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Article Released Tue-20th-June-2006 15:08 GMT
Contact: Administrator Account Institution: ResearchSEA
 Farming in the desert-advantage and limitation, the Israeli experience

The main advantages of the desert are intensive sun radiation, wasteland and a very low population density. The main disadvantages are not only scarcity of water resources but also the high salinity, as well as frequently occurring extreme climate conditions.

Author: Raanan Katzir
Director, Sustainable Agriculture Consulting Group (SACOG)
4 Efter St. Tel Aviv, 69362, ISRAEL.

Only ten percent of Israel’s population lives in its desert areas, which constitute about sixty percent of its total land area. Traditional agriculture in the desert, as practiced by the nomadic Bedouin population, is based on relatively small numbers of hardy livestock such as camels, sheep and goats kept on extensive pastureland, and on occasional planting of small amounts of low yielding drought resistant grain crops.

Even though this traditional agriculture has been developed over thousands of years and it is well adapted to the harsh desert conditions, it nevertheless remains sensitive to climate excesses, such as frequently occurring droughts. The topography of the desert and precipitation varies widely according to geographic zones, with every zone having its unique environmental characteristics.

The main advantages of the desert are intensive sun radiation, wasteland and a very low population density. The main disadvantages are not only scarcity of water resources but also the high salinity, as well as frequently occurring extreme climate conditions.

Modern agriculture is developed in the desert by using water from external resources, including the “National Water Carrier” transporting water from the Sea of Galilee, or recycled sewage water from the densely populated central urban part of the country. The local saline water resources are used for irrigating tolerant crops such as tomatoes, melons, grapes, olives, dates and others by drip irrigation systems.

Also new crops like Jojoba, Pythaya and Opuntia cactus, and various flower crops have been successfully introduced. The harsh desert climate is successfully controlled by the greenhouse industry producing, mainly for export, off-season vegetables, flowers and herbs. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods are successfully applied, including zero cultivation periods, biological control, solarization and the release of sterile male flies for controlling the Med Fly.

The sand dune zone in the coastal area is made productive by successfully using recycled sewage water for irrigating citrus, avocado and mango plantations, and greenhouses for vegetable and flower production. For this purpose the most commonly used irrigation system is the integrated fertilization and drip irrigation system.

The hilly area with an annual precipitation of 200 mm, which was drastically eroded in the past, presently undergoes intensive reforestation. Advanced soil conservation methods and water harvesting methods are applied in this process. Livestock, such as dairy cattle, but also ostriches and Tilapia fish, are successfully raised under desert conditions.

The positive results achieved by developing modern agriculture in a desert region, can be mainly attributed to the human factor and a successfully managed Agriculture Regional R&D System, a system producing applied know-how and agro-techniques, as well as infrastructure and living conditions well adapted to the prevailing adverse environmental conditions.

Meeting information

Eighth International Conference on Dryland Development 25-28 February 2006, Beijing, China

Keywords associated to this article: desert; farming; Israel
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