Turning an arid desert into an unexpected breadbasket

“The average summer day is 40-plus degrees Celsius, and at night the temperature drops only 10 degrees,” says Abigail Leichman Kitron, who also has a family farm in central Arava. Agriculture is not easy in this strip of the Negev Desert, stretching down Israel’s eastern border from the Dead Sea to Eilat. Kitron, coordinator of flower and herb research at Arava R&D, also provided visiting reporters with tastes of cherry tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries raised here.

Nevertheless, the R&D center’s greenhouses grow Gulliver’s spinach, Momordica, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, melons, cucumbers, and exotic crops like kiwano. There are even hanging strawberries. The soil here is too hot for them, but on the other hand, sunlight brings out their sweetness, Kitron explains.

“In the 1950s, nothing was here,” says Tanya Pons Allon, an Arava farmer and director of the Kasser Joint Institute for Global Food, Water, and Energy Security, a cooperative venture at Arava R&D in partnership with the Jewish National Fund-USA, the University of Arizona and the Central Arava Regional Council.

“And then two idealistic pioneers in their 20s wanted to start a community here in the Arava, and everyone thought they were mad crazy, that they’d die of dehydration and lack of everything. But Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, who really believed in settling the Negev, signed a paper allowing them to settle this area,” she says.

“And what we see here today proves that with determination and thinking outside the box and not accepting no for an answer, you can accomplish anything,” says Allon, who leads tours on behalf of JNF-USA at the Arava R&D’s Vidor Visitor Center. “We now have 4,000 residents in this region, and new communities are being built. This area would not have thrived without people believing it could.”

Read the complete article at www.israel21c.org.

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