Israel’s Need for Desert Agricultural Innovation

Any development of the Negev depends first and foremost on short and long-term water sources. Because of its scarcity however, fresh water is becoming a limited resource in Israel and in the Middle East. Water reserves are dwindling every year. Israel currently requires 53 billion gallons of water per year. Traditionally, the Israeli government has used pricing as a tool for water resource management or, in times of severe crisis, cuts water allocations. In the agricultural sector, this usually means having to cultivate less water-intensive crops, such as citrus, cotton and grains.

Israel currently grows and produces 85% of its food, supplemented by grain, oil, meat, coffee, cocoa and sugar imports. In the next few years, Israel’s food self-sufficiency – the country's national food security -- may be threatened. 65% of the fresh water currently used for agriculture will not be available. If present trends continue, half of Israel's current farmlands will have been sold or converted for industrial, commercial or residential use. Fueled by immigration, Israel's population is projected to grow from 6 million to 10 million in the next decade. It is obvious that Israel must find alternative sources of water. Brackish water irrigation in Israel accounts for only 8% (30% in the Negev), of the agricultural sector's total use.

Israel, historically, has had to make the most of its limited fertile land and water resources, and has, by necessity, given birth to a cadre of scientists and engineers, who lead the world - 115 per 10,000 population (the US is second, with 85 scientists per 10,000). With little fresh water, but an almost unlimited underground supply of brackish (salty) water, Israeli researchers in applied desert agriculture have, over the past two decades, concentrated on developing new technologies for brackish water irrigation of crops. Even though brackish water is abundant in most desert regions in the world, such innovative research had never been conducted before, and Israeli expertise and experience gained carries broad local, regional and international ramifications.