The Blooming Desert: Agriculture In The Middle Of Nowhere
The Negev desert once covered 60 percent of Israel. Even the first prime minister, Ben Gurion, was aware of its significance. In 1955, he declared that the fate of the young country depends on the ability to handle the Negev: “It is in the Negev that the people of Israel will be tested – For only with a united effort of a volunteering people and a planning and implementing State will we accomplish the great mission of populating the wilderness and causing it to flourish. This effort will determine the fate of the State of Israel and the standing of our people in the history of mankind.”
Over the years, the actual size of the Negev desert has shrunk due to agricultural activity that turned sand into fields. By doing so, Israel achieved what many countries vainly try to fight against, namely, to stop desertification. Reports indicate that Negev farmers currently export 350,000 tons of vegetables a year to Europe.
This success is rooted, amongst others, in the revolutionary method of drip irrigation that was invented in the 1960s by the Israeli company Netafim. With this irrigation method scarce water can be efficiently applied for agricultural purposes. Other developments such as large-scale desalination of sea-water and the building of direct pipes and channels from the Sea of Galilee have helped provide farmers with sufficient water.
The most famous fruit from the Negev might be the cherry tomato, which does not only grow in the Negev but was also developed here. According to the website touristisrael.com the cherry tomatoes grown in the Negev are two to three times sweeter than their counterparts grown elsewhere due to the minerals in the desert water. Currently, farmers are continuing to experiment with those tiny tomatoes. They are raising strains that produce a higher yield and another variety that produces fruit in the shape of dates.
The Negev is home to fish farms, olive groves and plantations of a variety of crops, vegetables and fruits like melons and tomatoes. Also peppers grown in the Negev taste sweeter than those from elsewhere. An extraordinary trial is taking part as well: Horticulturalists are trying to cultivate a tomato tree that originates in South America and produces a citrus fruit. For this and other new crops, a research center in the Ramat Negev region is working together with the farmers to develop strains of crops that suit the desert’s conditions.
by Ariel Rudolph