President Peres at the 2014 Arava Open Day Agricultural Exhibition

Tuesday, January 21, 2014 4:01 PM

"The Arava is the success of belief."

Israeli President Shimon Peres attended the 2014 Arava Open Day Agricultural Exhibition, which took place at the Arava Research and Development Station on Tu Bishvat, which this year fell on January 16. This was the 23rd time that the agricultural fair, which is the largest in Israel, is taking place, with over 30,000 visitors from Israel and abroad.

Left: Students present the President with gifts. 
Right: Li Xiaolin, the President of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, along with members of the delegation, taste oranges grown in the Arava.
Photos: Tania Sussind
"The Arava is a place that shows what the world could be, not what it is. If one were to look for the most unlikely place for agriculture, they would end up in the Arava, where there is no fertile land and no water, but only harsh climatic conditions. The success we see here today was accomplished not by monetary investments, but by investing in people," said President Shimon Peres.

President Peres addresses the Open Day attendees. Photo: Tania Susskind

"If, instead of looking back, Lot's wife would have kept going forward, she would have become a daughter of the Arava rather than a pillar of salt," President Peres quipped. "Whenever I visit the Arava, I am filled with optimism and belief. I am an optimist not because I believe in this plan or that plan, but because I believe in believing. I am an optimist because when I come to the Arava, I see how people have taken one of the most pessimistic places on earth and transformed it into a true light unto the nations, by growing amazing crops, developing water sources and greening the desert. Israel symbolizes the success of belief."

KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler said that President Peres "has always been the torchbearer for realizing Ben Gurion's vision regarding the Negev. It is a pleasure to be in the Arava on Tu Bishvat and to see the amazing accomplishments of the people who live here. Agriculture is obviously dependent on land and water, but research and development is what makes it possible for so much of Israel's agricultural produce to be grown in the Arava.

"Without people, things would never move. KKL-JNF's friends throughout the world support the Negev and are partners to the ecological miracle that is taking place here, and we will soon be dedicating the new Vidor Visitors Center, which was built thanks to a generous contribution from Ervin and Lottie Vidor of Sydney.  The Arava serves as an example for the entire country."

Flowers grown in the Hatzeva greenhouses. Photo: Tania Susskind

President Peres greeted the Minister of Agriculture, Yair Shamir, the son of the late Yitzhak Shamir, who was Peres' political rival, by saying "Who would have thought that Yitzhak's Shamir's son would realize Ben Gurion's vision of making the desert bloom?" Shamir laughed and then when on to say that more than any other holiday, "Tu Bishvat symbolizes the return of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland. This is a fitting time to bless the residents of the Arava with even greater success and more accomplishments. In the words of the prayer, 'Bless Your land and give it of Your goodness, as is written, 'Truth will grow from the earth.'"

In honor of the holiday, Shamir planted an acacia tree, as part of KKL-JNF's "Adopt an Acacia" campaign, which is supported by JNF Australia, to bring this tree back to its original habitat.

Eyal Blum, head of the Central Arava Regional Council, said that the Arava was the silicon valley of Israeli agriculture. "We hold Open Day at the R&D station to emphasize our focus on the future, when we will be aiming our sights on bio-technology and agriculture medicine, among others. I want to thank Efi Stenzler, the KKL-JNF directorate and KKL-JNF personnel. KKL-JNF is our natural partner for the development of the Arava, in addition to funding half of the budget of all the R&D stations in Israel."

KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler addresses the audience. Photo: Tania Susskind

Dov Litvinoff
, head of the Tamar Regional Council, agreed, adding that "nothing moves in our area without KKL-JNF. In the past, what we have accomplished here might have been called miraculous. Today we call it Zionism, determination and pioneering."

Meir Cohen
, the Minister of Welfare and former mayor of Dimona: "When you travel from the north to the south, look to the left and right and see what 21st century Zionism means. The Arava can serve as an example to all of Israeli society as to what determination means."

Besides the distinguished speakers, the audience at the ceremony included Li Xiaolin, the President of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, who is currently visiting in Israel as KKL-JNF's guest, Deputy Minister of the Interior Faina Kirshenbaum, KKL-JNF Director General Meir Shpigler, Executive Director of the KKL-JNF Resources, Development and PR Division Avi Dickstein, ambassadors from a number of countries and senior KKL-JNF officials.

KKL-JNF Pavilion and Arava Research

KKL-JNF board member Carol Golding, with Dorit Sidovsky at the KKL-JNF Booth. Photo: Tania Susskind

One of the first booths greeting the guests who came to the agricultural exhibition from all over Israel was the beautifully designed KKL-JNF pavilion. KKL-JNF's Dorit Sidovsky distributed dried fruits in honor of Tu Bishvat and 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.

Carol Golding, a member of the KKL-JNF Directorate, visited the KKL-JNF pavilion before attending the central ceremony. "I've been a member of the directorate for about 13 years, and education is one of my main interests. It gives me great pride to see what KKL-JNF does on the ground. Without KKL-JNF and its focusing on greening the country, Israel would be much poorer," she said.

Gil Slavin, director of development at the Arava R&S station, took a number of people, including KKL-JNF Land Development Authority Director Kobi Mor and KKL-JNF's Mickey Kaplan, on a tour of the fair. Besides pointing out the Arava's unprecedented success in growing peppers, tomatoes, herbs, flowers and even tropical fish, Gil also showed the guests some of the other advanced research the R&D station was conducting. For example, 'root zone temperature heating and cooling' is a newly developed system that increases yields dramatically by prioritizing optimal root zone temperatures. By use of this method, cucumber yields have increased by 120%, tomatoes by 30%, and basil by 30%. The root zone temperature is currently being tested on melons and eggplants.

Guests from around the World

CEO Jalan Kumar Sharma from Nepal, with colleagues. Photo: Tania Susskind

'Agriculture without Borders' is AICAT, the Arava International Trainee Center, where over a thousand students from different countries in Asia, including Nepal, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and India, learn about the Arava's advanced agricultural techniques. "We will be here studying agriculture for ten months. Israel has very modern agriculture, and even though its climate is different than ours, we can adapt many of the systems developed here in Nepal," said Jalan Kumar Sharma, CEO of Sana Kisan Bikas Bank Limited of Nepal.

Sawadogo P. Gastom, an agricultural engineer from Burkina Faso in West Africa is studying agriculture in Israel with 13 of his countrymen at Kfar Silver. "Israel is at the very top of water technology and irrigation methods. Although we have a lot of water in our country, irrigation methods are not very developed. We love being in Israel, and what you've done here in the desert is absolutely amazing," he said.

As President Peres said, "It is true that the Arava produces everything from melons to peppers, but more than anything else, the Arava produces belief and blessing for its inhabitants, for Israel and for the entire world."