KIBBUTZ MASHABBE SADE, Israel — The day’s coppery last light reflects off the backs of sea bass swimming in fish ponds lined in neat rows on this desert farm.Imagine thousands of Israelis, more than eager to teach their innovations, fanning out from Yemen to Morocco, teaching people how their lives can improve, how they can not only grow their own food but export it, how their economies can grow from industries other than oil.
Fish farming in the desert may at first sound like an anomaly, but in Israel over the last decade a scientific hunch has turned into a bustling business.
Scientists here say they realized they were on to something when they found that brackish water drilled from underground desert aquifers hundreds of feet deep could be used to raise warm-water fish. The geothermal water, less than one-tenth as saline as sea water, free of pollutants and a toasty 98 degrees on average, proved an ideal match.
“It was not simple to convince people that growing fish in the desert makes sense,” said Samuel Appelbaum, a professor and fish biologist at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research at the Sede Boqer campus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
“It is important to stop with the reputation that arid land is nonfertile, useless land,” said Professor Appelbaum, who pioneered the concept of desert aquaculture in Israel in the late 1980s. “We should consider arid land where subsurface water exists as land that has great opportunities, especially in food production because of the low level of competition on the land itself and because it gives opportunities to its inhabitants.”
The next step in this country, where water is scarce and expensive, was to show farmers that they could later use the water in which the fish are raised to irrigate their crops in a system called double usage. The organic waste produced by the cultured fish makes the water especially useful, because it acts as fertilizer for the crops.
Fields watered by brackish water dot Israel’s Negev and Arava Deserts in the south of the country, where they spread out like green blankets against a landscape of sand dunes and rocky outcrops. At Kibbutz Mashabbe Sade in the Negev, the recycled water from the fish ponds is used to irrigate acres of olive and jojoba groves. Elsewhere it is also used for irrigating date palms and alfalfa.
The chain of multiple users for the water is potentially a model that can be copied, especially in arid third world countries where farmers struggle to produce crops, and Israeli scientists have recently been peddling their ideas abroad.
Dry lands cover about 40 percent of the planet, and the people who live on them are often among the poorest in the world. Scientists are working to share the desert aquaculture technology they fine-tuned here with Tanzania, India, Australia and China, among others.
“Each farm could run itself, which is important in the developing world,” said Alon Tal, a leading Israeli environmental activist who recently organized a conference on desertification, with the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and Ben-Gurion University, that brought policy makers and scientists from 30 countries to Israel.
“A whole village could adopt such a system,” Dr. Tal added.
At the conference, Gregoire de Kalbermatten, deputy secretary general of the antidesertification group at the United Nations, said, “We need to learn from the resilience of Israel in developing dry lands.”
Israel, long heralded for its agricultural success in the desert through innovative technologies like drip irrigation, has found ways to use low-quality water and what is considered terrible soil to grow produce like sweet cherry tomatoes, peppers, asparagus and melon, marketing much of it abroad to Europe, especially during winter.
Imagine how much Western investment would be attracted to industries that Israelis could start in Arabia, employing tens of thousands of Arabs.
Imagine how much better life would be in Arab countries if they didn't teach their children that Jews and Zionists are evil, if they didn't incite their people to hate, if they would accept the idea that a Jewish state in their midst at peace with them can make their own lives better.
Alas.....it is very, very hard to imagine all this.
So who will benefit? Countries like Tanzania, India, Australia and China. The Arab world will be left behind yet again, because of their stubbornness and misplaced "pride."
(Other "Israel saving the world" articles here and here.)