The largest environmental conference in Israel's history is set to open Sunday at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and will bring together international experts to share strategies for combating desertification. More than 300 top scientists, government officials and others from 55 countries are expected to attend. According to conference organizer Prof. Alon Tal, a UN study has found that one-third of the Earth's population - about two billion people - are potential victims of desertification's creeping effect. From sub-Sahara Africa to the former Soviet republics in central Asia, human abuse and land mismanagement are making the matter worse. "But Israel's success in changing large sections of the Negev into fecund agricultural lands and forested parks makes its record somewhat unique in a world where most of the desertification trends are negative," Tal told The Jerusalem Post last week. "We are players on the world scene and this conference will solidify our status," he said. "I'm very excited." The four-day event hosted by the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research (BIDR) at BGU will be held at the university's Sde Boker campus. Holding it there, where Israel's first prime minister David Ben-Gurion made his home, was a statement in and of itself, according to Tal. Ben-Gurion was adamant about developing the Negev, Israel's desert, during his tenure. Tal was particularly excited about the attention the conference would draw to Africa's problem. "One hundred experts just from Africa are expected to attend the event to talk about tech transfer, share ideas, models for success and to talk about mistakes too," Tal told the Post. They will be coming as part of the Foreign Ministry's MASHAV program. In addition to lectures and roundtable discussions featuring speakers from Israel and abroad, participants will have an opportunity on Tuesday to get out in the field and see some of the country's successes and challenges in action. Organizers expect the conference to be twice the size of the first one held in 2006. Dozens of organizations are sponsoring the event including UNESCO, the Foreign Ministry, the Netafim water technology company, the Environmental Protection Ministry, the JNF, the US Embassy, and the Italian Embassy.