Studying the worldwide effects of Desertification in Sde Boker (part 1)

israel desert conference photo

Israel’s pioneering Desert University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), is currently hosting the 2nd biannual ‘Drylands, Deserts and Desertification‘ conference at their deep desert outpost at the Sde Boker Campus.

Day 1 has focussed upon Life and Soil Degredation in the Drylands, and has seen a wide range of experts presenting fieldwork and research from Somaliland, Nairobi, Australia, Bosnia and Herzgovina, the Mongolian Steppe, Kazakhstan, and a host of other arid and humid lands as well as Israel.

In all there are 55 countries represented, with somewhere between 320 and 350 delegates. One hundred of these are from the African continent alone.

Some of these participants have been on an Israeli Government/MASHAV programme studing agriculture and drip irrigation methods here in the desert. Their trip will end on thursday with a large tree planting event nearby on Thursday.

The conference has been initated and organised by Green Prophet hero Professor Alon Tal, who was recently honoured by the State on its 60th birthday for his contribution to Israel’s environmental protection, and is no. 2 on the Green Party’s list in the forthcoming elections.

Keynote speaker today was professor James Reynolds, of Duke University in the US, who addressed the issue of viewing the problem of desertification through the newer framework of the DDP (the Drylands development paradigm).

A fascinating story of field research Reynolds shared with the audience was that quinoa, the ‘super food from the Andes’ which is the health food of the age (and I must admit to having half a sack load of at home) is causing economic strife amongst farmers in Bolivia.

The huge demand for quinoa is causing other crops to be neglected, and the sudden income shift creates new dietary conditions, and paradoxically a lack of healthcare facilities.

This migration from the land is one of the key threads of the entire conference. Professor Aref Abu Rabia from BGU addressed potential eco tourism opportunuities through sustainable agriculture and carbon offsetting (any green investors out there?) for the Negev Bedouin community in his morning paper.

Other notable presenters today included Max Rietkerk from the Netherlands, Prof. Alan Grainger from Leeds University (UK) advocating the development of an International Forestry Commission, which would oversee all forestation/reforestation issues worldwide, and Ofer Dahan(also of BGU and its Sde Boker home, the Jacob Blaustein Institute) who has been recently profiled here on Green Prophet.

All in all, a packed day. And that’s only a quarter of the academic events! Other social events included a moonlight walk through a nearby Wadi, various fieldtrips, and the general sociability that comes from bringing so many environmentally-focussed folk together.

More news from the desert soon!
– James

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