KKL-JNF Heads to Arava Open Day Agricultural Exhibition

Monday, February 05, 2018

MOP Arava was launched in order to develop agricultural crops which could thrive in arid conditions

The 2018 Arava Open Day Agricultural Exhibition was held this year from January 31st to February 1st.  The two day fair is the region’s premiere agricultural exposition. It traditionally takes place on Tu Bishvat, which is the Jewish festival for trees, and this year was no exception. On show were hundreds of booths displaying prime agricultural produce and cutting-edge farming equipment and tools.  KKL-JNF, which is instrumental in advancing the Arava through agriculture and community development, also had a booth at the fair. The exhibition grounds were packed with visitors from Israel and around the world.

The exhibition was situated in an enormous pavilion adjacent to the hothouses of the Yair Experimental Station, which is the home of the Arava Research and Development Station, known in Hebrew as MOP AravaArava in Hebrew means "desolate and dry area". MOP Arava was launched in order to develop agricultural crops which could thrive in arid conditions. It is largely thanks to this venture, which is supported by KKL-JNF and its friends worldwide, that farming has become so successful in Israel’s desert. Seven agricultural communities in the Arava produce over 150,000 tons of fresh produce annually. Much of this output, primarily peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, mangoes and flowers, is destined for export.

The R&D Station also experiments with developing new and exotic crops. Some of the novel produce available this year were new varieties of cherry tomatoes, a new type of spinach with a strong flavor and long shelf-life, a unique bitter melon, and a lemon without pips. The researchers at the Yair R&D station emphatically emphasize that their food is completely healthy for consumption, without a trace of genetic modification.

In his opening address at a food technology conference on “Innovation and Agriculture in the Arava” at the adjacent Vidor Center, Central Arava Regional Council Head Dr. Eyal Blum, said that thanks to KKL-JNF, the Arava region is thriving.

“Without KKL-JNF assistance there would be very little in the Arava. KKL-JNF helps us in almost every sphere of our existence here, starting from land preparation and water supply, to plant research and new community building. There are over 3,500 residents in this area today and that number is growing steadily.”

Professor Nir Ohad of the Manna Center Program for Food Safety & Security at Tel-Aviv University spoke on “Food Security – from the laboratory, through the field to the dining table.”

“Food security has driven this area since Biblical times. We just need to remember the travels of the Jewish nation to Egypt to find food only to return to the Promised Land hundreds of years later. But food security issues are global and we see them around us all the time. Look at the current massive migration from Africa and the Middle East to Europe in search of food and a better life.”

Continuing the food security theme, Dror Tamir of Hargol FoodTech, the Israeli company developing high protein grasshoppers for human consumption, gamely attempted to convince his audience of the advantages of grasshopper consumption.

“This food source is packed with protein, vitamins, and health fatty acids with no cholesterol or saturated fats. Grasshopper meals could be the answer to millions around the world who are suffering from chronic malnutrition.” Tamir later invited everyone to a tea and grasshopper tasting session outside the hall.

The KKL-JNF booth, situated close to the exhibition entrance compound, was a hub of activity. Moran Har-Yechezkeli of the KKL-JNF Publications Department said that visitors were showing great interest in the activities of the organization.

“They are interested in our tours and the work we do here in the Arava and in other parts of the country. Some want to join the Friends of KKL-JNF Club. Others stop to ask for information because they mistakenly believe that this show is run by KKL-JNF. People take piles of our pamphlets and maps. KKL-JNF is clearly a source of pride for many.”

Later in the afternoon, hundreds of students who are currently studying at the Arava International Center for Agriculture Training (AICAT) presented their studies at a conference at the Yair R&D Center. There were students from 80 countries spanning Africa, Asia and the Far East. Some students even come from countries that do not maintain diplomatic relations with Israel, such as Indonesia. The center trains over 1,000 students annually in 3 different programs: a diploma program, an MSc program in Plant Science in cooperation with Tel-Aviv University, and short term courses in advanced agricultural studies. Each group of students constructed a model displaying a typical scene from their respective countries.

Guest speaker at the AICAT conference was Ambassador Gil Haskel, Head of MASHAV – Israel's Agency for International Development Cooperation, who told the students that Israel provides technological assistance in agriculture to over 100 countries around the world.

“Those countries look at Israel and take note of the successes we have achieved in just 70 years despite our harsh weather and small size. They want to imitate our progress and learn from our experience. We are happy to share.”

Standing in one of the experimental hothouses, Arava farmer Ezra Ravins, who today is Head of Research and Development in the Southern Arava, said that he was thrilled to be present at the 2018 Arava Open Day Agricultural Exhibition. Ravins, who was formerly Head of the Central Arava Regional Council for over 10 years, led the team that initiated and held the first Open Day exhibition in 1994.

“We launched the first event with a grant from KKL-JNF of 10,000 shekels. Some 500 people attended and that was more than we expected. We quickly realized the vast multi-faceted advantages of such an event and decided to turn it into an annual happening. Today it is Israel’s largest country fair and has done wonders for the development of the area.”