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The Middle East’s Fruitful Valley - Israel

5 April 2007
© IAEABell peppers are grown inside enormous greenhouses that dot the Israeli side of the Arava Valley desert. A joint pest-control programme with neighbours Jordan and the Palestinian Authority has crippled the region's Medfly population and reduced farmers' reliance on insecticides.For Israeli farmer Ezra Ravins, success means he can sell his bell peppers to lucrative export markets like the USA where imported fruit and vegetables must come from fruit-fly-free zones. Mr. Ravins stands next to one of his greenhouses.Around 20 million sterilised male flies are released in the Arava Valley each week -- they spearhead birth control for the Medfly. No offspring means a dwindling fly population over time. "The Medfly knows no borders.  It flies over walls and fences," Israel's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Shalom Simhon, says.Successful cooperation with Valley neighbour Jordan has suppressed the fly in the Arava. The joint Medfly programme helped to convince tough European and US regulators that this produce is free of infestation.Business is booming for these "clean" vegetables.  In the nine years since the Medfly programme started in the Arava, bell pepper production in the Valley has gone from a $1-million-dollar-business to rake in $120 million in exports last year.Vegetables covered by nets are transported from a greenhouse to a packing factory for export. The nets are an added precaution against the Medfly's bite to comply with strict export regulations.Desert agriculture is high-tech in Israel. Inside these rows of greenhouses is a cool oasis of lush green plants and brightly coloured vegetables.Lee Shtilman manages this factory where fruit and vegetables are packed and dispatched from the Arava for high-end markets in the USA and Europe.Tomatoes, grown without pesticides, are packed for export.Moshe Weiss and David Opatowski of the Plant Protection and Inspection Services in the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture keep a close watch to enforce regulations governing the Valley's fruit-fly-free status.  The farmers split the costs of the sterile Medfly release programme 50/50 with the Israeli Government.Menachar Shoham sells to a European supermarket giant whose customers and lawmakers are demanding pesticide-free produce. "To keep ahead of the game we must stop using chemicals," he says. His farms cut spraying by two-thirds since the sterile flies have been released over his land in Northeast of Israel.Avocadoes are washed before export to European markets.Greenhouse farms filled with fruit and vegetables line the Arava desert.
Last update: 15 February 2018

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