A week ago, I was filled with pride to participate in the stone laying ceremony for the Wadi Attir project. It marked the official beginning of a worthy project, which Netafim has been working on for over a year.
The ceremony took place in a large Bedouin tent located near the Bedouin village, Hura. Present at the ceremony were Government Minister Silvan Shalom, Ministry of Agriculture representatives, and the head of the Southern Bedouin community.
Our involvement in this project is voluntary as we look upon it as our ethical duty to help the Bedoin population. It was very heartwarming to hear the various speakers at the ceremony shower praise on the work that Netafim has been doing to improve the Bedouin situation.
The Situation of the Bedouins in the Negev
The Bedouin population of the Negev numbers about 180,000 residents. Most of this population lives in villages which are not legally recognized by the government, and therefore are not entitled to various social services, such as education, health, housing, and water. They have a high birth rate, and are in a very low socioeconomic bracket, with high unemployment, and over 60% under the poverty level. Many work as shepherds.
Netafim Becomes Involved in the Wadi Attir Project
These past few years, we have been very busy installing our drip systems throughout third world communities in the world, helping them to achieve sustainability.
We decided that it was our obligation to think of ways to help our neighbors who are also in a very difficult situation, by using our knowledge and experience in using drip irrigation to help them achieve sustainability.
The opportunity to help out locally came about two years ago, when my friend Tani Katz, who knows about my interest in sustainability, approached me to discuss how we can help the Bedouins in the Negev achieve sustainability. I introduced Tani to my acquaintance, Dr. Michael Ben-Eli, founder of the Sustainability Laboratory. They discussed their ideas of promoting sustainability for Bedouins in the Negev. Dr. Michael Ben-Eli then began discussing with Dr. Mohammed Alnabari, the Mayor of Hura, ideas on how to initiate a project of sustainable agriculture for Bedouins while preserving their tradition.
Setting the Objectives of the Wadi Attir Project
The objectives set for the project are:
- To utilize the local authentic talent to advance the social and economic development of the Bedouin community, while changing the dynamics from a model of despair to a model of success
- To strengthen the professional knowledge and abilities of the project participants, and indirectly of the entire Bedouin community
- To preserve the environment while planning and implementing the project
- To create new job opportunities and promoting economic independence, while integrating women in the work force
- To develop a model for other projects for Bedouins in similar regions
The Kickoff of the Wadi Attir Project
Dr. Michael Ben-Eli has begun implementing this project, with the support of the JNF and a grant from the Venture Fund. The project is working to develop a sustainable, self-sufficient community in the Bedouin village of Hura, which will be sensitive to the rich Bedouin tradition and suitable to the desert region. This project plans to develop an ecological agricultural farming operation for growing native medicinal plants, indigenous vegetables, raising sheep, producing dairy products with longer shelf lives and that don’t require refrigeration, and growing fodder for sheep. It is expected that this project will also create jobs, including employment opportunities for women.
Besides improving the quality of life in Hura, the main objective of the project is to create a model to use in developing other such communities in desert areas.
Netafim is Designing the Irrigation System
A committee was formed to plan the project. Many of the committee’s meetings have been taking place at Netafim, and usually include a multidisciplinary team. Meetings are attended by people from Netafim, Ben-Gurion University, the Negev Research Center, and Bedouins, many who come in their traditional attire. Planning is proceeding smoothly, with the combination of the Bedouin’s tradition and our knowledge resulting in a very natural and constructive atmosphere.
From the beginning stages of our planning, it became clear that this project requires someone to be responsible for the irrigation system. As water is scarce and expensive in the desert, it is crucial to have a good water management program. Dan Columbus, a longtime member of Kibbutz Hazerim and, and a highly competent engineer at Netafim, with vast experience in the designing of irrigation systems, volunteered very enthusiastically from his time and expertise, to design the irrigation system for the project.