How do we ensure that the farmers of the western Negev not only survive, but emerge once again as global leaders in agricultural production?
Israel made the desert bloom. Against all odds, a group of visionary pioneers realized an agricultural miracle.
They turned a dry, rocky, barren desert quite literally into a garden of Eden. And this was the true triumph of Zionism, a pioneering spirit and no small dose of ingenuity and innovation.
No region embodies this triumph more than the western Negev. Producing 70% of the country’s fresh vegetables, 20% of the fruit and 6.5% of the dairy, visitors came from all over the world to view this miracle.
But on October 7th all of our lives changed.
Everything we knew to be true collapsed. Lives were lost, loved ones murdered, families taken hostage, homes burnt down, communities broken and livelihoods destroyed. The organizing principle the ‘conceptzia’ that governed our lives is no longer. We need to overcome trauma, rise up and rebuild from scratch.
This is especially true for the farming communities – the kibbutzim, the moshavim and the independent farmers – of the western Negev who bore the brunt of the brutal attack and were thrown into an existential crisis.
The immediate damage is self-evident and devastating:
- Millions of dollars’ worth of equipment stolen or destroyed – yes, there are Israeli tractors being driven around Gaza
- Over $500 million in lost income
- Widespread infrastructure damage
- Loss of 7000+ experienced farmworkers
- Grave damage to the soil impacting its fertility for years to come
But the real concern is that October 7th created a crisis which threatens the very existence of the pioneering agriculture of the western Negev.
The long-lasting implications include:
- Food insecurity for the State of Israel
- National security, through the agriculture undertaken right up to our borders
- And critically, the very future of the agricultural communities themselves. As farmers told us, in no uncertain terms, if we do not rebuild the agriculture, there will be no foundation upon which to rebuild the communities.
So the question we must ask, is how do we ensure the farmers can not only survive, but grow back stronger?
First, we must acknowledge that our goal has to be to secure the long term future.
In that sense, the farmers and the pioneering agricultural of the Western Negev are one of the overlooked casualties of that very dark Shabbat.
Yes, thousands of volunteers have flocked to their aid to harvest produce that would otherwise have wasted in the fields, sometimes even at considerable risk due to ongoing rocket fire. The efforts are commendable.
What has gained less attention, however, is the critical need to secure the long term future of these same farmers and their farms.
Long term means the next 20 years.
It means long-term agricultural planning for the region.
It means thoughtful innovation to overcome the challenges of today and tomorrow.
It means the integration of environmentally sustainable practices to ensure the soil for the next generations.
It means educating the next generation and creating an attractive and profitable agricultural framework to lure younger farmers to the region.
And ultimately it means putting in place NOW the systems, centers and services that will serve the future of the region.
Second, to find the right solutions and innovations we must bring the farmers and experts TOGETHER.
This is one of the secret ingredients of Israel’s renowned agricultural miracle – and a subject on which I have written extensively. And we must incorporate the approach again at this time of need.
The slogan of the war is “together we shall win – יחד ננצח” and so it must be translated from the battlefield to the agricultural fields.
- The farmers must present their reality and challenges in the field
- The experts must listen and learn
- And TOGETHER they can innovate – devising relevant, practical and effective solutions
Finally, our efforts must focus on four key areas which present the biggest challenges and opportunities for the farmers today:
- Farming First Aid – ensuring the farmers’ immediate needs are addressed urgently, filling the gap currently left by the government. Primarily the replacement of agricultural equipment and ensuring soil rehabilitation at scale.
- Economic Resilience
- Automation – introducing robotics and automation along all aspects of the value chain to reduce dependence on foreign labour.
- Diversification – introducing more profitable crops and the crops of tomorrow.
- Environmental Sustainability – ensuring the farming undertaken integrates the latest knowledge and innovation on agricultural sustainability and regenerative agriculture.
- Education – focusing on cutting edge agricultural science for the next generation and providing the farmers with world class training to integrate the latest agri-tech innovations.
As our first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion said, “It is in the Negev where the creativity and pioneering vigor of Israel shall be tested” And so it shall be.
Israel made the desert bloom. And we will do it again.