Argentine Province of Misiones Minister for Agriculture Visits the Negev with KKL-JNF

Sunday, June 22, 2014 11:26 AM

“To be in the middle of the desert and find this quality of production is exemplary...we do not have water or resources scarcity like Israel, but...we can learn from Israel how to improve the management of natural resources.”

While the climate and topography of the green Argentine Province of Misiones is very different from the arid Arava region in the south of Israel, Minister of Agriculture Mr. Nestor Ortega found that despite the differences, there are many areas where cooperation is possible. An Argentine delegation lead by Minister Ortega spent a full day - out of a seven-day road show organized by consulting firms Ocean Business & Excem Technologies - as guests of KKL-JNF touring the Arava.

Top (L-R): Ocean Business consultant Michael Frohlich; Misiones Agriculture Minister Nestor Ortega, Ocean Business CEO Isaac Chocron; Ocean Business Director Tobias Mendelovici; Ocean Business Logistics Manager Orit Abelson; Director of the Misiones Province Ministry of Agriculture Mario Cebey; KKL-JNF Guide Rebecca Nokrian; Misiones delegate of the Argentina-Israel Business Commission Dr. Samuel Pruczanski.
Bottom (L-R): Misiones Province assistant secretary of Agriculture & Production Osvaldo Victor Muller; Ms. Rosangela Schuartzer.


Minister Nester Ortega studies a species of tomato grown at the Arava R&D greenhouse. Photo: KKL-JNF

“We came with one impression of Israel and now after this inspiring visit we are going back with a wider panorama,” said Ortega on the final day of his seven day visit hosted by Ocean Business, with cooperation form Excem Technology, both technology and sustainable development consulting firms based in Israel and Spain respectively. Both act as advisors of the province of Misiones in the agro-technology field. Minister Ortega added that “The spirit of cooperation exhibited by Israeli institutions is admirable. Though on the ground many things are very different from Argentina, I discovered that there is a whole lot to learn from the Israeli agro ecosystem and many technologies and practices could be applied in Argentina leveraging on the Israeli experience. They have a lot to offer”, he concluded.

The Delegation

The minister Nelson Ortega was accompanied by his wife Mrs Rosangela Schuartzer, Misiones Province secretary of Agriculture and Production Osvaldo Victor Muller, Director of the Misiones Province Ministry of Agriculture Mario Cebey, and Misiones delegate of the Argentina-Israel Business Commission (Cámara de Comercio Argentino Israelí (CCAI)) Samuel Pruczanski. Joining them were the organizers of the seven day road show and consultants of the Misiones Region Ocean Business Excem team, headed by CEO Tobias Mendelovici, CEO of Excem technologies OB partner Isaac Chocron Benaim, senior consultant for Ocean Business and agriculture engineer Michael Frohlich, and Logistic Manager of Ocean Business-Excem Orit Abelson.

The Tour to the Arava

Rosangela Schuartzer, Danny Schnitman, Michael Frohlich, Minister Nestor Ortega & Marta Schnitman at Moshav Ein Yahav. Photo: KKL-JNF

 After a long ride down from Tel Aviv to the Arava, the delegates were able to witness the change in the Israeli landscape: from green fields and dense urban development to the sparse developing communities in the sandy desert, dotted with Bedouin tents and shepherds. They also saw the green groves planted by KKL-JNF along the main transportation arteries. KKL-JNF guide Rebecca Nokrian accompanied the delegation and explained how limited water resources in the region were overcome by the use of smart practices and technologies.

“One hundred years ago this was all desert, with only Bedouin nomad tribes living here,” she said. “One hundred and ten years of KKL-JNF activity has changed the landscape of the desert, near the main roads there are now plenty of trees and forest plantations, making the area greener and more livable, bringing oxygen and capturing carbon dioxide. This forms part of the vision and work which KKL-JNF is doing here. A tree can survive many generations and it reminds us of our connection to the land,” said Rebecca.

The Arava Research and Development Center

The Vidor Visitor's Center at the Arava R&D. Photo: KKL-JNF

The first stop was at the newly opened Arava Research and Development Vidor Visitor’s Center which was funded by JNF Australia.  The R&D center is funded by KKL-JNF in Israel and by the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture, and displays a microcosm of the Arava. They were greeted by Ma’ayan Kitron, coordinator of the flower research department at the center and by Samantha Levy a young and passionate officer of the Central Arava Regional Council. Originally from Colombia, Samantha migrated to Israel and now lives in the Arava with her husband where they grow dates and eggplants.

Levy noted that while in the Colombian deserts, there is about 500 millimeters of rain per year, in Israel the desert receives about a mere 25 millimeter of rain per year.

“What we do here in the Arava is a proof that the impossible is possible. We are the only ones who put limitations on ourselves. Farming in the desert is challenging the impossible,” Levy said.

Once upon a time, Kitron said, the whole area was covered by a vast sea, and though the sea receded, it left behind salt deposits in the sand, making the area unsuitable for agriculture. Soil has to be transported from other areas for farming, and the little water the area has is collected by KKL-JNF in water reservoirs and drilled by the Israel Water Authority.

Research at the R&D center

Rosangela Schuartzer tries a stawberry, grown in suspended pallets at the Arava R&D greenhouses. Photo: KKL-JNF

At the R & D center, researchers study how to create a habitat to suit each plant with the exact temperature and moisture levels, and experiment with different types of greenhouses to see which crop is best suited for each construction, and which is the most cost effective. A special system is used to add moisture and cooling; Water is sprayed through an insulated layer hung at one end of the greenhouse and is then sucked out by a fan at the other end. A variety of crops are grown at the research and development center, including sweet and hot peppers, eggplants, a variety of tomatoes, strawberries and flowers.

Samantha Levy mentioned that the center also studies issues of pollination, plant control and biological pest control.

Though only 10 percent of Israel’s population lives in the Arava, Ma'ayan Kitron noted, some 70 percent of Israeli agricultural exports are grown in the Arava valley, where crops can begin growing earlier and can be sent to Europe during their cold months. All the growing methods meet both American and European standards, she said.
Using one of the interactive exhibits at the visitor’s center, Kitron demonstrated how, by moving the sands, they could see how the conditions of the climate, landscape and water affect the area.

Ornamental fish at the R&D center. Photo: KKL-JNF

According to Kitron, the center is looking into breeding a variety of ornamental fish which would not only allow the local farmers to diversify their economy, but it is also less land-intensive, which would allow parents to parcel their property to several children, encouraging them to stay in the area.

Research and Development Center director Boaz Horvitz gave the delegates a presentation about the work of the center, noting that cooperation among local and international farmers is crucial.

“We all share the same problems, especially those of us from the peripheral areas,” said Horvitz. There is now a total of 550 farmers in the area, he said. The center is always looking for innovative techniques and products which will give their farmers an edge on the growing competition from European farmers, he said. “It is important to be innovative and advance ourselves. We are here to explore all options. One of our intentions is to share the knowledge we have with other farmers for a fruitful interchange of ideas.”

Ma'ayan Kitron with flowers grown at the center, for export. Photo: KKl-JNF

Horvitz mentioned that herbs, melons, watermelons, dates and onions are also among the crops grown in the area. The center works with academic institutions by taking their theoretical studies and putting it into practice and testing the results.

“Here we study each condition according to the need of each country,” said Horvitz. “We have taken the disadvantage of this place and made it into an advantage, based on creativity and innovation. We are developing special agriculture that can grow in salty water conditions.”

Through their drug discovery laboratory and environmental research, the R & D center is currently investigating using the medicinal properties of local plants in the treatment of diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes, as well as in the use of natural cosmetic products. They are also now focusing on scientific agriculture with biotechnology to create natural food supplements.

The importance of cooperation

One of the many varieties of peppers grown at the R&D center. Photo: KKL-JNF

“To be in the middle of the desert and find this quality of production is exemplary,” said Minister Ortega. “It is an example of what can be done through perseverance and applied research. We do not have water or resources scarcity like Israel, but the way we administer water and resources is wasteful, therefore we can learn from Israel how to improve the management of natural resources.”

Visiting agronomist from Misiones Mr. Mario Cebey said that he was impressed with the very defined, organized and systematic way both research and on-the-ground farming was being done successfully in the area.

“We have appreciated the Israeli technology we have seen since the first day we were here, and the smart irrigation systems we saw today are an example of that,” he said. “Today we see a desert area totally covered by different crop productions.”

Osvaldo Victor Muller by the Sheizar water reservoir. Photo: KKL-JNF

At the KKL-JNF Sheizar water reservoir, Water Authority area director Yuval Plaut met the group and explained the unique system used at the double reservoir, one reservoir which is operative and the other which is inoperative and is used to collect flood waters which slowly penetrate into the earth and is then extracted by drills for use. The earth acts as a filter to clean the water, he said. The active reservoir is covered in order to prevent evaporation and contamination. The reservoirs can hold up to 180,000 cubic meters of water.

“Although obviously I keep up with all the innovations in Israel, my expectations were exceeded,” said Mr. Samuel Pruczanski, who joined the delegation. “I saw in reality what I have always read about. Israel is forced to be a creative and innovative country and each innovation is important. They can be applied all over the world.”

After a taste of home at “La Parillita” grill, where the delegates were served “asado” and “mate cosido” by Argentine and Uruguay natives Danny and Marta Schnitman at Sapir, the group visited the AICAT, the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training, where they spoke to students from Laos who were finishing up their year of studies. The agriculture students spend a year studying at the center while at the same time getting hands-on experience working with farmers in the area.

The minister who was markedly emotive by the visit told the students that they were the hope for the future.

“You will help us find solutions to the new problems facing the world,” he said. “I am sure that when you return to your countries with the knowledge you have gained here, you will be more easily able to reach decisions and solve problems.”

Grapes growing in the Zofar vineyard in the Arava. Photo: KKL-JNF

The visit ended at the vineyard at Zofar, where farmer Bill Chaldekas, who hails originally from Detroit, showed the group how he alternated between covering his vines with plastic sheeting and open air farming to grow different varieties of grapes under different conditions. His average production is 2.5 tons per dunam, he said.

“We always heard and saw documentaries about the things Israel has done but it is one thing to hear about it, and another to see it,” said visiting agronomist Osvaldo Muller. “We have seen the products of the farmers. It is a good reminder to take advantage of every opportunity. It would be very interesting to do some interchange to help us be more productive and more efficient. Often one does not appreciate your place of origin and you don’t realize that in other places people are doing better than us under much worse conditions.”