The agriculture industry is the world’s largest consumer of water, accounting for approximately 70% of the global freshwater supply. Much of that irrigation water is lost due to wasteful and unsustainable farming methods, which strain limited water resources in the face of growing demand.
Israeli hydraulic engineer Simcha Blass, confronted with an arid Middle Eastern climate and severely constrained access to water, first helped address this challenge in the 1950s by developing a water-saving system that revolutionized modern drip irrigation and was adopted by farmers across the world. Years after Blass first helped Israel’s deserts bloom, the country’s experts are finding new ways to optimize water usage.
Projections show that Israel will need to nearly doubt its water supply, mainly for food production, Avi Shaviv, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, told documentarians from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Our research in cooperation with our farmers came to different solutions, developing new agro techniques which allow farmers to produce much more per unit area with less water,” said Shaviv. “Israel is leading in being efficient in water for agriculture, and especially for crop production. By doing so we manage to be about six to seven times more efficient in water use than we were about 50 years ago. Therefore, we can allocate the saved water that was needed for agriculture to other resources.”
“Israeli innovation is helping today’s farmers all over the world to grow more with less,” observed Naty Barak, the chief sustainability officer of the Israeli irrigation company Netafim, which works with agricultural producers in over 110 countries. “In 1965 we were a group of young farmers in the Israeli Negev desert, in kibbutz Hatzerim. We faced a challenge of water scarcity and very poor soil. And we were farmers. We were looking for a solution.”
“The idea of drip irrigation, this innovation, is delivering water and nutrients, by the way,” Barak noted. “Sometimes we call it ‘nutrigation.’ Delivering it at the right amount directly to the roots where it’s needed and when it’s needed.”
Victor Alchanatis, director of the institute of agricultural engineering at Israel’s government-funded Volcani Center, added that new crop sensing technology being developed at the institute is helping farmers use water more effectively.
“We use the temperature of the leaves, a thermal camera, to make an index that can tell us how much water the trees need,” he explained. “We can produce much better olive oil when we irrigate according to the parameters we give the farmers.”
“Plants lose most of the water they take from the ground to the atmosphere,” David Granot, a senior researcher at Volcani, pointed out. “They lose water through millions of tiny little pores that exist on the surface of the leaves. We discovered a new mechanism that controls these tiny pores.”
Holding up a two potted plants, one larger than the other, Granot added, “The plant with our technology loses less water and it grows faster.”
In How Israel Is Solving the Global Water Crisis, published in the October 2015 issue of The Tower Magazine, Tower editor David Hazony observed:
The country that has dedicated the greatest resources, innovation, and cultural attention to the problem of water scarcity is Israel. Founded on a dry strip of land smaller than New Hampshire, saddled with absorbing millions of immigrants, Israel has been worrying about water for a very long time. Today, it leads the way in solving problems of water supply, spearheading efforts to deal with water leakage, farming efficiency, recycling waste, desalination, pricing policy, and education. This has resulted in a water revolution unlike anywhere else on earth; a revolution not just of technology, but of thought, policy, and culture. For this reason, Israelis will be at the heart of any effort to solve the global water crisis.
[Photo: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs]