A Date in the Desert

By: Jesse De Boer | Lead Permaculture Manager

Africa is the second largest and second most populous continent accounting for 16% of the world’s population. It is also the hottest continent on earth with 60% of its land surface classified as arid or semi arid (ASAL) and in the next twenty years its population is predicted to grow by an additional 2 billion people.

How are we going to feed everyone?

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This is a BIG question that is going to require some big answers - and we’re not the only ones asking it. But after a solid year of nurturing life (and food) back into existence in the northern deserts of Turkana we have some understanding of the kind of efforts that will be required.

Learning from others however, will remain a critical part of this evolution and to this end, the Barefoot team recently hopped aboard a flight to Israel to see, speak and observe from the acclaimed ‘masters of desert agriculture’ … and we had a blast.

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Upon landing in Tel Aviv we re-manipulated our brains into driving on the other side of the road and headed south into the famed Arava region; home to Bedouin sheep and their herders, an argan oil farmer, the world’s finest Medjool dates and some whopper pomegranates.  We ate creamy white goat cheese with a spoon and met a man called Moti Harari at the Arava R&D center. This is where drip irrigation was invented and where rows of indigenous desert plants are being played with for purposes ranging from cures of coughs and colds to essential oils. Then we saw some date palms – quite a few in fact, and got a ride in a giant yellow machine that allows the date pickers to soar high up into the canopies to open the nets containing the ripening medjools – considered to be one of the worlds most lucrative crops. From there we sweated our way into and through the date packing house – and by the time we were back on the road it was time for a pomegranate or 7 plucked from a bush weighed down by these most excellent baubles.

We stayed in a kibbutz after a tour of an epically integrated food forest; almonds, olives, peach, plum, grapes and guava… some more dates and pomegranates all covered in a thick layer of slashed wheat straw. This was good.

2 days in, 1000km in and at some point we found ourselves floating in the dead sea… from there we hit Jeruselum and attempted some cultural enrichment that involved a number of farms, community gardens and at least 7 plates involving hummus.

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Completing the loop we returned back to Tel Aviv via yet another farm complete with the worlds largest pumpkins and a mini tractor with several attachments for making beautiful vegetable beds – and after a swim in the sea and a night on the town we sped up north for the day and took in the sights of Galilee and thousands of acres of tightly spaced bananas, loquats and mango all snug under shade and insect net which saves them a bunch of water…. Dam these kids know how to prune!

Somehow the week had zoomed past and with a single day left we set out for a surf and an aquaponic farm tour, scoped a miraa farm and made a pact to return…