A Chilean Study Tour Starring the Israeli Pine Nut

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 1:08 PM

“Here KKL-JNF are like magicians of hope, to plant trees where almost no one can plant is marvelous."

Chilean forester Veronica Loewe leads an INFOR delegation to Israel to study KKL-JNF's cultivation of the Pinus Pinea in Israel on arid and semi-arid lands, in order to cultivate the tree for pine nut harvesting in Chile. 

How did the journey start?

Veronica Loewe with young Pinus Pinea.
Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

Little did Chilenean forester Veronica Loewe know that when she began searching for her family roots, she would also find help with another type of roots close to her heart: planting and raising the Pinus pinea—commonly known as the stone pine tree—to give farmers in her country another crop option.

In 1939, Loewe’s grandfather escaped from Nazi Germany with his family to Chile while his sister came to Israel. Though there had been some contact between the two siblings, it was eventually lost through distance and time. Two years ago, Loewe’s brother began a genealogical search and they were able to track down their cousins in Israel with whom they began corresponding via the internet.

At the same time, Loewe, who is chief of projects at the Chile Ministry of Agriculture’s research Forest Institute, INFOR, and has been researching the Pinus pinea for 20 years, began seeking out Mediterranean stands of the tree. It is from this tree that the much coveted pine nut, which is used heavily in Mediterranean cooking and has become popular in many kitchens worldwide in recent years, is harvested.

Having already visited the principle pine nut producing countries, INFOR researchers discovered that Israel had some 2000 hectares of the Pinus pinea trees growing in arid conditions similar to those in parts of Chile which they had not been able to study in the other countries.

During a conversation with her cousin, Dan Ben Yehuda from the southern city of Omer, Loewe mentioned her desire to come to Israel to learn more about how the trees are grown here. He immediately suggested they contact the KKL-JNF forestry experts for help.

Along with her colleague Claudia Delard, a researcher at INFOR, Loewe was thrilled to discover KKL Chile, which helped organize a week-long study visit the first week of December for the two researchers along with Pinus pinea plantation owner Lucia Araheda.

Pine trees in the mountains and desert

Johannes Guagnin, Moshe Tzuckerman, Veronica Loewe, Aviram Tzuk, Claudia Delard in pinus pinea stand in Martyrs Forest. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

During their visit, the delegation was accompanied by Aviram Tzuk, Upper Galilee and Golan Heights regional director, and KKL-JNF Director of Latin American Department Resources and Development Ariel Goldgewicht.

“We are like sponges absorbing all the information that KKL-JNF is sharing with us,” said Loewe on the third day of their visit.

Though the Pinus pinea is not planted in Israel to harvest its fruit, Loewe said the researchers were eager to learn from KKL-JNF’s experience with the tree in arid and semi arid areas, since there are similar conditions in parts of Chile where they would like to introduce the tree.

Their study tour included visits to the Northern region where a tour of the KKL-JNF Golani Nursery focused on the challenges and successes in growing the Pinus pinea in Israel, and a visit to the Southern Negev region to tour Pinus pinea stands in the desert. The tour to the south included a visit to Ambassadors Forest, where they learned about methods in combating desertification and afforestation in semi-arid regions, such as the ancient terrace system and the more modern liman system, which uses shallow dams around planted trees to trap runoff water from flashfloods, allowing it to get absorbed into the soil as a pose to flowing away.

“The knowledge that KKL-JNF has in harvesting water, combined with seeing how the Pinus pinea grows in an arid zone with the techniques of soil and water conservation, was very interesting,” said Delard. “In that they are world leaders. We are looking to learn from their experience with the soil, Pinus pinea and water conservation. It is fantastic. They have done magic with the water conditions they have. Seeing all those forests is really magical.”
The liman and special dryland terracing watering systems used by KKL-JNF really produce results, she added.

Araheda also said she was impressed by the watering systems used and would incorporate the knowledge she had gained about techniques used by KKL-JNF in her own plantation.
“They take advantage of every last drop of rain water,” Araheda noted. “I am very impressed how they can conduct the water towards the trees using only the natural materials available to them, such as rocks.”
The diamond of dry fruit

Claudia Delard with pinus pinea seed. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

On December 3 the delegation also visited the central region with the KKL-JNF Forestry Department in Eshtaol, where Loewe gave a presentation of the work they have been doing in Chile to KKL-JNF foresters and entomologists.

Loewe said that while there is a growing demand for the costly pine nut, supply has been diminished by the prevalence of the Laptolosus Ocidentales insect which is attacking the trees. She and her colleagues see a good opportunity for Chile to enter the market with high quality pine nuts because of the geographical restrictions in their country which serve as a preventive barrier for the insect, as well as strict importation rules which regulate outside agricultural products being brought into Chile.

Loewe said they hope to begin planting in 2014 with the first 3000 hectares and expect to begin seeing an increase in Chile production of the pine nut, known as the “diamond of dry fruit,” in about seven years. With current methods, it takes about three days to produce one kilo of the nut, which is highly prized for its flavor as well as nutritional content, though at the moment much of the world market demand is being fulfilled by lower quality nuts from China rather than the Mediterranean variety which they hope to grow, she added.

Presenting for KKL-JNF, Jerusalem Hills Forest District Manager Chanoch Zoref spoke about KKL-JNF’s efforts in creating master plans for regional forests both in order to provide a variety of ecosystem services as well as increasing the mixed vegetation in forests.

During the meeting, the KKL-JNF foresters and Chilenean researchers exchanged ideas about forest management as well as insect control techniques and the visitors offered their hosts tastes of pine nuts grown in Chile.

Seeds of hope

Aviv Eizenband, KKL Director of Forestry and Professional Development Dept with pinecone. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

The group then went on a hike led by KKL-JNF forester Moshe Tzuckerman in KKL-JNF's Martyrs Forest, which had been affected by two devastating forest fires in the 1970’s and 1990’s, in order to see the natural regeneration of a stand of Pinus Pinea.

The researchers finished off their tour of the forest by planting their own trees at the KKL-JNF Nachshon Tree Planting Center.

“We have a special relation with Chile because they also have a very strong connection with nature. Ecology and conservation is also very important in Chile, so the connection comes very naturally to us,” said Goldgewicht. “We can contribute a lot through our experience.”

The delegation also visited the KKL-JNF Beit Nehemia Seed Collection and Treatment Center where Aviv Eizenband, Director of Forestry and Professional Development briefed them on their work of collecting, drying, sorting and storing seeds from various trees grown in the area.  Eizenband provided the researchers with samples of Pinus pinea seeds which the center had stored, which was exactly what the Chilean researchers were looking for, in order complete a study they are conducting together with an Argentine colleague about the nutritional chemical composition of Pinus pinea grown in different geographical regions.

“Here KKL-JNF are like magicians of hope, to plant trees where almost no one can plant is marvelous. They have interesting techniques for soil and environmental conservation. They represent the soul of Israel,” said Loewe, who will be staying on in Israel at the end of her study tour in order to finally meet the many members of her newly-found family in Israel.

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