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Lessons from Israel: innovation verses adoption

Seth Siegel in his book ‘let there be water’ notes that by 2035, about 60% of the land mass will be water scarce leading to a humanitarian and economic crisis with the remaining water resources drying out.

Who would have thought a dessert country like Israel would be a model for water conservation and sustainable agriculture for many other countries worldwide to learn from? With the increasing demand for food and technologies that address agricultural production, processing, storage and packaging, food security still continues to be a great concern in the African content.

In the 1970s, Israel managed to grow a drought and pest resistant tomato variety and potatoes that could be irrigated with salty water. A country that was once a dessert became the bread basket not only for itself but for other countries. Instead of using poisonous chemicals to kill rodents that were destroying food in the farm, they began to nest barn owls which has the capacity to capture 2,500 rodents in a year. This method was much more friendly to the environment as compared to the chemicals which would be poured into the rodent holes then washed back into the farms when it rained or during irrigation of the fields.

Agricultural production can only be fruitful with reliable water supply. Over the years, due to global warming, unpredictable rainfall patterns have become the norm with years of dry episodes especially in African countries. Agriculture is no longer dependent on the rainfall. Israel has devised ways of harvesting water. The Tal Ya’s trays have been designed to trap every drop of dew. The trays are placed along the crop lines and ensure that all the morning dew is collected and channeled back to the plants. This method reduces the amount of water needed by crops by half. The trays also protect the plants from the sun and prevent weeds from growing.

Extensive use of drip irrigation for agriculture has seen the conservation of hundreds of thousands of litres of the precious commodity. The country prides itself of five functioning desalination plants which provide 50% of Israel’s drinking water and sells the surplus to neighboring Jordan and Palestine.

Other water conservation measures that the country has employed include timed showers, where after five minutes the shower switches off. Waste water is recycled for irrigation.

From good governance, encouraging conservation and making use of available technology, smart pricing and sustainable agricultural practices are some key lessons that we can learn from Israel, a country that is 60% dessert. If we could learn and adapt to the practices on water conservation, some of the challenges that Kenya is facing currently on water scarcity would be a thing of the past.

As the population increases, the pressure for the demand of more water will be felt. Access to water continues to be a challenge for most counties, we could possible start acting on the quick wins that we can borrow from this model country

Photo courtesy: Erica Nemunaitis