Israel makes the desert bloom, again


[..] 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. CONTINUE

January 5, 2007 | 2 Comments »

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