Work to begin on sustainable eco-farm for Beduin

Sustainable eco-farm for in the works for four years will get under way.

Beduin man in al-Arakib tent 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
Beduin man in al-Arakib tent 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
An sustainable eco-farm for the Negev Beduin community that has been in the works for four years will finally get under way next week, after the government recently committed to spend approximately NIS 10 million on the project.
Project Wadi Attir aims to create an ecological community that combines Beduin traditional values with modern renewable energy technology and farming techniques. It is the brainchild of Dr. Michael Ben-Eli at the New York-based Sustainability Laboratories and Hura Mayor Dr. Muhammad El-Nabari.
Last week, the Negev and Galilee Regional Development Ministry took the lead from the government’s side, and in cooperation with the Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry and the Authority for Economic Development of the Arab, Druse and Circassian Sectors in the Prime Minister’s Office, approved the team’s plans and pledged NIS 6m. to the project.
Another approximately NIS 4m. will come from the Authority for Regulating Beduin Settlement in the Negev, according to Ben-Eli.
The total cost of the initiative – the remainder of which will come through funds raised by the Sustainability Laboratories – will amount to about NIS 22m.
“The project will leverage knowledge and integrate it with traditional Beduin values, and will bring economic development and improve the welfare and quality of life of the Beduin population in the Negev,” Negev and Galilee Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom said in a statement. “As part of strengthening and empowering the various populations of the Negev, we decided to support the ecological farm as a project that highlights the benefits of Beduin society and its unique contributions to the area. I am certain that the farm will inspire other similar projects that will provide hundreds of jobs in the Negev.”
A groundbreaking ceremony will take place on Tuesday at the approximately 45-hectare (111- acre) project site, at the Yatir junction on Road 31, just south of Hura. The construction itself will probably begin in January, according to Ben-Eli.
“That was a very important development for us when the office of Silvan Shalom decided to support this project,” he told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday evening. “We are looking forward to collaborating with them and sharing the integrity of the project.”
For the past four years, which been focused largely on designing blueprints for the plan and making statutory progress, the Sustainability Laboratories has spent about $1m., most of which came from private donors and foundations in the United States.
Developing a project of this magnitude has been “very demanding and very expensive,” according to Ben-Eli.
“We have tried to design this project based on the aspiration and tradition and culture of the Beduin, but leveraging it with advanced technology,” he said.
“It is an attempt to develop a model for sustainable agriculture in an arid environment.”
On site, organic meat and dairy products will be cultivated from sheep and goats, which will benefit from new grazing practices and modernized herding techniques. Farmers at the ecological village will use soilenhancing techniques, while a women’s training program for raising and preserving indigenous vegetables will empower women and improve family income. In an attempt to achieve self-sufficiency, the community will also have compost sites, biogas, and “cutting-edge approaches to renewable energy production, recycling and arid land conservation,” according to a video about the project.
The farm will receive irrigation through technology by the Netafim company, while the electricity and air conditioning systems will be powered by ZenithSolar’s photovoltaic technology.
“We are very happy to participate in this important project,” Roy Segev, CEO of ZenithSolar, told the Post. “Wadi Attir will utilize ZenithSolar’s combined heat and power solar systems to provide the project’s electricity and hot water needs. Our Z20 system is the world’s most efficient solar machine with overall efficiency of 72 percent.”
Students from around the South – not only from Beduin communities – will be able to reap the benefits of the sustainable work being conducted onsite.
“At the heart of this will be a visitor training and education center, which the Reshet Amal [the Amal school network] and the Education Ministry are going to use for all the schools in the region,” said Ben-Eli, who credits much of the research conducted for the plans to the Blaustein Institutes of Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University.
Another critical aspect of the project, in Ben-Eli’s eyes, is the fact that residents of villages across the Negev have been directly involved in shaping it.
“The Beduin society is very tribal and cliquish in that way and we wanted the project not to just be associated with one tribe or one city,” he said.
For this reason, the site ended up on Israel Lands Authority grounds outside of Hura, rather than inside the village, according to Ben-Eli.
“The project is organized as a cooperative, and there have been 12 individuals from different villages, including men and women – they are not the same people as they were four years ago,” he said, emphasizing the importance – and uniqueness for the Beduin community – of having women play critical roles.
“We wanted to develop a model for sustainable agriculture in the desert, manifesting the sustainability principles we developed at the lab,” Ben-Eli said. “But at the same time, we wanted it to be a model for a process of economic and community development.”