Developing Sustainable Agriculture in the Arava

Another month has passed in the Arava Valley.  The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (AIES) is located in the Arava rift valley between Jordan and Israel, a convenient location for cross-border cooperation.  The valley is a very dry place, and the average annual rainfall in the Arava is around 30 mm of rain, about one inch.  Despite the very dry weather conditions, the valley is characterized with numerous date palm plantations and orchards situated along the north-south highway from Eilat to the Dead Sea.


Fields at Kibbutz KeturaFields at Kibbutz Ketura
Photo: Shmuel Willner


The date palm plantations standing in the middle of the desert are a miracle in itself.  I have been living in the valley for over ten months already.  The temperatures have been varying from 15 degrees centigrade on cloudy winter days to 46 degrees on hot desert afternoons in the heat of summer.  People have been asking me "how can you live in such a heat?"  I answer that we people have our air conditioners, which  make life comfortable even in the middle of the desert.  What about the heavy sandstorms in the fall and springtime that can create almost zero visibility?  Even then, the view of green trees and shrubs in the portrait of yellowish desert is a miracle.


One of the Arava Institute''s fields of research is to study plants’ survival on arid land.   It is important to find out more about conserving water in the desert and making use of brackish water for irrigation.  The big challenge is to utilize the saline ground water.


As great parts of the world already suffer from severe and recurring seasons of drought, the methods and technology developed in Israel for smart use of water resources can significantly help in solving this pressing issue.


Together with other research institutions, the Arava Institute works on advancing old methods of agriculture, and creating new sustainable methods of agriculture, in order to increase the survival of plants in conditions where there is low quality water, and less of it.  The desert plants are not only for food production but also serve the very important purpose of fighting desertification.  Shrubs and bushes are an essential tool to tackle this issue of erosion, which each year becomes more severe.


The methods of irrigating trees and plants, and enhancing the plants themselves, for instance, developing the plants'' roots, are fields of expertise in Israeli agriculture.


However, the question of how to share this information is another issue that can become more problematic because of anti-Israeli politics and propaganda.  For a normal person, this sounds completely irrational.  Why not to cooperate and find ways to benefit from these technological breakthroughs?


Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – The Jewish National Fund has been presenting and sharing the knowledge it has developed in several international United Nations conventions, and as a result, has received very positive responses from various countries, even from those that do not officially have diplomatic ties with Israel.  This is a good start in the path of diplomacy, but one needs to recognize that it will be a lengthy process, and definitely not an easy one.


The flourishing of the Arava Valley due to wise and sophisticated use of brackish water is a great example of the miracle of nurturing life in the dry desert.  Yet, one needs to recognize that the flourishing desert did not happen overnight, but rather it is an outcome of decades of hard labor and agricultural development.