Every year farmers in the Jordan Valley lose the majority of their crops to pests. Through regional cooperation between Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli farmers, a solution to the problem has been found in the form of none other than barn owls. In sharing and promoting the use of barn owls and kestrels as biological pest control agents in agriculture, farmers have transcended national barriers in an effort to fight a problem that they all face, no matter what nation their farm belongs to.
During a recent tour of Sama vineyard, near Irbid in the northern Jordanian Jordan Valley, I learned about this very ecological alternative to pesticides that farmers in the Jordan Valley are implementing in order to protect their crops. The owner of the vineyard explained that rodents and small birds used to eat around 70% of his crops, yet he was proud of producing organic wines and didn’t want to spray the grapes with toxic pesticides. Therefore, he chose to import barn owls to catch the pests. The result was a huge success, and more and more owls are breeding on his farm now.
Sama Vineyard is only one of the farms working on this initiative. Hundreds of barn owl nesting boxes are in use by Jordanian farmers, and on the other side of the Jordan River 1,640 of these nesting boxes have been distributed to farmers, a number that was increased to 2,100 as of 2010, according to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.
The Palestinian Authority has recently launched its own barn owl program to encourage farmers to reduce the use of chemical pesticides and whilst this may not solve the region’s political problems, there is no question it is having a positive impact on the environment. Just one pair of adult barn owls, Tyto alba, will catch between 2,000 and 5,000 rodents each year. If barn owls live on the farm, they may improve agricultural yield by 24 percent.
This year an Jordanian and a Israeli barn owl coupled and bred as a result of this initiative.
This emphasizes the fact that, as the USAID project of 2004 was called, “migratory birds have no borders”. The blurring of borders thanks to birds is symbolic of the collaboration it has facilitated between Jordanian and Israeli farmers. The hope of the organizers is that the project will spread to other countries in the region, ultimately creating a culture of communication and sharing of information between countries on a shared topic of agricultural reform even though they may not be on good terms politically.
Friends of the Earth Middle East has increased public awareness of the Jordan River Valley’s role as a migratory flyway for over 250 million birds. Among other things, FoEME supported The Jordanian Society for Sustainable Development in establishing the Aqaba Bird Observatory, where they run educational programs informing both local and international visitors about the ways that birds help the environment, and why we should protect the.
This blog was written by FoEME intern Marielle Velander, who is based in the Amman office.