UN Executive Secretary for Combating Desertification Visits KKL-JNF Negev Projects

Sunday, June 15, 2014

"We want to invite KKL-JNF to take part in our research and to share your methods of coping with desertification" said Monique Barbut.

In anticipation of the June 17 United Nations World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, Ms. Monique Barbut, the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, was a guest of KKL-JNF in the Western Negev, where she learned about KKL-JNF's achievements in desert afforestation, soil erosion prevention, water reclamation and conservation, and more.

R-L: Moti Shriki, Liri Eitan, Dr Avishai Mor, Ami Uliel, David Brand, Monique Barbut, Karine Bolton,
Elizabeth David, Pablo Chercasky. Photo: Tania Susskind

"If there's one country that should be a part of the desertification convention, it would clearly have to be Israel, which is why we want to invite KKL-JNF to take part in our research and to share your methods of coping with desertification." Monique Barbut the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), was speaking on Wednesday, June 11 at KKL-JNF's Gilat Tree and Plant nursery in the western Negev. Ms. Barbut, was accompanied by Elizabeth David, Coordinator for Knowledge, Management, Science and Technology and Dr. Avishai Mor of MASHAV, Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Agency for International Development Cooperation. The small group was greeted by KKL-JNF Chief Forester David Brand, KKL-JNF Southern Region Director Ami Uliel, KKL-JNF Director of International Cooperation and Conferences Karine Bolton, Gilat Nursery Director Pablo Chercasky and KKL-JNF Foresters Gil Siaki and Moti Shriki.

Photo: Tania Susskind

The visit began with lunch at the David Nahmias Center at the Gilat Nursery, during which the group got right down to business, which was discussing desertification and KKL-JNF's contribution towards combating desertification. The experience, practical know-how and technologies developed by KKL-JNF in desert afforestation, water reclamation and conservation, and soil erosion prevention, are all of great interest to the UNCDD, since it can serve as a model for countries in similar semi-arid and arid regions of the world. The importance that Ms. Barbut assigns to Israel as a world leader in combating desertification was highlighted by her choice to visit Israel just a few days before the UN's World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought (WDCD), which will take place on June 17. 

Pablo Chercasky described the nursery's goals and how it develops strains of trees and shrubs that can thrive in semi-arid regions, where annual precipitation does not exceed 250 - 350 mms. The 50-acre Gilat Nursery serves as a testing ground for trees and shrubs from all over the world in order to determine which species are suitable for growing in Israel. Besides trees and shrubs for forests, Gilat Nursery also grows plants for the parks and gardens of local schools, towns and villages, and army bases.

Photo: Tania Susskind

Ms. Barbut was very impressed by how developed the root system of the saplings is before they are planted in the ground, commenting that this method "is very simple and very smart." David Brand added that when KKL-JNF first started growing saplings, "our success rate was 60%, but now it's up to 90-91%, which is extraordinary."

After visiting the nursery, the group proceeded to Wadi Tzeida, a nearby dry creek located next to agricultural fields. Local farmers were cultivating and irrigating the gully heads and dry riverbeds, leading to land degradation and erosion. In order to remedy this problem, KKL-JNF has been planting trees on either side of the creek, which stabilize the land and absorb the pesticides. All the trees planted are native to Israel, including acacias, tamarisks and carobs. David Brand explained that there was a need to negotiate with the farmers, because they had to give up land for water management. Eventually, they realized that the KKL-JNF project would be for their benefit not only in the short run, but also for their children and grandchildren. Future plans include creating bicycle paths next to the creeks for the many visitors who come to this area to enjoy an open space where there are no electric lines or houses as far as the eye can see. The crevices created by the runoff are a habitat for desert lizards, birds and other fauna.

Wadi Tzeida. Photo: Tania Susskind

Before leaving, Ms. Barbut said that she was very impressed by what she had seen during her short visit. "At the nursery, I really liked your lo-tech innovations, which in my opinion can be very useful in other places in the world that face similar challenges. My discussions with the KKL-JNF personnel have been very fruitful. One of my immediate conclusions is that your achievements in combating desertification should be publicized, since they can serve as a showcase for what you have accomplished.

"I very much look forward to future cooperation with KKL-JNF and hope that KKL-JNF will join our NGO network. I want KKL-JNF to be part of the flow of information, and I can envision working with you south of the Sahara, in Africa, and in fellowship programs. I would also like to encourage collaborations with the Palestinian Authority, since you obviously are facing the same problems in the same region."

KKL-JNF Director of International Cooperation and Conferences Karine Bolton summed up the visit: "It's very encouraging to see how excited an international experts like Monique Barbut is about what we've accomplished. It reinforces my conviction that KKL-JNF's knowledge and expertise can help combat desertification throughout the world."

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