Professor Pedro Berliner, director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Ben Gurion University of the Negev has experienced many diverse and praiseworthy events during the 43 years of his life since emigrating from Argentina.
On November 27th, 2013 when Prof. Berliner stood before the French Ambassador to Israel, HE Patrick Maisonnave at the Ambassador’s residence in Jaffa (Yafo), “I was thrilled, and I have not been so excited for many years”.
The French ambassador awarded Pedro the National Order of Merit for Excellence in Agriculture for “His exceptional contribution to Israel agricultural excellence”.
“This decoration is in recognition of the work I have been doing for almost 40 years together with my students, five of whom I brought with me to this event together with my mentor Prof. Marcel Fuchs from the Volcani Center.”
The reasons for making the award was Professor Berliner’s work in developing singular methods for agricultural production in arid areas. This work concentrates mainly on developing innovative irrigation techniques and a selective choice of crops..
This decoration by France recognizes the Professor’s unique expertise, especially in view of global warming, which is forcing the countries of the Mediterranean basin to find new technical solutions on issues related to water utilization and choosing the appropriate crops.
“All my work focuses on studying the soil-plants-atmospheric system in order to understand how water advances along this continuum and how water for agriculture can be exploited most efficiently,” so said Professor Berliner in an interview in Beersheba.
Professor Berliner proceeded to explain,
“I worked on two levels, namely how do you grow more and consume less. We found that in row crops 40% of the water is lost due to direct evaporation and this loss of water can be avoided by simply covering the space between the rows of crops with plastic.
” Professor Berliner discloses that ever since starting work at the Institute for Desert Research, “I began studying Nabatean agriculture. At that time it was believed that the Negev could be developed by employing the Nabatean methods for collecting run-off water that were reconstructed at an agricultural estate at Avdat, but it soon emerged that this method was not suitable for such an advanced country and was better suited to third-world countries, which lack the technological infrastructure and knowledge to operate sophisticated systems, but irrigation is necessary because the rain is insufficient.” Berliner also discloses that a study of the world’s arid regions, which account for one third of the dry land across the globe, found a serious shortage of firewood for cooking and boiling water.
Research in Nigeria also shows that trees are cut down and the cutting down of trees has far-reaching effects. When the tree’s foliage no longer protects the soil, rain drops hit the ground and produce a crusted area which does not allow the water to seep into the soil and the tree does not get enough water for growth renewal. “The uncontrolled cutting down of trees is one of the effects of desertification.
This effect constitutes such a threat to the world that the UN has passed a convention to combat desertification. In actual fact we have here three conventions: climate change, biological diversity and combating desertification.” At this point Professor Berliner outlines an Israeli solution to the problem. “Our solution for wood production calls for the utilization of local run-off water for collecting water in plots enclosed by a wall.
The water seeped inwards and in this way the trees (fruitless trees) are grown, while between the rows annual bushes are grown as an intermediate crop.
This system is known as agroforestry – agricultural forestry. This technique solves several problems simultaneously (firewood, produce, fertilization using the leaves which underwent a process of compostization).
The technique is planned for use in arid regions throughout the third world for we have proven that this system is more effective than growing the two crops separately.
We added yet another variation here using fruitless trees of the legumes’ family in the trees-bushes’ component The leaves are used as a source of compost, which is added to the area between the trees to fertilize the annual bushes and shrubs. This is one example of a sustainable system which can maintain fertility and production levels for years.”