KKL-JNF for the Farmers

Since the establishment of the state of Israel until the present time, KKL-JNF has accompanied agriculture and the farmers, supporting them by creating agricultural infrastructures, preparing land and roads, building water reservoirs, water works, financing research and development at regional R&D stations that are located throughout the country, and a number of additional interesting projects, about which you will read in this article.
February 7, 2017
By Amos De Winter

At Eshtaol Forest, I met Dr. David Brand, KKL-JNF Chief Forester and Director of the KKL-JNF Afforestation Division.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with agriculture.
So you’ll be surprised just how much this has to do with agriculture and just how much KKL-JNF helps farmers and agriculture in Israel.

“KKL-JNF,” Dr. Brand explains, “supports financing for agricultural R&D stations located in the periphery, because KKL-JNF views itself as being committed to developing Israel and supporting farmers. Of course, this support compliments the actual development projects that KKL-JNF carries out by preparing land for agriculture.

“In KKL-JNF there is a division called the LDA (Land Development Authority) that was established in 1961, when KKL-JNF signed a covenant with the state of Israel. The covenant states, among others, that KKL-JNF will establish the entity called LDA and that this entity will be responsible for everything related to afforestation, which we will speak about shortly. There is also the matter of land development, which is represented by a separate entity called the Development Projects Division, by means of which KKL-JNF carries out various projects, such as building water reservoirs, river rehabilitation, agricultural infrastructures – including safety roads and agricultural roads – and land preparation. For example, if there are communities in the Arava that want to expand, then it is KKL-JNF who is responsible for actually carrying out the expansion.

“Here we come to the topic of KKL-JNF’s support of regional agricultural research and development stations, from the north to the southern Arava, with an annual budget of about fifteen million shekels. All the findings of the research conducted by the R&D stations are open to the general public, there are no copyrights or anything similar here.

“This triangle is one of the most beautiful things in this whole matter. What triangle? You have national research institutions, like the Volcani Institute, universities, academies, the Ministry of Education, etc., most of which are located in Israel’s central region. In contrast, the R&D stations are located close to the farmers, they are regional R&Ds, and that’s what so unique about them. When a farmer has a problem, whether it’s a pest or a plant disease, he doesn’t have to call some scientist who sits at the agricultural complex near Rishon Letziyon. He has a scientist next door, who works and is physically present in the region. He comes to him, they look at the problem together, over very short periods of time, and find an answer to the various problems. This is in addition to cooperation in research with institutions, whether they be the Volcani Institute or some other entity. In principle, this is what’s so nice about this triangle – the rapid connection between the research institutions, research and development, and the farmer.

“One of the most wonderful things that Development Projects Division contributed to the farmers was building water reservoirs throughout Israel, a monumental project, which of course provides cheap and available water to all of Israel’s farmers. In this context, we have begun a new project over the past few years, which is called ‘water sensitive cities’. This means taking urban runoff* and collecting it – which hasn’t been done until now, so the water has been going to waste, that is, it flows directly into the ocean and is not being taken advantage of. In this project, the idea is to collect urban runoff from a certain neighborhood, with all the dirt in it, because as everyone knows, the first rains come with a lot of dust, oils and fuels that have to be dealt with.

“What we are doing is called a biofilter. This is actually a site where the polluted runoff is channeled to into a drainage pool. The drainage pool is built in a sophisticated manner with various sizes of gravel and with special plants that absorb the pollutants. The water and the various pollutants enter the pool and then the plants, with the gravel and bacteria that develop there, purify the water.

“In fact, we are talking about a biological purification plant. KKL-JNF is already operating installations like these at three sites in Israel, in Kfar Saba, Ramle and Bat Yam. The method is a familiar one that is called ‘green wetlands’, although here we are talking about a small, specific and local green wetlands. Ultimately, the idea is to use the purified water that comes out of the biological water purification installation, either to water gardens at the same location, or to channel the water back to the underground aquifer, in order to enrich Israel’s underground water supply.

“By the way, the pool itself is built in such a way that it itself is a natural recreation site in every way. You should remember that this is not sewage that has a bad odor, but rather rainwater and a green pool full of beautiful plants like lotuses. This is why the pool itself is an attraction for the general public. You can take a walk there, come with the family, whatever – it’s a beautiful green corner. This is a subject that KKL-JNF is very involved in, and as I said before, built these installations over the past few years.”

Agricultural Afforestation

Among the general public, KKL-JNF is always connected to forests in Israel. What are you doing in this field?

“The field of forestry is a very broad subject – let’s start with the subject of agricultural forestry. KKL-JNF supports farmers in two fields related to agricultural forestry. In the first field, there is a phenomenon today in Israel that farmers are abandoning peripheral lands. These are lands that are no longer good for agricultural produce, they can’t be grown on, so here KKL-JNF encourages agriculture. By the way, this is also recognized as agricultural work by the Ministry of Agriculture – planting trees on agricultural units. It’s called “farm forestry”.

“As a result, every farm, whether in a moshav or in a kibbutz, every farm has a little forest in its plot B, something about 3 – 5 acres large. Every four years, a woodcutter comes, cuts the trees down and sells them for heating, and the farmer profits from the deal.”

At the time, there was an attempt to plant paulownia trees, a species that if I’m not mistaken, was not successful.

“True enough, that didn’t work. But here we are talking about bushes and eucalyptus trees that grow quickly.
“We support the farmers by helping them to plant trees that grow quickly, it turns into farm forestry, the land is no longer exposed and liable for erosion, but now it has trees, the surroundings are green, the forest sequesters carbon and emits oxygen, the trees absorb dust and other pollutants in the air, and the inhabitants can see green – everyone benefits from this. In addition, once every four years the farmer even makes a little money, a certain financial profit from the land. In this context, KKL-JNF distributes about 100,000 seedlings annually, all distributed free of cost to various farmers. Of course everything is done through the Ministry of Agriculture and fairly, etc.

“Our second project in the field of agricultural forestry is the extensive assistance we give beekeepers. Today, beekeepers have a problem, which is that there isn’t enough flowering in the spring, and in general, there is a lack of nectar-rich grazing areas. KKL-JNF conducted observations and research studies, and we discovered and developed local sources, for example an indigenous species of carob that flowers profusely and is rich in nectar. The same applies for the common jujube tree and many other native Israeli species that are good for providing pollen and nectar for bees.

“In addition, we introduced new types of eucalyptus trees, not the ones everyone is familiar with but rather small eucalyptus trees and bushes that are 3-6 meters tall. By the way, there are close to 900 different species of eucalyptus trees. We distribute these bushes and trees to the beekeepers. Until now, due to the lack of nectar-rich grazing areas, beekeepers have been forced to feed the bees in their hives with a sugar solution, or to move them to where all different sorts of crops are being grown such as watermelons, fruit tree plantations, etc. Now, after the observations we conducted, we can provide beekeepers with a number of various species, so that the beekeeper can have a supply of pollen and nectar throughout the entire year.

“Here too, the Honey Council gives us the names of beekeepers and we distribute about 100 seedlings a year to each of them, free of cost. In this situation also, everyone profits, The beekeepers find abandoned areas in the jurisdiction of the regional councils, plant the bushes and trees in them, and everyone sees green and we also give the beekeepers the ability to provide the bees with nectar-rich grazing fields and to make a living.”

Israeli Forest

“The other side of the subject of forest is all of KKL-JNF’s afforestation work in the territory of the state of Israel, which is also partially connected to agriculture.

“First of all, it’s important to know that KKL-JNF is responsible for approximately 500,000 acres of forests and open spaces in Israel. A few years ago, we published a paper called ‘Forest Management Policy’, which of course is updated and based on dozens of years of KKL-JNF’s experience working with Israeli forests, and also on research and development, which we have also been conducting for dozens of years. Every year, we invest close to 7 million shekels in research and development.

“In fact, today, the new ‘Forest Management Policy’ states that there has been a significant change in the way we relate to the forest. At the beginning of the afforestation project, we mainly focused on growing and caring for trees. Today, the approach is much more holistic, and we are actually managing ecosystems. According to updated forest management policy, which was approved by the KKL-JNF Directorate a few years ago, the supreme goal of KKL-JNF forests is to provide ecological services for the benefit of the inhabitants of the state of Israel.

“The headline ‘ecological forest services’ can in general be divided into three. The first service includes everything related to supply: mushrooms, wood, grazing areas – everything that the forest produces and can provide a direct supply for the benefit of human beings. The second service is everything that is called control services, which means carbon sequestration, absorbing pollutants from the atmosphere, preventing erosion, preventing the trickling down of chemicals and pesticides from agricultural land to open spaces, supporting the natural enemies of many agricultural pests – all the actions that the forest carries out that contribute to the regular functioning of the ecosystem. The third, and no less important service, is cultural and spiritual services. What does this mean? Today, we are aware of the fact that forests and green open spaces contribute to the human soul and to people’s health. In four weeks from now in Vienna, there will be an international conference at which research scientists from all over the world will show how the forest as a forest contributes to your health. Go jogging in the city or go jogging in the forest – it’s two entirely different experiences. In the forest, it makes a much greater contribution to your health and in general, research studies have proven that forests calm people down and increase longevity.

“Forest management assumes that our forests provide these three ecological services that I mentioned. Another change in forest management policy is that today, I manage forests according to a purpose. Meaning to say that I take a large area and ask: Let’s see what the goal of different area units in the forest is, and what ecological services for human benefit can be provided by the various area units. Some of the area might be intended for leisure and recreation, and then I would manage it in a specific manner. Then there is an area that is defined as a multi-purpose forest that will provide me with all the control services and which I of course will manage in a different manner, and so on and so forth.

“We recently conducted two very interesting research studies, and here is the connection to agriculture. One of the research studies, which was conducted by Professor Tzvika Mandell, showed that the natural enemies of pests harmful to agriculture flourish in the forest, which is like a greenhouse for them. If you have an agricultural field next to a forest, the forest is a greenhouse for the natural enemies (insects that prey on pests) of agricultural pests, and the farmer naturally benefits from the decrease in some of the pests. Similarly, the forest is of course a natural habitat for raptors like owls and barn owls, which are known to help in destroying rodents that are damaging to agriculture.

“A second research study, that was conducted with Dr. Eli Saadi from the south, showed that KKL-JNF forests that are next to agricultural fields and to stream banks in the northern Negev are a sort of biological filter. The research made it clear that forests in this region absorb dust that is conveyed at times of heat waves and sandstorms, but what’s even more beautiful, it turned out that the forests absorb pesticides and chemicals that are found in agricultural areas. They are a sort of filter for the streams, whose channels remains clear of these pollutants. In addition, these forest groves alongside the creeks in the south serve as grazing areas for the locals, and as hiking and biking trails for the benefit of the country’s inhabitants.

“In conclusion, during the past sixty years we amassed a great deal of knowledge, both practical knowledge in the field and also from research, regarding everything related to afforestation in arid and semi-arid regions. The truth is that we receive international recognition and appreciation regarding all aspects of forestry and the management of open spaces. We participate in two important United Nations conferences. The first one is the Climate Change Convention and the second one is the Combatting Desertification Conference. We are there regularly and share our great deal of experience at these international conferences.

“Why is this important? Because in fact, about 40% of the world’s land mass is defined as arid or semi-arid, and close to 35% of the world’s population lives in these regions, including in the Sudano-Sahelian strip**. We are trying to integrate and help those countries, which is no simple matter. In general, if there are developing countries that are dealing with the problem of desertification in arid and semi-arid regions - and there are no lack of them - we can help them, show them for example how to grow better seedlings, which trees are more suitable where, how runoff can be harvested, how to use the land surface in a more efficient manner, and more.”

Agricultural Research and Development

Itzik Moshe, Deputy Director of the KKL-JNF Southern Region, who also serves as the chairman of the Ramat Hanegev R&D station and the Southern R&D station, says: “KKL-JNF places great value on continued settlement of periphery regions and this is why we help the inhabitants with infrastructures. It might be preparing land, goal-oriented preparation, supervision, reservoirs and various water works, and knowledge infrastructures.

“KKL-JNF, together with the Ministry of Agriculture and other entities, sees the regional research and development stations as a means of producing applied knowledge that is acquired by means of applied research for advanced agriculture and greater income in peripheral regions. I am speaking about the importance of high-income agriculture, agriculture that you invest in, whether it be in terms of water, fertilizer or profitable crops.

“The regional R&Ds are by their nature also suited to the characteristics of the water, land, climate and inhabitants of the regions they are established in. What do I mean by this? For example in a mountainous region, where activities are primarily focused on deciduous tree plantations, with high temperatures, land limitations, rocks and so on, then the central R&D station in such a region must take into consideration the fact that there is a limited amount of water and land limitations, but with the advantages of low temperatures. Then you have the Arava R&D or the Negev Mountain R&D, which concentrates on agriculture that is supplemented by brackish water, how you use this water for profitable agriculture.

“A principle that we uphold is that all the results of the research are distributed free of charge! We don’t charge any money for it and we don’t allow any research scientist to demand money from the farmer that he served for using his innovation. Big companies can demand money for their developments, but for us it’s important that people working in agriculture in the area remain there and continue farming, not just those who can finance research on their own.

“There are no copyrights at the R&Ds. Of course, the research scientist can publish scientific articles on his findings in the relevant scientific publications. For example, if someone develops a certain strain outside of the R&D, they can register a copyright for it. Now let’s say, for example, that the R&D tests some strains. It might be that a company says that a certain strain is the best of all, with certain characteristics, but if we see that there are problems in the field, for instance, if it’s attacked by diseases, then the yield is not what they said it would be. We publish the results whatever the case might be, so that if there are mistakes, not to mention intentional misleading, it will not adversely affect the farmers.

“The data obtained by the tests is publicized in an objective manner. There are also, as you know, open days when the general public can come and see the findings, and there are also days that we conduct for growers’ tables. For example, let’s say a peonies growers’ table, which is a special day just for them. Local growers and growers from other regions in Israel can come to the R&D. The principle is that all the results are transparent for all to see, whether it’s at the open days, whether it’s a visit or whether it’s at the R&D’s website.

“It’s worthwhile mentioning that the cooperation between the various entities, including KKL-JNF, the Ministry of Agriculture, the research scientists, the guides and of course the farmers, allows for a rapid transfer of useful knowledge straight to the farmer, without unnecessary delays. These are not research scientists who are aspiring to receive the Noble Prize and who might be amazing, but the farmer in the field has no contact with them and he can’t get to that research scientist, because he’s on a different level and in a different region. Here we bring research scientists who want to serve the farmer, and the research scientists do so with goodwill and love, sometimes at the R&D station, sometimes at the farmer’s farm.”

* runoff – rainwater that runs off roofs of houses, buildings and roads
** Sudano-Sahelian Strip – a huge area that stretches out south of the Sahara Desert, from the southern coast of Africa to the eastern coast, most of it comprised of developing countries.