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Power of We: Making the Desert Bloom

By: admin

By: Amy Styer

How do you make the desert bloom? Actually that question should read “how do you make the desert in a young country with almost no natural resources bloom?” The short answer is lots of manure, plastic pipes, and a Swiss Army knife.

When I signed up to be a kibbutz volunteer in Israel, I envisioned myself in the verdant green fields of the Galilee region. At the volunteer office, I was handed a piece of paper that said Kibbutz Grofit in the Negev Desert. As the bus sank further and further away from the hills of Jerusalem to the lowest point on earth, the landscape switched from urban congestion to craggy mountains surrounded by valleys of sand without so much as a power line in sight.

I arrived at Kibbutz Grofit in the spring when the date growing season begins. Dates are an important crop because they raise money for cash-strapped kibbutzim. I was sent to work in the date fields with volunteers from Sweden, Norway, and South Africa. Our job was to plant a new date field in a patch of sand. We were joined by scientists from India and China who came to Israel because it is a global leader in agricultural research and technology. The power of we was felt by our international group who were going on to teach farmers in water-strapped areas the techniques learned in Israel. The scientists were there to learn about drip irrigation specifically. The China I pictured as forests filled with bamboo and panda bears, is actually covered in large areas of desert.  India has to be increasingly resourceful in order to feed its growing population.

Fresh Date Crop

Fresh date crop.

Drip irrigation is one of the most important farming techniques of the twenty-first century. It brings the possibility of farming to areas once thought too parched. Since much of Israel is desert, and the parts that aren’t are challenged with water shortages, drip irrigation was borne out of the necessity to survive. The process has been refined by the invention of plastic tubes that resist clogging. Drip irrigation is considered green because it waters crops with a fraction of the water used by sprinklers and other traditional methods. Nearly all of the water goes to the roots of plants and is not wasted in run-off or evaporation.

Drip Irrigation Line

Drip irrigation line.

The first step in setting up the date field was supplying water. A hose was secured to a water main. We then dragged the hose out to the field. It was a hot morning, over 40°C (104°F), and I was the lucky one chosen to see if the water would flow. I held the hose that looked like a giant anaconda up against my body. I thought a splash of water would cool me down. The leader of our group, a man named Juan from Colombia, turned the valve and we waited to hear the gurgle of water. Slowly the water spilled out. I was splashed with a brown stinky mess. I didn’t know it was recycled water from a local treatment plant. Because of the severity of the water situation in Israel, agricultural water is recycled from household usage.

Having ensured a water supply, we moved on to the next step of laying the lines. Digging in sand takes patience, a lot of it. As soon as I lifted the shovel, sand would slide into the hole I had created. I had to dig twice as deep as was needed to account for this. The deceptively simple looking pipes were then buried in the ground. Harnessing the velocity of water, the long pipes would manage an even water flow. A computer system back at the kibbutz monitored the lines and would alert the members of any problems.

Small date saplings were unloaded from a truck. Date trees have spearlike thorns that will prick your hands and make them go numb. We were handed leather gloves to wear, but the thorns still punctured the hide. In pairs we dug holes, packed in manure, and planted the saplings. We cut a hole in the drip irrigation line at the site of the date tree and inserted a valve. After a while this became a rhythm of digging and cutting. Partners realized their strengths and established efficient systems. Alternating digging, one would cut the line, one would install the valve; we worked like this for weeks.

Drip Irrigation Line Around a Date Tree
Drip irrigation line around a date tree.

At the close of our final day, we sat with sodas dripping condensation caused by the hot sun, and looked at our work. Our hands, arms, and legs were filled with cuts and our cheeks were bright red. We envisioned blooming fields in the places we would travel to—Jordan, Egypt, India, and China.  The power of we is the power of people to come together from the corners of the world and make trees blossom where there had been sand. The power of we is innovating and sharing farming techniques to eradicate food shortages and starvation.

Amy Styer is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem, Israel.

Posted on: October 15, 2012, 6:00 am Category: Blog Action Day Tagged with: , , , , ,

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