Israel makes deserts around the world bloom

Members of the International Arid Lands Consortium in the Negev – the JNF is at the forefront of bringing cutting-edge Israeli techniques to other arid climates.It is often said that the state of Israel has made the desert bloom.Now, through …

Members of the International Arid Lands Consortium in the Negev – the JNF is at the forefront of bringing cutting-edge Israeli techniques to other arid climates.It is often said that the state of Israel has made the desert bloom.

Now, through an initiative called the International Arid Lands Consortium (IALC) Israeli expertise is helping make other deserts around the world bloom as well, enabling people of arid lands to improve the quality of their lives and future generations.

The IALC, founded in 1993, is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to exploring the problems and solutions unique to arid and semiarid regions. Working together, the IALC members promote cooperative research and practical application of new knowledge to develop sustainable ecological practices.

The organization, based at the University of Arizona, is composed of a consortium of six universities in the United States, together with participants from states in the Middle East. Israel’s representative in the consortium is the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael).

The other members are the University of Arizona, Desert Research Institute – Nevada, The University of Illinois, New Mexico State University, South Dakota State University, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, the Higher Council for Science & Technology – Jordan, and Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation-Egypt.

The IALC members pool their expertise in arid or semi-arid resource issues and technologies, bringing together the apolitical scientific community of Middle East countries for the benefit of the region.

JNF representative Yitzhak Moshe sits on the research and advisory committee. He has the dual responsibility of bringing Israeli research and demonstration project proposals to the organization for funding, and helping to judge all of the entries that come in from around the world, deciding which will get IALC support.

From his vantage point he is also able to identify ways in which Israeli experts in areas such as water purification or agriculture can help their counterparts in other countries.

Because of the still-delicate political situation, much of the contact takes place with the American partners acting as go-betweens in the work that the IALC does in other parts of the Middle East. But there is some direct work together takes place, and Moshe says, the bottom line is that “cutting-edge Israeli techniques are benefiting people around the world.”

He has also hosted visiting Arab experts at the Center for Desert Research and Restoration Ecology in the Negev which is run in cooperation with Ben-Gurion University’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research and Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

“I’ve never encountered problems with the professionals,” Moshe told ISRAEL21c. “Once, someone from an Arab country told me that they would be thrown out of their professional union if it was known they had connections, with us. I immediately said he didn’t have to work with me if it bothered him, but he said no, he didn’t think this way. What it comes down to is that all want to fix problems and create a better tomorrow.?”

Moshe is the Soil and Water Conservation Coordinator for the KKL-JNF Forestry Department and has consulted on water and soil projects in Chile, Paraguay, Mexico, Turkey, Burkino Faso and Nigeria.

When the IALC initiative began, he said, it had a hard time attracting high-level research proposals, but “now that we have a professional serious body, there are plenty of proposals submitted,” he said, emphasizing, “it is important that the IALC projects have a demonstration component: that we are not just talking about theory, but showing something that can be a model.”

In the past, many Israeli research proposals have been funded – the majority of which have involved collaboration with US universities.

IALC projects funded over the past year include experiments carried out by the Jewish National Fund to exploit ancient agricultural methods and systems to prevent desertification, to stabilize soil, and to harvest runoff water to subsist desert forestation.

It has supported education programs conducted at Nitzana – an education center located in the heart of the ancient agricultural region in the Negev – serving ca. 13,000 clients per year. The programs aim to inherit the ancient agriculture studied as cultural heritage at various levels: participation in scientific field researches conducted by universities and training courses for students, school children, teachers, tourists, etc.

Another demonstration project builds directly upon a previous IALC-supported project to develop in-depth, scientific information on the Sonoran Desert as a component for a Web-based gateway titled “Deserts of the World”.

Specifically, this project will expand the prototype user interface and home page; create information modules for the Badia and Negev Deserts in Jordan and Israel respectively, as well as compile new content for the Sonoran Desert module; and develop a series of dynamic user tools. The project’s immediate goal is to deliver relevant and useful data and information to IALC’s core audiences of land managers and policy makers to support science-based land management decision-making.

However, much of the material also will be useful to the general public. Included will be extensive resources covering the unique human and physical aspects of the three desert regions. In addition, the project will demonstrate how enhanced data and information delivery using the latest methodologies in information technology can provide support for IALC priorities including: land use and reclamation; soil and water resources development and conservation; ecosystem processes; and human and institutional dimensions.


In addition to backing research, the organization supports initiatives such as the Sustainable Development of Drylands Project with training and development programs in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Jordan.

In Afghanistan, agricultural personnel are being trained through an IALC program led by the University of Illinois. This training is focused on how to use the latest farming techniques and technology so that teachers and researchers in Afghanistan can restore the country’s once-respected agriculture education system, stabilize food production efforts and increase self-sufficiency for the country.

To date, 207 Afghan men and 22 Afghan women have been trained in month long courses in agricultural technology, women enterprises including poultry raising and management, preservation of fruits and vegetables, cultivation of mushrooms, water resource management and enterprise development. In addition, this project brought farmers nearly a thousand agricultural students at Kabul University have the first electronic library in Afghanistan at the College of Agriculture.

Focused on the water shortage and the limited potable water supply, the IALC Program in Jordan increases wastewater treatment capacity in Jordan and provides a growing supply of reclaimed water for irrigation.

A workshop on Sustainable Water Resources Management at Hashemite University in Zarqa, Jordan, was held to provide local authorities with sufficient knowledge to make informed decisions on the policy aspects of drought, shared use and equitable allocations of water during drought emergencies.

One aspect was to look at past climate conditions, which can be used to predict future probability of drought and wet periods. Upper level decision makers, managers and educators responsible for waste water resource management attended.

Since water is such a valuable resource in Jordan, a 3-day workshop on the Recycling of Wastewater and Biosolids at the National Center for Agricultural Research and Technology Transfer, NCARTT, was held in Baqá, Jordan. Attended by irrigation engineers and managers, educators, farmers and landscapers, the workshop focused on guidelines for biosolids treatment and land application for Jordanian arid and semi-arid conditions as well as to understand that recycling projects must take into consideration the risks of contaminants, current international practices, health effects and treatment removal.

In Yemen, the IALC’s mission has been primarily to assess the quality and qualifications of the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Sana’a; to learn what their role is and how they relate to the Ministry of Agriculture, the Regional Agricultural Development Authorities and the private sector; and how they undertake and share applied research, provide outreach and extension, train students, and help farmers have a better life.

Israelis are able to be more directly involved in IALC projects such as the one in India, in which an IALC team initiated on-farm water and energy use policy study with local scientists.