In the middle of Israel’s Negev Desert on the shores of the Dead Sea, a lone billboard announces Moshav Zofar, one of the country’s most successful farms.
Moshav Zofar is managed by Green Arava, which farms produce for export to US, Europe and Russia. Dotted with hundreds of mega greenhouses, the Moshav — one of Israel’s over 80 Moshavs — is among the top producers of sweet pepper, capsicum and watermelon, all-grown under extreme weather conditions using drip irrigation.
The Negev Desert is at the lowest point on earth, 400m below sea level, with an average of 355 sunny days and sometimes there is no rain the entire year. In this region which occupies two thirds of Israel’s land, daytime temperatures often exceed 40 degrees Celsius and nights can fall below zero degrees Celsius.
Dozens of date orchards are planted in the Arava valley, and each tree is individually irrigated to optimise water use. With scarce water resources across the country, Israel’s farmers have been concentrating on new varieties that produce the same or higher yields, with less or no irrigation. The country has tapped recycled wastewater for farming needs.
Moshav’s constitute a group of individual farms and are generally based on the principle of private ownership of land, with emphasis on community labour and marketing.
Workers produce crops and goods on their land through individual or pooled labour and other resources, and use profit and foodstuffs to provide for themselves.
The farmers pay a small tax and this money is used to provide agricultural services to the community, like buying supplies and marketing the farm produce. For Kibbutz, another Israeli concept, land is jointly owned, farmed collectively and the profits shared equally.
At Kibbutz Ein Harod, Yuav Zur, a farm manager, says by the end of this year, at least 500 tonnes of fish meat will have been harvested from the farm which lies in the middle of the hilly drylands.
“For us, the biggest question is how to produce the highest possible kilos of meat from the available space given that the first harvesting is done after one year, five months,” said Zur.
“Again, someone has to walk around the fishponds shooting in the air to scare away pelicans which feed on the fish,” he added.
Israel farms carp, tilapia, grass carp, flathead mullet, striped bass, silver carp and rainbow trout, as well as rare species of ornamental fish. Farmers have put up numerous reserves built to collect water in the winter to be used in agricultural fields and fish ponds in the summer.
The collected water provides the perfect environment to breed fish, and farmers capitalise on the opportunity to synchronise crop farming and aquaculture.
To overcome scarcity of clean water, most of the country’s freshwater sources have been joined in the National Water Carrier, an integrated network of pumping stations, reservoirs, canals and pipelines which transfers water from the north, where most of the sources are, to the agricultural areas of the semi-arid south.
The farms have also adopted eco-friendly farming methods for example recycling water, tapping solar and biogas power and have now phased out conventional agriculture for organic farming, making their products a darling of consumers especially in the West.
During the farm visits, one could not fail to notice one thing: all the farm managers and farmhands kept glued to their smartphones, ostensibly for updates of the ongoings in the farms.
The gadgets form part of the key farming tools in pushing up output in a country where innovation has overshadowed the vagaries of harsh weather, limited arable land as well as expensive and scarce labour. The gadgets have literally changed the way farmers do their business.
Such is the sophistication of Israel that some 105 members of the KCB Biashara Club went there in a recent trip to pick firsthand lessons.
“The lesson I learnt is how I can put up systems for fermenting animal feeds and biogas production,” said Rose Wachira, a director at Vorna Valley, an agriculture and real estate firm. Kenya is working with Green Arava in the implementation of the Galana-Kulalu Irrigation Scheme.
Kenya’s ambassador to Israel Maj-Gen Augostino Njoroge while addressing members of Biashara Club in Jerusalem said; “The Galana-Kulalu Irrigation Scheme is just one of the projects. We will see more.
Kenya’s agriculture potential is huge and through networking and partnerships, we can lift it to such a level that the country is food secure.”