditions of the Arava desert.

"The goal is to develop technologies that will allow the farms to become more effective and to improve the quality of their produce, in addition to extending the growing season beyond the winter, which is what we have been accustomed to, here. At the station, we are also developing means of making irrigation more effective and saving water, for example, by means of desalination using solar energy.

"At the Water Agriculture Center, research and development on acclimating tropical fish is taking place in aquariums. Besides being another source of livelihood for Arava farmers, this also makes a significant contribution to the environment by preventing the damage caused to nature by fishing in the sea.

"The organic section of Yair Station focuses on professional issues, taking the rapid growth of organic agriculture in Arava villages into account. In order to reduce the usage of pesticides, experiments in biological pest control are being carried out, which include the use of the natural enemies of pests that damage vegetables, for example, certain types of bugs that contribute towards destroying the pests.

"As part of the efforts to find alternatives to vegetable growing, a vineyard and fruit tree plantation, were planted in the station. In addition, various species of flowers are being acclimated at the station, in order to make them suitable for being grown in the Arava."

Mid-Arava Council Head Ezra Rabins: “We are on the way to bringing thousands of new residents into the Arava, and a great deal of work lies ahead of us. It’s all done with the support of a variety of organizations, with KKL-JNF foremost among them. We all very much appreciate what they are doing for us.”Mayor of Tamar Regional Council Dov Litvinoff added: “Every year we give people a taste of our produce and the technology that enables us to produce it. We are proud of this, and we are not afraid to show it. Every time we think that we’ve reached the highest possible summit of achievement, a new idea comes along and pushes us even further forward. The level of professionalism rises constantly, and the quality of the produce continues to improve. This is the very heart of agricultural hi-tech.”

Eitan Ben David, Secretary of the Moshav Movement: “This is a very important event indeed for the Arava – one that’s become something of a national celebration, and will perhaps eventually become an international one. The Arava is one of the State of Israel’s most successful enterprises. Here you will find people of remarkable spirit, who have pushed the area forward.”

Chairman of the Israel Farmers Federation, Avshalom Vilan: “Most Israelis think that the State begins and ends with Tel Aviv, but in fact the Negev constitutes half of the territory of Israel. This is the true Israeli hi-tech, and we have to keep on expanding it.”

Minister of Agriculture Shalom Simhon concluded: “The Arava is the only place in the world where the desert has been conquered, thanks to innovative water technologies and the best agricultural produce there is. There is no doubt that this is success on an international scale. Settling the Negev is the Zionism of our times, and we want to bring 40,000 people to live here. KKL-JNF is the body that can get this moving, together with local residents.”

Among the colorful stands on display was that of KKL-JNF, which attracted many visitors who were impressed by the organization’s extensive activities on behalf of Arava development. Many of them also signed up for E-Yarok, KKL-JNF’s electronic journal for hikers and tourists, and as they did so, they shared some of their impressions with us.

Einav (18) originally from Kibbutz Tirat Zvi in the Beit Shean Valley, now lives at Moshav Hatzeva. “We go on a lot of trips all over the country, and this is an excellent opportunity to join the Friends of KKL-JNF. Ever since I arrived here I keep rediscovering what an amazing area this is, because of the desert landscape, the silence and the people. You could say I’ve fallen in love with the Arava.”

Arik, from Moshav Tal Shahar: “I take part in KKL-JNF excursions on a regular basis. As far as I’m concerned, everything that has to do with going on trips is great fun, and I’m very pleased to see that lots of people are joining the Friends of KKL-JNF. People always say that Israel is an agricultural superpower, so I’ve come along to see what they’re talking about.”

Irit from Ein Yahav, the Arava’s first and largest moshav: “I’ve got a personal connection with KKL-JNF, because we keep bees, and KKL-JNF helps us plant vegetation that’s vital for bees. This is an extended love affair, and we’ve greatly benefited from it.”

Matan, a 16-year-old high-school student from the Sapir community in the Arava, told us that a lot of young people had come along to help their families display their agricultural produce at the exhibition. “There are a lot of young people who want to stay here in the Arava in the future, too. The towns have got a lot to offer that we don’t have here, but this place has got a charm of its own.”

Mustafa, a farmer from Wadi Salame, had come a long way, with a delegation of Arab farmers from northern Israel. “I’ve learned a lot of new things here that can help me in my work,” he said. “This is a totally different environment from the one at home, but there are shared issues that concern me, too.”

Among the guests were numerous delegates from all over the world, who had come to observe the wonders of Israeli agriculture. Prominent among them were visitors from East Asian countries, which send delegations of agricultural students to Arava communities to gain experience of farming in a technological environment; after several months they return to their own countries and put into practice what they have learned.

Og Gio, a Foreign Ministry representative from Myanmar (Burma): “It’s very interesting to visit this desert region of Israel. Myanmar is an agricultural country, and there are a lot of things we can learn from you.”

Su Nin a Nepalese student, who has come to Israel on an exchange program, is living on Moshav Paran, where he grows peppers. “It’s very interesting for me to get to know your farming methods,” he said.

Rishnu Gautam, a representative of the Nepalese Embassy, stands beside a booth that introduces his country to Israelis by means of a small model of a typical Nepalese village. “We’ve come to learn about agricultural technology, because we’ve got a great deal of respect for your achievements, and we can learn a lot from you. At the same time, we should like to tell you something about our country.”
Tau, a Vietnamese student who is living at present on Moshav Hatzeva: “What we learn here about Israeli agriculture will help us to develop agriculture in Vietnam. The fact that Israel has succeeded in growing flowers and vegetables in the middle of the desert is simply amazing.”
CEO of JNF USA summed up the event in just a few words when he came to visit the KKL-JNF stand: “When we travel around the Arava we get a chance to see at first hand that our investment here is the most successful of all. We see this success reflected not only in the fields and the settled communities but, above all, in the eyes of the local people.”

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