The Vidor Center: Gateway to Agriculture in the Negev and Arava

By Shayna Hulkower

We've written many times here before about different kibbutzim in the Negev (southern region of Israel) doing incredible things with agriculture and for the environment. While I definitely recommend touring the individual kibbutzim to see first hand the amazing things they are doing, there are more concentrated ways to explore the region. The Vidor Center, located on the grounds of the Yair Agricultural Research and Development Station, gives visitors interested in learning more about how Israel is able to make the desert bloom - as Ben Guiron once promised. Anyone who has had the opportunity to visit the Negev will understand first hand, how harsh and desolate the landscape can be. The fact that Jews are able to coax anything to grow in such hot and dry conditions is nothing short of a miraculous event! The Vidor Center goes into detail about the different farms are able to thrive. It also has exhibits about plant and animal life in the region, such as tiny ibexes which are unique to Israel, and acacia trees, which are found in most deserts all over the world.

There are also interactive exhibits that allow users to alter the topography of the desert over the computer, which also gives the users the chance to understand desertification first hand, and ways it can be prevented or reversed. 

There are two areas that are often used interchangeably when referring to the south - the Negev and the Arava. The Negev is the name of the desert that comprises most of southern Israel, starting around Be'er Sheva and continuing until the Eilat and the Red Sea. The Arava is a valley that runs along the western boarder of Israel and Jordan, reaching from the Dead Sea also down to Eilat. The Arava is a region within the Negev. Within the Arava are over 600 farms of varying sizes, which are responsible for most of the produce Israel exports, as well as an institute that bears its name. Here, Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian students come together to learn about sustainable development and agriculture. The institute also has a school just for international students to bring back innovative agricultural techniques to their home countries. So far students from the Philippines, Vietnam, Nepal, Thailand, and Mynamar have come to learn and serve as ambassadors of Israel.

Within the greater Negev itself there are many farms and the Ramat Negev Agro-Research Center. Unique R&D coming out of this center focuses on utilizing the region's plentiful, but not potable, brackish water for irrigation. Brackish water is water that is too salty to drink, but not as salty as sea water. Many underground fresh water reservoirs can become tainted with salt water from unsustainable usage, resulting in brackish water, so the work being done here can be helpful to people all over the world. Other agricultural innovations coming out of the region include strawberries that grow from overhead bins, making it easier to harvest, and less susceptible to insects and rot than conventionally grown strawberries. Stay tuned, who knows what sort of innovations are still to be developed!

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