Open Day 2016 in the Arava

Monday, January 25, 2016 2:11 PM

Developing Agriculture in the Heart of the Desert

The annual Arava Open Day celebrated its 25th year with a colorful exhibition that drew crowds from all over Israel and around the world. The tens of thousands of people visiting the Northern and Central Arava R&D station had two days (January 20 - 21) to see the agricultural, residential and tourism developments in the Arava. The KKL-JNF pavilion at the exhibition presented its diverse projects for developing agriculture and sustainable water resources.

About two hundred organizations, entrepreneurs and companies exhibited the latest innovations in the field at the largest agricultural exhibition in Israel: from seed improvement to biological pest control, from tractors to sensors for measuring the growth rate of plants, from irrigation implements to local cultivars of fruits and vegetables.

Vegetables and herbs grown in the Arava desert. Photo: Yoav Devir“This is a celebration of agriculture in Israel and it presents the many aspects of the agricultural sector -the farmers, the companies, the tools and the developments,” said Dr. Eyal Blum, the Mayor of the Central Arava Regional Council. “The conferences and meetings being held during the two days of the exhibition provide an opportunity for getting updated and acquainted with new trends being led by the Arava region in agricultural research and development.”

At the entrance to the exhibition grounds there was an impressive KKL-JNF pavilion presenting the many projects undertaken by KKL-JNF all over Israel for the development of agriculture, water resources, residential communities, forests, parks, cycling trails and educational programs for youth about Zionism, affinity for the land of Israel and environmental protection. Interested visitors received brochures with information and were invited to subscribe to KKL-JNF’s e-yarok newsletter, which provides news and recommendations on nature sites, hiking and cycling routes, and events.

Ami Uliel, KKL-JNF Southern Region Director. Photo: Yoav DevirVisitors heard about KKL-JNF’s extensive involvement in the development of the Arava with support from its friends worldwide, in making land improvements for cultivation and inhabitation, supporting applied research studies, constructing reservoirs and developing recreation areas and leisure sites.

“The combination of agriculture and tourism, and the wonderful people of the region, give us an opportunity to continue developing the Arava and the Negev,” said Ami Uliel, KKL-JNF Southern Region Director. “Without agriculture, there would be no Arava, and without the Arava, the State of Israel would have a problem. This is why KKL-JNF is committed to continue supporting agriculture in the Arava. The farmers are renewing the land, and this is exactly the aim of KKL-JNF.”

Experimental hot-house for flowers in the Arava desert. Photo: Yoav DevirVisitors from many countries attended the Arava Open Day to learn about the miracle of Arava agriculture, where vegetables are grown in the heart of the desert. Among the visitors was a delegation of farmers from Gaza. “It was important for us to find out what is new in this field,” explained one of the members of the group from Gaza. “Agriculture provides food for people, on the most basic level, and perhaps joint ventures in agriculture could pave the way toward a better future for both peoples.”

Noticeable participants included students from the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training (AICAT), an agricultural school for students from developing countries, which is supported by KKL-JNF. The students were dressed in their colorful traditional costumes and gave cultural performances with dancing and singing.

The Central and Northern Arava R&D station, which is operated with major support from KKL-JNF, is located in the middle of an intensively cultivated area. The R&D scientists develop crops and agricultural techniques for adapting cultivation to the harsh climatic conditions of the Arava -extreme temperatures, aridity and water salinity.

Boaz Horowitz, director of the Northern and Central Arava Research Station. Photo: Yoav Devir“Our job is to support Israeli farmers so that they can make a living from the work of their hands,” said Boaz Hurvitz, the director of the Northern and Central Arava R&D station, “and the know-how we are developing here helps different countries in the world to advance their food security.”

Visitors at the Arava Open Day were invited on a tour of the R&D greenhouses to see first hand how flowers, bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, dates and grapes are being grown in the Arava. During the tour, they also got to see some of the new research studies being done at the Arava R&D station such as: vine protection with heat shock instead of pesticide; testing new flower species including  Caryopteris, Veronica and Dichelostemma; feasibility studies for flower cultivation in net housing; growing Gulliver spinach, which has large fleshy leaves; developing a protocol for breeding the very popular cardinal tetra fish; and irrigation interface studies for increasing yields in conditions of severe heat and saline water. Evidently, partial irrigation at night is advantageous in eliminating salts from active root systems.

Noa Zer, Resource Development Director at the Central Arava Regional Council. Photo: Yoav DevirThe tour participants also visited the Vidor Center – A Window to Arava Agriculture, which was constructed with the help of friends of JNF Australia. The state-of-the-art visitors' center presents the cultivation and settlement of the Arava through assorted multimedia installations, interactive showcases, videos and pictures.

Alongside the Arava Open Day was the Negev Conference, which took place in the auditorium at the Vidor Center and focused on renewable agriculture in the Arava. Conference participants included top research scientists, local council heads, representatives of agricultural organizations and government figures. 

Nimrod Shebeka, date grower in Hatzeva. Photo: Yoav Devir“The Arava is the Silicon Valley of Israeli agriculture,” said Noa Zer, the Director of Resource Development at the Central Arava Regional Council. “Agriculture is making the desert bloom and is a growth engine for the settlement of our region.”

The pavilion manned by Nimrod Shebka, who grows dates in Moshav Hatzeva, attracted numerous visitors who got to sample the sweet fruit. “The Arava Open Day is an experiential event, where farmers can present their products to the general public,” he said, “and it is hard to be a farmer anywhere, but especially in a region as arid as the Arava. In order to succeed, you must have faith, persistence and above all the determination of the people who live in the Arava.”

Photo Gallery: Click on each thumbnail for the full image