One of the amazing aspects of the Arava, Israel’s long, eastern valley between the Dead Sea and Eilat, is that although it is mainly desert, 90% of its residents are successful farmers!
Arava farmers have taken what nature has dealt them – saline soil and water and a burning sun – and worked with it, producing, among other crops, peppers, dates, figs, tomatoes, melons, flowers, grapes, and fish. Nutrients and precise amounts of water are delivered using computer technology that can even recycle irrigation water. Tomatoes, for example, are grown mainly for export, with some farmers trying out over 100 varieties a year until they hit the right color, shape, taste and shelf-life buyers seek. Some varieties contain high levels of lycopene, a pigment of the carotene family that is believed to have healthful, antioxidant properties.
Figs are normally a summer fruit, which from Bible days (Deut 8: 8) until recently was a highland crop. But Arava farmers have developed a hothouse, dwarf fig, which is harvested from December to April. Some of the world’s sweetest dates (another biblical species) thrive in the Arava. Experts know there is no paradox between the Arava’s saline water and the sweet outcome, because the developing fruit has to “work harder” against the salts.
Some Arava farmers specialize in organic farming and soilless cultivation. They also cooperate with farmers across the nearby Jordanian border. Sharing knowledge is important here; the local government maintains a training center that welcomes students from around the world, especially Asia ,and agricultural research stations work to constantly upgrade the Arava’s produce.
Many Arava communities also offer bed-and-breakfast accommodations and tours of the region’s agricultural, heritage and nature attractions.