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‘Food Grows Where Water Flows’

By: Max
May 10, 2011

This blog post was submitted by Chelsea McDaniel, intern at the FoEME – Bethlehem office


On May 4th, about 15 people including local farmers, community members, a university student and FoEME staff, gathered in the Auja Center for Environmental Education and Ecotourism Development, located north of Jericho. We were all there to learn about innovative strategies for farming in arid regions from sustainable agriculture activist and international leader in permaculture, Gary Nabhan. Also in attendance were several visitors from the U.S. Embassy in Jordan including the Environment, Science, Technology, and Health Hub Officer for the MENA region, Caron DeMars and Regional Environmental Specialist, Yara Abu Laban.

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“Food Grows Where Water Flows”

While this is often the rallying cry for farmers from my home state of California, never has this been more relevant for the farmers in Auja, many of whom have seen their water supply almost completely dry up in recent years. This has had a tremendous impact on the livelihoods of many in the town. One of the farmers said that of about 80% of the people who used to farm, only about 20% were still farming today. Once well known for the abundant Ajua Spring that supplied the region with an estimated 9 million cubic meters of water annually, Auja now resembles a barren desert. According to many of the participants, excessive diversions to wells for Israeli settlements and irrigation for Israeli farms are the main reason why the spring no longer overflows as it once did.

Tips For Farmers: Rainwater Harvesting to Farmers Markets

The challenges for farmers in Auja include more than severe water shortages; during the talk many of the men also mentioned competition with genetically modified Israeli crops, limited or no access to their farm land, and difficulty transporting their crops to markets due to an extensive and often unpredictable network of Israeli controlled checkpoints. Although Gary faces none of these same challenges on his farm in Arizona, much of what he practices on his farm is still applicable for farmers in Auja. Below are a few of his suggestions:

  • Create a local farmers market and cut out the steps (and checkpoints) between farmer and consumer
  • Funnel water off of places like roofs and streets in to basins to catch the water,
  • Increase water absorption in soil by using mulch,
  • Use the traditional terrace design to capture water more effectively,
  • Layer or stack plants to increase productivity.

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Putting it into Action

It is difficult to draw any conclusions about the impact of Gary’s talk just yet. A number of the participants seemed to doubt that his suggestions, though successful in Arizona, would be successful in Auja. But I think for some participants Gary’s talk inspired some hope of bringing new life to the bleak dusty fields in Auja – it certainly did for me.


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