In northern Negev Desert, a sustainable agriculture project has stood the test of science and time: offering a glimpse of the potential future of Earth-care while bringing prosperity to the Bedouin community in Israel.
Project Wadi Attir took form a decade ago when Dr. Michael Ben-Eli, in one of his trips to the Middle Eastern country, learned about the living conditions of the estimated 180,000 people of this nomadic tribe, 60 % of which live below the poverty line, according to the World Food Programme 2018 statistics.
Founder of the The Sustainability Laboratory, Ben-Eli found an opportunity to bridge the poverty gap with a land regeneration initiative that could provide real and positive social and economic opportunities to communities located near the 100-acre site.
«The Bedouin community in Israel basically represents a marginalized indigenous group. If you look at all the socio economic indicators of the country this particular community is pretty much at the bottom,» Ben-Eli said. «It is also a community that goes through the very high pressure of transition from the traditional way of life, of a nomadic community in the desert, to a stationary community in the context of the modern society, modern state of Israel.»
When Project Wadi Attir began in 2008 it had three purposes in mind: contribute to the well-being of this community, demonstrate the application of the sustainability principles and contribute to the more general 2030 Agenda.
It is divided in two main areas: first, an eco-farm for medicinal plants and open grazing; and second, several infrastructure facilities for dairy, solar energy and compost production, among other administrative and visitor centers.
The infrastructure system includes: a solar energy production system that feeds the projects utility grid and provides hot water for wool, yielding lanolin and medicinal plant’s derived cosmetics; a thoughtful water and waste management program in an already arid region; a solid waste and compost production initiative; a green building technology design; and a soil enhancement program.
The latter is one of the most fascinating before and after stories to pay close attention.
The soil enhancement program, led by Dr. Stefan Leu, a research scientist at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, sought to fight desertification by enriching the land’s organic carbon «ensuring adequate quantities of seed reserves in the soil, and strengthening cycles of nutrients and the presence of appropriate micro-organisms», according to the project’s report.
A selection of trees and appropriate plants for the climate were introduced alongside other rainwater harvesting and planting practices that were put in place.
However, in order to implement this innovative design, Ben-Eli found any approach had to take in consideration the views of the people it was seeking to impact therefore a Declaration of Principles -translated into Hebrew and Arabic- was signed by all parties involved to ensure social cohesion and agreement on the road ahead.
Although the innovative community-based enterprise was met with much joy and excitement on one part, throughout the years change of this magnitude has faced some challenges.
«The resistance has not been manifested within the project but more from the outside because a lot of the things we’ve done are not easy because of traditions and culture and the tribes do not always interact well. And we said from the beginning that the project team will reflect the cross-section of the Bedouin society itself and will not be associated with one powerful family or tribe so people can come from different places, » the sustainability expert said.
Another «unprecedented» task was the inclusion of women to the project to work alongside men because there is almost no situation in which women and men, even in a family, come together in one space.
«The most radical thing we were able to achieve was that two years ago we appointed a young Bedouin woman the CEO (Lina Alatawna) of this project and she now runs it», he said.
Between 30 and 40 families benefit from this idea, launching their own businesses on this land so they can become self-funded.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit worldwide, Bedouin contractors were employed to help build the infrastructure of this estimated US $8 million compound and more than 1,200 students were taking environmental and agricultural classes weekly in this area.
When the global health emergency began, some operations have paused due to sanitary reasons but inner circle of families working on their ventures in this area continue on a much smaller scale and following safety protocols.
Ben-Eli refers to the project as a «microcosm» of what can be possible and replicated in other parts of the Planet if people are committed and consistent in the change they want to see.
«My involvement with this project has been complete and for over a decade, this is not how usually things are done in development projects. Money funding is made available but not everybody has the time and energy to invest in that way and that is what things require in order to keep things together», the founder of The Sustainability Laboratory said.
A holistic view on sustainability is the signature approach of this US-based organization which each year launches a Global Sustainability Fellows Program, a graduate-level initiative to inspire and educate «the next generation of sustainability leaders from different fields and countries».
The Sustainability Lab’s framework, employed in Project Wadi Attir, includes five core principles related to the life, material, social, economic and spiritual domains.
With a long-term lease from the government, the project is a joint initiative of the Hura Municipal Council and The Sustainability Laboratory.
For more information visit: http://www.sustainabilitylabs.org
Photos Credits: The Sustainability Laboratory – Project Wadi Attir.