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Helping the African deserts bloom

Helping the African deserts bloom

Israeli agricultural technology and know-how is being put to innovative use to combat desertification • Four students at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya have applied these technological advancements toward a solution for global hunger.

Princella D. Smith – Israel Hayom Newsletter

Despite Israel’s semiarid climate, Israel’s agricultural industry has advanced enough to prevent its desertification, which is defined as the process by which fertile land becomes desert, typically as a result of drought, deforestation, or inappropriate agriculture.

The impressive agricultural industry is so developed, in fact, that Israel has been placed as a world leader in agricultural technologies because of its use as the country’s main tool against desertification.

Four students at the Israeli-based Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya have applied these technological advancements toward a solution for global hunger. Our names are Julian Jubran of Nazareth, Israel; Paul Amos of Milan, Italy; Bezawit Getaneh of Ethiopia and Israel; and myself, Princella Smith of Arkansas, United States.

Schools around the world are forming teams of four or five people to participate in the Hult Prize competition.

The Hult Prize brings together the brightest college and university students from around the globe to focus on solving one of the world’s key social challenges and awards $1 million in start-up capital to the winner. The idea must be capitalist and free-market-based for sustainability. This year, the challenge of focus is global hunger.

IDC Herzliya team’s idea is an agricultural technology business called Aqua Zai, whose purpose is to develop an easier method for farmers in developing nations to preserve and utilize water. This will enable them to produce more crops, store more food, and have enough throughout the year instead of living off of day-to-day farming. The newly grown healthy food will be sold at an affordable price in the urban slum areas where the rate of global hunger is rapidly increasing.

We will start in Ethiopia.

Aqua Zai discovered, in some parts of Africa, a unique method of planting seeds, using zai holes. A zai hole is a planting pit with a 20-40 centimeter (8-16 inch) diameter and a 10-20 cm (4-8 inch) depth. Zai holes fulfill three functions: soil and water conservation and erosion control for encrusted soils — with the most important element being water conservation.

Plants that are produced with zai holes have an increased productivity of 200-500 percent. However, the reason many farmers have not utilized zai holes is because they believe that it is too difficult and time-consuming to dig the holes.

Since Africa’s primary challenge with agriculture is affiliated with the struggles of an unpredictable rain pattern, Aqua Zai created a method by which digging multiple zai holes at once could become a reality while keeping the holes more regularly watered through drip irrigation, which Israeli farmers have mastered.

In addition to developing a drilling machine, called the “Zai Bug,” Aqua Zai will model watering techniques after the drip irrigation system Israeli farmers use on their lands.

This will all be performed on Aqua Zai’s zai farms, where we will work with Israeli agricultural experts to teach the methods to the Ethiopian farmers, and then eventually allow local farmers to run the operation so that they can work independently and produce enough food for themselves.

Additionally, Aqua Zai has designed the mobile “Zai Hopper” to transport the freshly grown food from the zai farm to distribution points in the slums, so that residents will be able to purchase clean and affordable food. The Zai Hopper is a simple machine based on fundamental farming technology and railroad grain cars.

Data from the International Monetary Fund confirms a positive trend for Africa. Whereas in the West, dialogue on investment in developing countries is mainly concentrated in Brazil, Russia, India and China, in the last decade six of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world were sub-Saharan African countries.

Between 2001 and 2010, for example, Angola’s economy grew the fastest in the world, with an annual average of 11.1%. Nigeria showed an average annual growth of 8.9%, Ethiopia followed with 8.4%, while Chad and Mozambique both grew by 7.9% annually. Even Rwanda has boasted 7.6% annual growth in that time period. The IMF’s forecast for 2015 reinforces this trend.

The creation of Aqua Zai enhances the already friendly relationship between Israel and many countries in Africa — but especially in Ethiopia, where the company has chosen to launch.

Israeli Ambassador to Ethiopia Belaynesh Zevadia, along with the first Israeli Ethiopian woman to be elected to Knesset, Pnina Tamano-Shata, have endorsed the project.