Desertification - A Global Issue

As a country that is largely arid, Israel has met the challenge of managing desert lands and combating desertification. KKL-JNF is the leading body in this field and is more than willing to share its expertise with countries around the world.
In 1992, the United Nations held the "Earth Summit" at Rio de Janeiro, where three conventions converged – the Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biodiversity and the Convention to Combat Desertification. One of the goals of the Summit was to involve developing countries in combating desertification, particularly since they are the immediate victims of this process - a major cause of poverty to the extent that there are now “environmental refugees” who have lost their livelihood due to desertification.

Although there is total agreement on the extent of the problem, there were disagreements on definitions and on causes of desertification. Strategies for solutions have also been hotly debated. Although "dry lands" are less productive, they have the most intensive population growth rate. Consequently, the objective of the UNCCD was to reduce global poverty by combating desertification, which would be accomplished by participation and partnership between developed countries and developing countries.

KKL-JNF takes ongoing part in the work of various international organizations, among them, the following two bodies aimed at combating desertification:
  1. International Arid Land Consortium (IALC)
    The Consortium was established in 1990 by KKL-JNF, the USA, Jordan, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and five United States universities. Its aim is to advance research and experimentation in the field of arid area management and to support projects to prevent desertification in developing countries. The consortium approved a range of joint research projects, many of which involved KKL-JNF and Israel.
  2. Middle East Research Cooperation (MERC)
    Within the framework of this organization, which is part of the US State Department, important projects were carried out in the field of ecology, prevention of desertification and damage to shared and natural resources in the Middle East. KKL-JNF participated and led research to improve the understanding of afforestation activity and soil conservation in semi-arid regions.
International convention on climate change. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

KKL-JNF's International Seminar on Desertification

In December 2008, a conference was held at Sde Boker College for key officials from the ministries of agriculture of a wide range of countries, including Kenya, Ethiopia, China, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso. The seminar was initiated by MASHAV (the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Department of International Cooperation), together with KKL-JNF and the Center for International Cooperation of the Ministry of Agriculture (SINDECO).

David Brand, director of KKL-JNF’s Forestry & Development Department, led a pivot of the seminar, which addressed various aspects of open space management, forest management, the propagation of tree and bush species, tree nursery management, forest and forest-product management. He later spoke of the seminar: “The participants in the seminar took part in three concentrated days of lectures about the practical aspects of managing open areas, ranging from methods of establishing forests, collecting and germinating seeds, and managing nurseries, to utilization of the forest for production of by-products that are not wood products such as the honey industry or ecotourism.”

The seminar participants toured throughout the Negev to study the modern application of ancient methods of stopping floodwaters, soil preservation, and the restoration of wadi banks in flood regions. In addition, they also learned how to deal successfully with moving sand dunes that threaten extensive areas on the edge of the Sahara in Africa.

“We never thought about the problems through basic aspects such as those that exist in Israel,” admitted one of the Ethiopian representatives, Atu Fecado, during the concluding discussion of the seminar. “We felt that an annual rainfall of 600 millimeters was the minimum required for afforestation and for expanding forested areas. We were therefore amazed at what we saw here in Israel, particularly in the Negev where there are forests growing under conditions of only 200 millimeters of annual rainfall.”
Sde Boker conference participants in the Negev with KKL-JNF's Elisha Mizrahi. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Many of the delegates requested that the educational and professional training frameworks in Israel for their co-patriots be expanded but Dr. Omri Boneh had better advice. “The most important outcome of this seminar is that new operating methods are adopted in different countries. Each country will have to apply these methods to match its own special conditions. That is why one has to examine whether it would not be more worthwhile and effective to continue the cooperation through suitable training given by Israeli experts in your own countries, after studying the specific data for each state and region. We’ll still be here, keeping in touch with each country and able to give knowledge and advice on an ongoing basis, to provide answers for any special issues that the seminar delegates raise after their return to their own countries.”

And indeed, this proposal is already being put into practice through professional Internet networks set up by the participants of several workshops held in Israel. These international networks constitute a boundless and timeless meeting place for experts from all points of the globe who came to know each other in Israel. They keep up regular, ongoing exchanges of information among themselves and with their friends in Israel, in the same spirit that KKL-JNF imparts in all the international arenas where it participates.
Desert flora helps preserve the soil. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive