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Israel makes deserts around the world bloom
even among its neighbors in the Middle East
even if it must use intermediaries

By Allison Kaplan Sommer 
March 13, 2005


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 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.

In the past, many Israeli research proposals 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.

Specifically, this project will 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.

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 Baq, 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.