Chinese Delegation Tours Negev Desert Agriculture and Afforestation

Thursday, July 30, 2015 1:12 PM

“Relations between Israel and China are excellent, and we share data, technology and economic initiatives.”

A delegation from China visiting Israel toured the Negev with KKL-JNF personnel to learn from KKL-JNF's experience in agriculture in arid regions, combating desertification and soil and water technology. On their tour in Israel, the delegation got acquainted with KKL-JNF's diverse projects in these fields and encountered landscapes and people all over the country.

Chinese delegation ank KKL-JNF personnel at the Israel-China Friendship Forest in the Negev. Photo: Yoav Devir

“I have no doubt that we can learn a lot from Israeli know-how,” said Mr. Wang Shuwen, the head of delegation and the Deputy Secretary General of the Society of Entrepreneurs & Ecology (SEE).

The delegation arrived from Inner Mongolia, China, in conjunction with four organizations involved with agriculture, environmental protection and international relations -the China Friendship Foundation for Society for Peace and Development (CFFPD), the Society of Entrepreneurs & Ecology (SEE), the Forestry Bureau of Alxa League and the Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Bureau of Alxa League.

In the tomato greenhouse at the R&D South. Photo: Yoav Devir

The tour began in northern Israel at the Ramat Menashe biosphere park, which balances man and nature, preservation and development. In a biospheric park, resources are utilized at a pace that allows for them to be renewed by natural processes. At the Ariel Sharon Park they saw how a colossal mound of waste had been turned into a green lung in the urban metropolis of central Israel, part of a massive rehabilitation project.

If one wants to learn about life and regional development in a desert, the Negev is one of the best places to go to. Dr. David Brand, KKL-JNF Chief Forester, and Mr. Itzhak Moshe, KKL-JNF Deputy Director of the Southern Region, accompanied the delegation on their tour of R&D South, Lahav Forest, Yatir Forest and the Gilat Nursery.
Desert Agriculture at R&D South
At the Research and Development South Station in the Besor region, the members of the delegation were impressed by the innovative developments and advanced work methods that facilitate profitable agriculture in arid deserts. Liana Ganot, Plant Protection Coordinator at the R&D station, guided the guests through the greenhouses where tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplants, zucchini and even pineapples are grown. “The experiments performed here enable farmers to develop crops that are adapted to the harsh climatic conditions of this region,” said Ganot.

In the R&D South greenhouse for pineapples, which are watered by drip irrigation. Photo: Yoav Devir

The experiments carried out at the R&D station address water and soil issues and the selection of crops suitable for local water quality and quantity, soil type and climatic conditions. Interesting experiments include protecting tomatoes from pests by means of netting; dusting tomatoes by means of bees; tracking bell pepper yields at different levels of shading using small meteorological stations; growing zucchini in greenhouses instead of open fields; and selecting pineapple species suitable for cultivation in the Negev.
Green Forests in Arid Regions
After devoting the morning to agriculture, the delegation from China proceeded to learn about KKL-JNF’s afforestation of the Negev. Their first stop was the China-Israel Friendship Forest.

“Relations between Israel and China are excellent, and we share data, technology and economic initiatives,” said Dr. Li Hongwei, Third Secretary of Science and Technology at the Chinese Embassy in Israel. “KKL-JNF plays a major role in the cooperation between our countries, in the fields of agriculture, water, ecology, afforestation and combating desertification. I am sure the friendship between our countries will flourish just as the trees in this forest are flourishing.”

In the Israel-China Friendship Forest. Photo: Yoav Devir

Dr. David Brand briefed the delegation about the forested landscapes and explained that although KKL-JNF used to plant mainly pine trees, the emphasis these days is on indigenous species. “It is important for us to plant a diversity of species and to relate to the complex of ecological services the forest provides,” he said.

Yatir Forest, located on the slopes of the Hebron highland northeast of Beersheba, is the largest planted forest in the Middle East. KKL-JNF started planting it in the 1960s, and at present it covers an area of 30,000 dunams (7,500 acres) and comprises more than four million trees - conifers, broadleaves, vineyards and even cherry orchards. Planting a forest in a semi-arid region certainly gives us hope that humankind may eventually succeed in combating desertification. Mr. Itzhak Moshe told the members of the delegation about the tree planting methods developed by KKL-JNF foresters, which include using of limans (inlets) and ridges that gather floodwater in winter and prevent erosion.

In Yatir Forest. Photo: Yoav Devir

“Thanks to these methods, the annual rainfall of 200 millimeters provides the soil in planted areas with ten times that quantity of water,” said Moshe. “Consequently, the scant local resources enable flourishing vegetation, pastures, a diversity of wildlife and even shady picnic areas for local inhabitants and visitors.”

KKL-JNF has developed assorted sites in the forest -hiking trails, archeological sites and picnic areas. Different projects of this kind have been developed with support from friends of KKL-JNF in many countries including Italy, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, France and Switzerland, and in South America.
Plants of the Future at the Gilat Nursery
Their last stop was the Gilat Nursery, where KKL-JNF grows 250 species for planting in forests and parks all over the Negev. In the sprouting room, the delegation from China heard about how to sprout seeds, as explained by the director of the nursery, Mr. Pablo Chercasky.

In the seed propagation room of the Gilat Nursery. Photo: Yoav Devir

In the propagation room, Chercasky explained that every sapling is tagged with an identification number indicating the source of the seed. It is therefore possible later on to ascertain the origins of the most successful trees. The guests from China were also impressed by the water cooling system, which provides for cooler temperatures and optimal humidity. On such a hot day, the people also enjoyed the cooler air, not just the plants.
In the propagation room Chercasky and Brand showed them the roots of different saplings and explained that the root is the main factor in the survival probability of a plant. A developed root system is the key to absorption that is fast and successful, and indeed, these specialized efforts have been productive, and 90% of the saplings acclimate successfully in the forests.

Examining the roots of a sapling in the Gilat Nursery. Photo: Yoav Devir

Mr. Wang Shuwen said that a nursery like this one could be an important basis for collaboration with KKL-JNF. The Haloxylon shrubs that grow in the sandy region of Mongolia for edible consumption are currently purchased in other regions of China, and their survival rate is relatively low. “We are considering the establishment of a nursery for producing these saplings, and we are very interested in learning from the experience of KKL-JNF in this field,” said Shuwen.

“Everything we have seen today has been fascinating, especially the advanced Israeli agriculture,” said delegation member Ms. Jing Weifang. "KKL-JNF's experience with developing agriculture in arid regions with sandy soil may be very relevant for us, and I believe we can create interesting joint ventures in different fields.”

“For all of us, this was our first visit to Israel, and we have been very impressed by the landscapes and by the people, and of course by the expertise,” concluded Shuwen. “We enjoyed the feeling of safety and quiet, and we discovered that Israel is very different than what we see in the news media.”