2013 Arava Open Day Agricultural Exhibition

KKL-JNF Honored at 2013 Arava Open Day Agricultural Exhibition

Sunday, February 03, 2013 10:22 AM

Peppers, eggplants, Momordica melons, red green beans, tropical fish...all in a day's work at the Arava R&D Station.

L-R: Efi Stenzler, Alon Gadiel, H.E. Daniel Shapiro and Russell Robinson share a L'chaim at the Arava R&D Exhibition. Photo: Tania Susskind

"A strong Israel is an American interest, and KKL-JNF, with the help of its friends throughout the world, many of them from the USA, helps make Israel stronger." The Honorable Daniel Shapiro, American ambassador to Israel, was speaking on Wednesday, January 30, at a special ceremony honoring KKL-JNF's contribution to the Arava at the 2013 Open Day Arava Agricultural Exhibition. The exhibition took place at the Central and Northern Arava Research and Development Station, while the ceremony itself took place at the new auditorium of the Vidor Family Visitors Center, which is currently being built at the R&D station. The center, which is being developed thanks to a generous contribution from Ervin and Lottie Vidor of Sydney, Australia, is described as "a Window to Environmental Agriculture." The Vidor Family Visitors Center will showcase the Arava's internationally acclaimed achievements in desert agriculture, and will be open the public as of the beginning of 2014.
"May You Live for Another 1020 Years"  

Rainbow in the desert. Photo: Tania Susskind

Desert-grown tomatoes. Photo: Tania Susskind

"There is a Jewish tradition of giving a blessing to live 'until 120,'" Ambassador Shapiro continued. "However, in the case of KKL-JNF, which is now 111 years old, that doesn't sound so good. I spoke about this with KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler, and we decided that the appropriate blessing for KKL-JNF is another 1020 years of serving Israel and the Jewish people.

"I travel a lot around the country, from the north to the south, and everywhere I go, I run into Efi Stenzler. If you talk about Israel's peripheral regions, you're talking about KKL-JNF. KKL-JNF also helps bring people together and shares its knowledge and expertise with people and countries around the world. I just met a large group of students from Southeast Asia, who here learning about desert agriculture, and I don't think there's any country in the world with as much experience as Israel in this field. This is largely thanks to research and development, which is supported by KKL-JNF. The United States is a great partner and supporter of KKL-JNF, and this will continue for at least another 1020 years," the ambassador concluded.

Twenty-Four Tons of Peppers

Yields of the Arava Desert. Photo: Tania Susskind

KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler
thanked the ambassador for spending not one hour, "but an entire day with us, learning about life in the Arava." He was referring to the fact that the ambassador had been in the Arava since the early morning, when he met with KKL-JNF personnel, local regional council heads and other dignitaries at the R&D Station's laboratory, which is a gift of the Ross Family, friends of JNF USA. The R&D station is supported by KKL-JNF, with the help of friends of KKL-JNF in the USA, Canada and Australia.
"The Arava R&D Station is the largest in Israel," Stenzler continued, "and thanks to the cutting-edge research being carried out here, we can speak about achievements such as yields of 24 tons of pepper per dunam, a feat that has no equal anywhere in the world. However, we still have a long way to go. Ben Gurion said that 'without the Negev, there is no Tel-Aviv.' We want to see more people making their homes here, and that means infrastructure, both for communities and also for livelihood. KKL-JNF will support every resident who chooses to live in the Arava, whether they are a farmer or a resident of a community. Together, we can help create a better Israel, a greener Israel, an Israel that truly honors each and every one of its citizens."

Watch Video: The Arava Valley - Peppers, Tomatoes and Berries! OH MY!
Video: US Embassy - Tel Aviv

Projects and Partners Worldwide
The Arava R&D station is just one of the many projects that KKL-JNF, with the help of its friends worldwide, undertakes to promote harmony between people and their environment in the Negev.

Honored Guests Bless KKL-JNF

A welcome full of flowers. Photo: Tania Susskind

Besides the distinguished speakers, the audience at the ceremony honoring KKL-JNF included Dov Litvinoff, head of the Tamar Regional Council, Udi Gat, head of the Eilot Regional Council, Tzvi Vershbiak, a member of the KKL-JNF Board of Directors and his wife Leslie, Avi Dickstein, Executive Director of the KKL-JNF Resources, Development and PR Division, Dr. Bentzi Bar-Lavie, head of KKL-JNF's Education and Youth Department and Ami Uliel, director of KKL-JNF's Southern Region, who is the newly appointed head of the R&D's Board of Directors, replacing KKL-JNF's highly acclaimed Gershon Avni, who recently retired as head of KKL-JNF's Land Development Authority.

The gift of water - donor recognition signs at the Hatzeva Water Reservoir. Photo: Tania Susskind

Eyal Blum
, the recently elected head of the Central Arava Regional Council, noted that the annual Arava Agricultural Open Day originally began 22 years ago, "and now, over 30,000 people come here during the two days of the exhibition. 111 years ago, KKL-JNF laid the foundations for the Jewish people's return to their ancient homeland, and today, it remains the backbone of the Zionist vision. KKL-JNF's footprints can be found everywhere, from its investment in Israel's research and development stations to over 240 water reservoirs, from creating infrastructures for new communities to desert afforestation, and much more.
"Without KKL-JNF, it would be impossible to imagine the Arava as we know it today. KKL-JNF is involved in each and every aspect of our life in this challenging but beautiful region. On behalf of the first and second generation of Negev pioneers, I would like to thank KKL-JNF for everything it has done for us and for everything it will do. This is a story that is far from over."
Gil Slavin director of development at the Arava R&S station, listed KKL-JNF's various fields of activity in the Arava, including purchasing of lands, creating parks, scenic lookouts and recreation sites, paving roads, agricultural research and development, creating arable land, water reservoirs that harvest floodwaters, floodwater damage control, and more. "When you say settlement in the Arava, you mean KKL-JNF," Slavin concluded.

L-R: Mr. Efi Stenzler, Dr. Eyal Blum and H.E. Daniel Shapiro plant a tree. Photo: Tania Susskind

Robinson, CEO of JNF USA, who visited the fair together with a group from the USA, said that "if you give your best to the world, the world gives back to you. When American groups come to the Arava, I tell them that they are going to meet some of Israel's greatest present-day heroes. You see the dates, the peppers, the fish farms and everything that's been accomplished here, and you realize this is the spirit of Israel. We are humbled to be a part of it."
After the ceremony, Ambassador Shapiro, KKL-JNF Chairman Stenzler and Russell Robinson planted an acacia tree, right next to where President Peres planted one two years ago, as Aylon Gadiel, the head of the Arava R&D, looked on.
KKL-JNF and Foreign Students at the Fair

KKL-JNF Booth. Photo: Tania Susskind

Student group from Southeast Asia. Photo: Tania Susskind

One of the first sights greeting the guests who came to the agricultural exhibition from all over Israel was the beautifully designed KKL-JNF pavilion. Rinat Kedoshi of KKL-JNF's Southern Region, along with other KKL-JNF staff, made certain that everyone who stopped took some of the educational material provided by KKL-JNF free of charge. Visitors were also encouraged to register for e-Yarok, KKL-JNF's newsletter.

The agricultural exhibition provides an opportunity for farmers from the Arava and other regions to meet each other and discuss shared interests. In addition, there were many visitors from abroad, including from the Palestinian Authority, the Gaza Strip, other neighboring countries and Africa, among others.
One of the visiting groups was about fifty students from Cambodia, Laos, India, Myanmar and additional Southeast Asian countries.

Exotic fruits and vegetables, including the Momordica Melon (orange, front). Photo: Tania Susskind

Tenzin Choedar
and his friend Choedup, who currently live in India, are originally from Tibet. "We are studying agriculture at Yotvata," Tenzin said, "including everything you might want to know about dairy, fish, cows, vegetables, greenhouses, dates, you name it. My parents fled to India when they were young, walking one and a half months, working by night, sleeping by day.
"AICAT, the Arava International Trainee Center, has truly afforded us an extraordinary opportunity, to learn state-of-the-art agricultural methods. We find Israel to be amazing, totally different from how things are in India. Everyone here is very friendly, although the cost of life is quite expensive."
Momordica Melons – A New Immigrant

One of the most colorful and interesting fruits on display at the exhibition were Bitter (Momordica) Melons, which come from India, where they are eaten raw, in spite of their bitter taste. Known as "the insulin fruit", they are useful in treating diabetes. This plant is also extremely resistant to plant diseases, and researchers at the R&D station are working on producing biological pesticides from the leaves of this colorful and exotic melon.

Red Green Beans

Red green beans. Photo: Tania Susskind

Farming in the Arava means finding a unique niche in the market in terms of seasonal or unusual products, which gives Arava farmers an edge on the competition. One good example of this is red beans, which are similar to the fresh green beans that we are used to. It is a favorite with specialty chefs, who praise its taste along with the fact that is changes colors to green when cooked, making it a real attraction in a number of select gourmet restaurants.
Tropical Fish and Crocodiles in the Desert?

A desert-bred sea horse. Photo: Tania Susskind

Although the desert is usually associated with a dearth of water, creative R&D scientists have learned how to raise tropical fish and even crocodiles in the Arava. Besides popular aquarium fish, Arava farmers also raise ornamental sea fish such as sea horses. Ornamental fish cultivation began about ten years ago in the Arava, and now, the Arava has become the dominant player in the production and marketing of tropical fish in Israel, with an 85% market share. Proximity to markets and controlled, disease-free industrial production methods give the Arava an advantage over the Far East.

Eggplants on the vine. Photo: Tania Susskind

Ossi Winter
, an employee at the R&D station, said that although the researchers are always interested in new and unexplored fields, said "our first priority and main purpose is still to obtain the maximal yield of whatever we can grow in the Arava, in terms of both quantity and quality. We must deal with challenges that are not faced by farmers anywhere else in Israel. For example, we are doing a lot of experimentation on growing peppers in brackish water, the only sort of water we have here. The Arava was supposed to have been linked up to the national water network years ago, but it hasn't yet happened. We realize that we need to be dependent on ourselves as much as possible and not rely on outside sources."
Aylon Gadiel, director of the Arava R&D said "The research we do here offers practical, not just theoretical, solutions to farming in an extreme desert climate. The local farmers come here all year long with their problems, questions and feedback. The R&D station is like a home to them."