Israeli know-how helping to combat hunger in Africa

Israel has been a leader in developing innovative drip-irrigation systems that reduce the amount of water needed for farming.

November 8, 2010 02:38
3 minute read.
DESERTIFICATION and poverty go hand in hand.

Africa 311 AP. (photo credit: Associated Press)

Most of Israel is arid, with the Negev Desert spanning 60 percent of the country. Desertification, water scarcity and soil erosion makes it increasingly difficult to farm, endangering the livelihoods of those who depend on agriculture for both food and income.

But Israel is not alone in facing these challenges – dry lands cover 47% of the Earth’s surface. With 60% of the world’s food insecure people living in dry areas, desertification and poverty go hand in hand, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

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But the simplest techniques can go a long way in strengthening food security, increasing incomes and improving the livelihoods of millions of people.

Israel has been a leader in developing innovative drip-irrigation systems that reduce the amount of water needed for farming. Today, these innovations are empowering farmers in the dry Sahel region across sub-Saharan Africa to combat problems of water scarcity.

One such example is the Family Drip Irrigation System (FDIS), developed by the International Program for Arid Land Crops at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in partnership with Israeli irrigation company Netafim (owned by three kibbutzim — Hatzerim, Magal and Yiftah — and two private equity funds — Markstone Capital and Tenne).

FDIS is a simple irrigation technology, which is combined with gravity-powered low water pressure. The Foreign Ministry is partnering with local government agencies and NGOs to introduce FDIS in countries across Africa to deliver the advantages of drip-irrigation to small farmers at low costs.

Dov Pasternak, a professor from Ben-Gurion University, and director of the International Center for Research in the Semi-Arid Tropics, developed the Africa Market Garden concept, which provides farmers with the tools to improve their livelihoods.

In Niger, women in Tanka village are using low-pressure drip-irrigation systems to grow okra, tomatoes, eggplant and other vegetables. The women work together in a cooperative, meeting monthly to decide how the garden should be run. They manage their own plots, but share skills, tools and water with one another. By selling their vegetables at nearby markets, these women have tripled their incomes, enabling their families to eat better and their children to attend school.

Based on the Africa Market Garden concept, MASHAV, the Foreign Ministry’s Center for International Cooperation, has developed Techno-Agriculture Innovation for Poverty Alleviation, or TIPA, a simple, innovative technique, which it is introducing in semi-arid regions in countries, such as South Africa and Senegal. The TIPA concept consists of a cooperative of approximately 100 farmers, based in a fivehectare area, where farmers manage their own plots installed with the FDIS.

In South Africa, the Israeli Embassy has worked with Ikamba Labantu, a local NGO, to introduce TIPA in the Eastern Cape, one of the country’s poorest provinces. This system enables farmers, who were otherwise at the mercy of the region’s erratic rainfall, to plant crops four times a year, leading to a 400% increase in output. And in Senegal, the embassy is collaborating with World Vision and Green Senegal, two NGOs that have worked with Senegalese Water Services to introduce TIPA in communities in the area of Bembay and Thies.

Israeli institutions are leading the way by showing that sharing expertise and replicating innovative strategies can be a powerful tool in helping to sustain livelihoods of small farmers in dry areas.

In addition to international partnerships, cooperation at the farmer level also gives power to small farmers by allowing access to a larger group and a stronger voice. There are numerous innovative projects being developing by research institutions, universities, NGOs and farmers groups worldwide that are helping to guarantee stable incomes, and alleviate hunger and poverty.

As the overuse of scarce resources continues and pressures brought about by climate change intensify, we must ensure that successful innovations are replicated and scaled-up. These simple, yet innovative techniques give small farmers the skills and tools to improve their livelihoods, and can have a significant impact on alleviating hunger and poverty.

Danielle Nierenberg is co-director of the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project. Janeen Madan is a food and agriculture research intern with Nourishing the Planet. (

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