Jan 22, 2017  By Endurance P. Ojo  Category: Blueprint Negev,

My Arava Story: Israel gives Nigerian farmer tools to fight food crisis

We're focusing on stories from the beautiful Arava, Israel's southern desert. Residents of the Central Arava face many challenges, including the harsh climate, large distance between communities, and lack of accessibility to resources available in urban centers. JNF has partnered with the Central Arava Regional Council as part of our Blueprint Negev campaign to make the Negev habitable to the next generation of Israel's residents. 

Here, reflections from a pupil at the Arava International Center for Agriculture and Training (AICAT), where students from around the world learn advanced agricultural practices they then take back to their home countries.   

My interest in agriculture isn't necessarily a story of passion since childhood. Rather, it stems from my experience with my father on his farm in Nigeria and my continuous study in a quest to increase crop productivity there. Also, I look to a Science Daily article published in April 2014 featuring a statement by Professor Fred Davies (a senior adviser to the USAID at that time) on the relationship between agriculture and increasing world population. That article changed my life forever. 

It became clear to me from the day I read the piece that agriculture is the field of the future. I wanted to be a driver of innovation in this field, and to excel in this revolutionary workplace of tomorrow, I knew I had to acquire the knowledge needed to explore new advances in farming. My focus shifted and I became determined to receive the right education, knowing that combining both theoretical and practical experience is just what I needed to start on my newly found path. 

My pursuit led me to Tel Aviv University for a short course under the sponsorship of Benson Idahosa University. Upon completion there, I received a scholarship to attend a master's program in plant science with an emphasis on food security and safety at AICAT.

My experience so far at AICAT, located in the Central Arava, has been amazing and it is giving me precisely the education I require. AICAT has done a wonderful job providing us with a "learning by doing" approach. We learn theories in the classroom, which is solely overseen by Tel Aviv University, and then work the fields gaining practical skills, working closely with Israeli farmers here in the Arava. We end up walking away with 1.5 years of work experience to support our degree. AICAT also has collaborative relationships with many other institutions, touching upon every possible subject, making sure we are given only the very best education.

Another unique aspect of AICAT is that it pairs students with research scientists who have contributed to scientific innovation in agriculture in Israel, and we work with them on specific projects to strengthen the farmland and crops. Especially for those of us who wish to be research scientists in the near future, this part of the program gives a better idea of the realities of working in the laboratory. It has helped us understand the importance of research and development in sustainable agriculture.

More on the Arava
My Arava Story: A Kenyan agriculture student's 'extraordinary' new life

My Arava Story: Myanmar farmer finds career, and love, in the desert 
The magic that is life in the Arava desert: One family's story

My five-year plan is to become a farmer using the knowledge and experience gained from this program to create food for the Nigerian population and eventually the world. Also, contributing to making Nigeria a self-sufficient country again, giving us the opportunity to contribute to the fight against the predicted world food crisis in the future.

The AICAT slogan is "agriculture without borders." This is particularly true because I have gotten to meet students from other countries, some in my classes and many others in the other programs. The relationships this program has helped me build are vital because I recognize it will take minds from different cultures to solve poverty, hunger, and global food crisis.

Photo: Anne Taillandier
A classroom at AICAT, where students from around the world learn advanced agricultural techniques.