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Israel shares lessons about how to roll back desertification

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By Aviva-Marlene Grunpeter

Epoch Times


(December 31, 2008) - Many nations, particularly developing countries, are affected by the destructiveness of desertification, which leads to famine and rural community displacement. The desertification problem is due to intensive wrong agriculture and deforestation, leading sometimes to shortage of water. While desertification is an increasing problem worldwide, in Israel the desert is receding, due to research and advanced technologies. Last week, more than 300 representatives, experts, scientists, and practitioners from Africa, India, Italy, Turkey, China, Spain, Germany, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom attended the conference at Sde Boker Blaustein Institutes of Ben Gurion University (BGU). There were also participants from the Palestinian Authority and from Jordan.

The conference focused on issues involving soil degradation in the dry lands. Professor James Reynolds from Duke University explained that at the heart of the desertification controversy is the fact that natural vegetation in many areas has been eliminated or reduced through various human activities. Reynolds brought the example of quinoa that is causing economic strife amongst farmers in Bolivia. The huge demand for quinoa is causing other crops to be neglected.

Dr. Alon Tal, a professor of environmental policy at BGU exposed a UN study: "one-third of the Earth's populations, about two billion people are potential victims of desertification encroachment effect. From sub-Sahara Africa to the former Soviet republics in central Asia, human abuse and malpractice of the land are making the matter worse."

Deforestation in Africa and in Asia is one of the main causes of desertification. Prof. Alan Grainger from Leeds University (UK) advocated the development of an International Forestry Commission, which would oversee all forestation/reforestation issues worldwide.

Arthur du Mosh who attended the conference came to Israel years ago from the Netherlands to study desert agriculture. Mosh explained to The Epoch Times that agriculture in the desert has to be implemented according to sustainable development for marginal and arid lands. "We have unique conditions in the desert; it is very dry during the day and at night time humid with dew. Nights are very cold during winter. Those extremes are very good for some crops, like olive trees. Because the soil is dry the plants grow with no fungi or louses, no need of pesticides and crop are organic," Mosh said.

Today small farms in the desert in Israel tried to retrace the rules of the ancients’ agriculture exploiting night dew for irrigation.

Professor Aref Abu Rabia from BGU addressed potential eco tourism opportunities through sustainable agriculture for the Negev Bedouin community. During a tour in the desert participants visited small vineyards and farms offering ecological accommodation to their guests in full "water recycled rooms", living according to the desert rules. Participants also met Eran Doron from the tourism department in Mizpe Ramon, a city in the desert, who told the audience they are developing ecological tourism in the area. "Biking is a wonderful way to visit the desert, we have now 70 km of biking trails and we plan to pave two additional hundred km of biking trails. We don't want to develop tourism of 'sea sun and shopping', but traveling the 'green' way". The city has great tourist sites to offer; Ramon crater is a unique geological formation and the Nabatean city of Avdat, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Dr Abed Al-Zahiri from Jordan is dealing with sewage treatment in his country. "We learn how to use more and more effectively water and other resources. We are building the peace actually in our hearts, between the peoples not on the paper," he told us.

James Kugosha from Kenya, a forester in his country: "In Kenya I educate the community about the importance of the trees to fight desertification. We provide the community seeds they plant and we manage the little forest we have". Asked what he wants to take home from this conference? "The dripping method of irrigation that has not been implemented in Kenya and I also would like to take with me from Israel is the policy of fighting desertification,"' Kugosha replied.

The participants also had the opportunity to see the beauty of the desert and not only the problematic issues. During lunch break six optional short field trips were organized, and at night an intrepid “full moonlit” hike in the scenic Nahal Haverim dry river bed.

This story, which is reprinted with permission, originally appeared in the Epoch Times under the title "Academic Forum on Desertification in Israel: Participants from over 55 countries gathered at Ben-Gurion University in Israel for a four days conference focused on desertification issues" and can be found at http://en.epochtimes.com/n2/content/view/9133/. For more details about the Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Sde Boker, see their website at http://cmsprod.bgu.ac.il/Eng/conferences/mabr/Home/. For another story about the conference, see the Green Prophet website at http://greenprophet.com/2008/12/15/5026/desert-conference/

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