Transforming agriculture in Africa

By Enos Denhere

Agriculture in Israel is a highly developed industry. Israel is a major exporter of fresh produce and a world-leader in agricultural technologies despite the fact that the geography of the country is not naturally conductive to agriculture. More than half of the land area is desert, and the climate and lack of water resources do not favor farming. Only 20% of the land area is naturally arable. In 2008 agriculture represented 2.5% of total GDP and 3.6% of exports.

While farmworkers made up only 3.7% of the work force, Israel produced 95% of its own food requirements, supplementing this with imports of grain, oilseeds, meat, coffee, cocoa and sugar.Israel is home to two unique types of agricultural communities, the kibbutz and moshav, which developed as Jews all over the world made aliyah to the country and embarked on rural re-settlement .

Desert agriculture in Israel is one of the country’s greatest successes, and something at which Israel leads the world. The Negev Desert which covers over 60% of the country has actually shrunk in size over the past century as agricultural activity has turned sand into green fields, the opposite to the desertification trend which much of the rest of the world is battling to prevent. Even in the depths of Israel’s Negev Desert are gems of agriculture amid the harsh, dry conditions, and relatively mineral-deprived sandy soil.

Israeli company Netafim invented modern drip irrigation technology in the 1960’s. This allowed the precious and scarce water resources of the desert to be used at extreme limits to grow crops.

Among the most noteworthy crops grown in the Israeli desert are cherry tomatoes – the modern strain which are found in grocery stores around the world was developed in the Negev. The cherry tomatoes grown in the Negev are 2-3 times sweeter than those found elsewhere due to the amount of water used, and the unique qualities of minerals found in the water. Today, agriculturalists are developing even newer strains of the tomato to increase yields further (already the Negev grows 3-4 times greater yields of tomatoes compared to elsewhere in the world).

As well as cherry tomatoes, the Negev is home to fish farms, olive groves, plantations of many varieties of fruit and vegetable, and many more unusual crops which are selected based on their response to the desert conditions. In recent years, these include peppers, which, although not innately positively responding to the conditions of the Negev, taste far sweeter than those from elsewhere when grown in the region.

A unique agricultural research station in the Ramat Negev region is working together with the farmers from the region to develop strains of crops best suited to the Negev’s climate, water resources, and soil conditions, and test new techniques from growth.

In the Judean Desert, near the Northern Dead Sea(the Megilot Region), more impressive desert agriculture is taking place. Here, farmers are able to make use of the minerals from the Dead Sea which can also be found in the soils and sands that lie on the ground which create especially strong-tasting crops including onions, and basil which is considered to be the best in the world..

As exciting as technological innovations are, making them impactful will require a broadening of perspective. Agronomists and plant scientists have made incredible progress in understanding what crops need in order to flourish.

Now In Africa, we need to develop a similar understanding of what farmers need in order to flourish. Without such an understanding, even the most revolutionary technologies will likely remain unused by the hundreds of millions of smallholders who grow Africa’s food.Take drip irrigation, the most famous Israeli agricultural technology. Drip irrigation is proven to deliver the dual benefit of increased production and reduced water, fertilizer and herbicide requirements, exactly what so many Africa farmers need. Africa be innovative and utilise your land and feed your people .