Dec 12, 2012  By Jewish National Fund  Category: Blueprint Negev,

Bedouin life - a "new" model of sustainable living


While "sustainability" is the environmental buzz word of the day, the Negev Bedouins have been part of this trend since their earliest days.  Their nomadic lifestyle has roots in making the most out of the dry regional landscape in which they live.  Bedouins have been practicing sustainable farming and agricultural techniques in the desert environment for thousands and thousands of years.  There is so much we can learn from their model and now JNF is working in partnership with the Bedouin municipality of Hura to do just that!

Bedouin practices have historically relied on herding sheep for meat, milk, and clothing - using every part of the animal, letting no part go to waste.  They have collected, saved and planted ancient seeds, some which are no longer available otherwise, which are favorable to the desert's unique growing challenges.

Since the urbanization of Negev Bedouin life at the start of the Ottoman rule, most have lost their connection to these ancient practices as their lifestyles have been more "modernized" and therefore less sustainable.  Project Wadi Attir is a collaboration meant to get Bedouins back to their ancient practices and to serve as a model for desert communities worldwide.

Jewish National Fund is working with the Bedouin Hura Municipal Council on this truly unique and empowering collaboration.  The project was designed by The Sustainability Laboratories and the local population to help bring back these ancient techniques with the purpose of creating community based enterprise combining Bedouin aspirations, values and experience with sustainability principles, modern day science and cutting edge technologies.

The core of the enterprise will involve raising several hundred goats and sheep, to produce organic meat and dairy products. In addition, a significant portion of the farm will be dedicated to the cultivation of a wide variety of medicinal plants that have been valued by generations of Bedouins for their health benefits. The medicinal plant operation will showcase and preserve Bedouin knowledge of natural remedies and will produce a line of healing and body care products.  Project Wadi Attir is also re-introducing the production of highly nutritious, desert hardy, indigenous vegetables which once formed an important part of the Bedouin diet, using the ancient seeds that have been saved over many generations.  In addition to growing these native vegetables on the site, a seed bank will be created and a women-led program will be launched to help spread the cultivation of vegetable gardens on family managed plots - empowering local women and girls!

Imagine - a project that connects urban Bedouins with their traditional practices, that generates new income, and re-introduces a healthier lifestyle into the community, all while serving as a model for communities in similar landscapes worldwide!  The project has attracted many collaborators, including the Bedouin community members, university scientists and researches, local non-profit organizations, a nearby kibbutz, government agencies and private sector companies. Project Wadi Attir has recently been established as the first ever, Bedouin agricultural cooperative in Israel. 

Sustainability is not a new concept!  We have much to learn from cultures, like the Bedouins, who are experts in conserving the small resources available to them and making the best use of their sparse environment!