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Guest post by: Sarah Ozacky-Lazar
Project Wadi Attir involves an unusual initiative to develop, near the town of Hura, an ecological farm adapted to an arid zone, based on Bedouin experience and tradition and leveraged with advanced green technologies. The project is organized as an agricultural cooperative, the first of its kind in the Bedouin community. The idea is winning broad-based support and even palatable enthusiasm.
Only a day following the Bedouin demonstration in front of the Prime Minister Office to object to the Prower Plan, an impressive ceremony took place in the middle of the desert to inaugurate project Wadi Attir – “a model sustainable desert community.” The ambitious plan, developed over the last four years with the collaboration of a diverse group of partners, calls for the development of a model ecological farm, based on Bedouin experience and tradition but leveraged with advanced green technologies and demonstrating the application of sustainability principles. The core of the project will comprise an organic farming enterprise involving a mixed flock of sheep and goats for the production of organic meat and dairy products, the cultivation of medicinal plants and the development of a related range of health and beauty products, and the reintroduction and cultivation of nutritious, desert-hardy, indigenous vegetables. Solar energy will be used for the production of electricity and for cooling, as part of an integrated technology infrastructure that will also include the production of bio-gas, the treatment of waste water and the production of compost from organic waste. The site will also house a visitors, research, training, and education center. The project will create many employment opportunities, including for women from local communities. The farm will be managed as an agricultural cooperative, the first of its kind in the Bedouin community.
You had to rub your eyes to believe, that inside the large plastic tent – quite un-Bedouin in style – that was erected near Hura, seated together were partners in this initiatives, many of whom were considered heretofore as adversaries to the Bedouin community, and all were applauding and praising the plan and promising to invest the best of their resources.
The Jewish National Fund announced a special funding drive for the project, the Israel Land Authority provided more than 100 acres for the farm, the Minister for development of the Negev and the Galilee approved an allocation of 10 million NIS, people from the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Agriculture support the plan enthusiastically, researchers from the Ben-Gurion University and Sede Boqer will provide scientific support and, of course, leaders of Bedouin communities in the area all hope that what will emerge in Wadi Attir will be truly the harbinger of change.
Netafim, the drip irrigation company from Kibbutz Hatzerim, will develop the irrigation system, and the near by kibbutz Kramim will provide organic fodder for the animals, foundations and individual donors from abroad are doing their share, and the list goes on.
The initiator and driving spirit behind this enterprise is Dr. Michael Ben-Eli, founder and director of the Sustainability Laboratory inNew York. The Lab is involved in developing long term solution to problems that are affecting the whole world – the on going adverse impacts of human activities on the environment and their potentially destructive and irreversible consequences for the planet. Ben-Eli’s philosophy attempts at achieving “a dynamic equilibrium in the interaction between population and the carrying capacity of the environment.” He believes that in order to bring to an end the destruction of the environment, isolated local effort, worth while as they are will not be enough, rather, a fundamental change is required in thinking and in the underlying attitude of humans to one another and to the world. The small laboratory he founded is in his mind the answer to the large, advanced and well funded military laboratories that are devoted to the development of destructive weapons. His hope is to switch the use of the most advanced technologies to long term support and wellbeing of all humans and nature, instead. For example, he believes that traditional methods developed over generations in different ecological zones on the planet could be combined with intensive, appropriate use of the most advanced technology innovation, for the production of clean energy, recycling of water, enhancement of soils, and agricultural production.
In a parallel to project Wadi Attir that, according to Ben-Eli will act as a model for sustainable desert communities in other parts of the world, he is involved in developing an initiative in Costa Rica, a tropical region rich in rainforests and water resources, applying similar principles which will be relevant to other wet tropics ecologies. He dreams that in the future the Lab will see the development of a network of similar initiatives, in all parts of the world, linked by a system of sharing experience and knowledge, fostering change in an increasingly depleted planet and contributing to peace and prosperity for all.
Within this broader global vision, it must be seen as a significant achievement that so may diverse groups in Israel– government ministries and agencies, research institutions and kibbutzim, got inspired by this project and joined in an unusual effort to collaborate with the Bedouins of Hura. The town’s Mayor, Dr. Mohammed Alnabari, who has been working shoulder to shoulder with Ben-Eli during the last few years, is optimistic, calling the project a “breakthrough initiative.” Mariam Abu Rakayek, a member of the founding group of the cooperative says that this project opens opportunities to all – man and women, young and old – to learn from one another and to demonstrate how a collaborative effort can contribute to the betterment of the community.
If the good spirit which prevailed in the tent, during the ceremony will continue to dominate the project during its implementation, perhaps it will also bring hope for meaningful change in the difficult relationship between the state and the Bedouin population in the Negev.