Project Wadi Attir


Inidigenous Vegetable Enterprise

Due to the ubiquity of industrialized agriculture, once-common family vegetable plots have become rare in Bedouin settlements. This disappearing knowledge of desert vegetable cultivation is invaluable, as unique methods of soil preparation, irrigation, mulching, and day-to-day maintenance have helped the Bedouins cope with harsh desert conditions for centuries.

The Indigenous Vegetable Initiative involves the cultivation of a variety of authentic, indigenous desert vegetables, in order to preserve and document traditional Bedouin vegetable cultivation techniques and contribute to better nutrition within the community. A women-led training program helps to promote the resurgence of cultivating indigenous vegetables on family-managed plots.

  • To further the aims of the initiative, a seed bank has been established to collect indigenous seeds still preserved by some Bedouin families. The project site houses this seed bank as well as a processing facility.
  • The initiative continues to train women from the Bedouin sector in seed-handling and garden cultivation. Training curriculum integrates traditional knowledge of desert agriculture and modern agricultural techniques, such as drip irrigation, permaculture, and crop cycling.
  • Trainees learn about all aspects of agricultural management: planting intervals, seasonal requirements, soil preparation and fertilization, pest control, mulching, irrigation, and more. They learn to match plants to appropriate soil types, and the best methods for raising seedlings, whether in the field or in controlled environs.
  • Trainees also learn about proper nutrition, with the aim of promoting healthy lifestyle choices and local food culture in the Bedouin community. Here, Safya Morgan, Director of the Indigenous Vegetable Initiative, with an organic, heirloom zucchini in the field.
  • The women are currently growing plants from available indigenous vegetable seeds suited for desert climate, experimenting with wheat, barley, country lentils, chickpeas, fava beans, tomatoes, spinach, local beets, garden cress, onion, and desert garlic, as well as a number of wild edibles including chubezah, thistle and chrysanthemum.
  • The initiative continues to diversify its crops, and the last group of trainees transferred new fig, pomegranate, almond and loquat trees to the project site.
  • Safya has also launched a “Young Farmers” project in collaboration with the Municipality of Hura. The project is currently working with five local kindergartens, giving children the opportunity to get acquainted with principles of farming and caring for the land, while also improving nutrition.

Medicinal Plants Enterprise

The use of medicinal plants has been at the heart of the Bedouin tradition, experience, and lifestyle for centuries. These plants, which have adapted themselves to survive in the desert, possess potent therapeutic qualities, effective for the treatment of a wide range of ailments.

The Medicinal Plants Initiative preserves, documents, and showcases traditional Bedouin knowledge in natural healing remedies and body care utilizing desert herbs. This valuable knowledge is in grave danger of being lost forever as a result of the urbanization processes that have taken place over the last 40 years. The initiative is currently establishing a high-quality brand of healing and body-care products, including cosmetic creams, soaps, infusion teas and essential oils.

  • The Project Wadi Attir cosmetic brand will support the project’s economic independence through sale of products at the project’s Visitor’s Center, in specialty shops throughout Israel, and for export abroad.
  • The initiative provides employment opportunities for women and youth in the community, both in the farming of the medicinal plants and in the management of the enterprise.
  • Since 2010, team leader Ali Alhawashla has documented 38 desert plants used for medicinal purposes, and has identified over 15 indigenous medicinal plants suitable for growth on the project site and ideal for processing into a wide range of supplemental products.
  • A range of medicinal plants are being cultivated on a designated 20-acre plot on the project site, many of which have never been domesticated before. These currently include sage, wormwood, ballota, felty germander, lemon verbena (or luiza), and bible hyssop (aka Lebanese oregano or za’atar).
  • The project site also contains a greenhouse for the cultivation of wild species, a pilot production facility, as well as facilities for drying, processing, and storage of plant-based product ingredients.
  • The project team is now entering the next stage of product development, which includes standardizing formulas and finalizing product prototypes, conducting market research, and making decisions about branding, packaging, pricing, sales channels, and future related products and product lines.
  • Gaining authorization from the main regulatory bodies for the use of certain desert herbs in cosmetic treatments has emerged as a main goal of this initiative, and the enterprise has assembled a team of experts to help in the process. Many of these plants have not been approved simply because no one has ever asked, and crossing this hurdle will allow us to bring something to market that has never existed before. It will also forever expand the use of native medicinal plants within Israel, and bring the benefit of native Negev medicinal plants to the world at large.
  • Ali has continued his work gathering and consolidating data relating to traditional desert plants and Bedouin remedies, agricultural practices and treatments, for compilation in a guide featuring never-before-seen information, to be published in Arabic, Hebrew and English.
  • Accredited naturopath (ND), clinical herbalist (HC.I), and entrepreneur Eti Golan acts as Manager of the enterprise. Eti and Ali work together to develop the products and bring them to market.

Herding and Dairy Enterprise

Both sheep and goats have been raised in the region for thousands of years, and the shepherd’s way of life is prominent in biblical literature and folklore. Today, Bedouins own a slight majority of the country’s sheep and almost a quarter of its goats.

The Herding and Dairy Initiative demonstrates a modern, economically-viable model for animal husbandry that is consistent with the needs of the Bedouin community. It produces a range of high-quality dairy products, and will soon utilize the full range of herding byproducts, from manure for fertilizer and bio-gas fuel, to wool for weaving and crafts.

  • The Herding and Dairy Enterprise seeks to reintroduce the practice of raising sheep and goats as an economically attractive and commercially viable option for the Bedouin population, and to educate local sheep and goat growers on improved herd management practices.
  • The enterprise functions on a cooperative model that has already begun to provide a source of income through the creation and sale of higher margin, value-added products. Local herders will have the opportunity to buy fodder from and sell milk to the dairy cooperative.
  • The onsite herding operation includes four spacious covered pens designed to provide quality living conditions for the herd; a milking facility; a dairy plant; a hay storage barn; four irrigated grazing fields for free range grazing; and an additional plot, accessible to the animals, which will continue to be left wild.
  • The selected sheep breed consists of a hybrid of the traditional Awassi and the local Assaf, which has a high resistance to disease, a high level of milk production, and can be sheared twice a year. A byproduct of wool production is lanolin, which will be used in the production of cosmetic products.
  • The goat herd consists of the Anglo-Nubian breed, which can yield upwards of 1,000 liters of milk a year. Its meat is considered high-quality.
  • Sheep and goat manure was, in the past, used as a fuel source for heating. On the project site, organic waste from our herd will be used for bio-gas and compost production.
  • The cheese making enterprise showcases the vital role that Bedouin women can play in community-based economic development. Twenty-five local Bedouin women have already completed a training course on modern cheese making processes.
  • During the course, eight types of cheeses and dairy products were developed, based on traditional Bedouin production methods, several of which are already in production. All of our dairy products are being developed according to natural/organic guidelines, in order to reflect the project’s underlying sustainability principles, to produce a unique, high-quality product, and to offer a competitive advantage.
  • These cheeses are currently being sold onsite at the project’s Visitor’s Center.

Visitor, Training and Education Center

The Visitor’s Center is designed to serve as a significant regional research, education and training center, serving primary and high schools from around the Negev and acting as a source of ongoing empowerment, social entrepreneurship and technical training for surrounding communities. The center also functions as an important eco-tourism destination, introducing visitors to Bedouin society, tradition and culture, as well as to the sustainability principles which underlie and shape the project as a whole.

  • Designed by Prof. Isaac Meir and his team, experts in green building from BGU’s Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, Project Wadi Attir’s Visitor, Training, and Education Center includes classrooms, research facilities, an exhibition area, and offices, and will soon have its very own restaurant, as well as a gift shop for selling farm products.
  • The eco-tourism program introduces visitors to important ecological issues and demonstrates sound practices involving careful resource management, recycling, the use of alternative energy sources and the importance of locally grown products.
  • Currently, the project welcomes hundreds of local and international visitors monthly, including groups from the academic, government, business, civil society and social sectors.
  • Visitors are also being introduced to Bedouin society, tradition and culture through meals, lectures, workshops, volunteer opportunities, informal discussions and personal stories.
  • In time, Project Wadi Attir will be a celebrated stop on most tours to Israel, replacing the obligatory “Bedouin tent” experience with one of perception-changing depth and relevance.
  • This onsite cultural exchange, as well as programming that integrates Bedouin and Jewish student groups, is helping to promote shared society values in the Negev region and in the country as a whole.
  • Project Wadi Attir’s Student Research and Volunteer Program is providing essential educational courses, services, and facilities to hundreds of Bedouin high school students that were previously unavailable.
  • The site itself offers educational opportunities that do not exist together in one place anywhere else in the country—particularly as it relates to Bedouin culture and development, sustainable desert agriculture, and resource management—and diverse students of all ages are taking part.
  • The project’s Beekeeping Initiative uses the onsite apiary as a prism for exploring a number of ecological, biological and agricultural processes. Through the process of caring for the hive and harvesting its honey, students of all ages learn about the symbiotic relationships that sustain the beehive, the different roles of the bees in the hive and more.
  • Through engagement with the beehives, students also learn about the nutritional value of harvesting honey, contextualizing it within the growing challenge of food security.
  • The project’s educational programs have the support of researchers from Ben-Gurion University, who have worked together with The Sustainability Laboratory to design the site’s Integrated Green Technology Systems, and the AMAL Education Network, which has a total enrollment of over 40,000 students of all ages around the country. Partners consult on curriculum and student research projects.
  • The project also trains local educators and administrators to effectively teach “sustainability” and eco-literacy.

Ecosystem Restoration Initiative

Led by Dr. Stefan Leu of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the project’s Ecosystem Restoration Initiative incorporates an extensive soil enhancement, water retention and biodiversity enrichment agenda, demonstrating a process for combatting desertification.

  • At the start of the project, the Wadi Attir site was facing extensive soil erosion, completely degraded soils, and extremely low biological productivity and biodiversity.
  • The efforts made since in design and planning are novel and, in part, experimental, with high potential for significant advancement in our understanding of dryland restoration, establishment of high-value farmland, and biodiversity conservation with significant carbon sequestration. Pictured are the low earth mounds designed to slow runoff, curb erosion and retain rainwater on the site.
  • As part of our soil enhancement efforts, the team selected 17 species of desert hardy trees and shrubs in the project's greenhouse, and transferred them to the project site. These are intended to improve soil fertility and increase the carbon content of the soil, hold water in place, sequester nitrogen, provide shade and protection against the prevailing winds, and help enrich the biodiversity of the site.
  • To date, some 4,000 trees have been transferred to the 100-acre site, completely transforming the characteristics of the previously barren plot.
  • Three hundred and sixty olive trees, planted by local high school students, have also been thriving on the site, and its olives are now producing high-quality organic olive oil.
  • Heavy rains in December 2013 put our water retention and erosion protection systems to the test. But thanks to the efforts of Stefan and his team, the project site literally "held its ground." The low water-retention earth mounds distributed throughout the site performed well, holding large quantities of water that otherwise would have been lost, and forming large water pools in the open fields.
  • The changes onsite have been dramatic.
  • In addition, we are already seeing some other spectacular changes: biodiversity is returning to the site, and species not previously seen in the vicinity are now visiting in increasing frequency and numbers.
  • This progress provides a natural jumping-off point for educational programming. Dr. Leu is working with the project's Education Director, Amran Amarni, to convert the outcomes of his team's research into an accessible, hands-on curriculum for primary and high school students; visitors and tourists; farmers and local farming communities; and scientists and academics. The initiative has already been presented at academic conferences around the world.
  • The Dryland Ecosystem Restoration Education Website, linked to below, was launched during a special event that took place at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), COP12 meeting, in Ankara, Turkey. The launch event cements the nascent collaboration between The Sustainability Laboratory and the Convention. Pictured, Dr. Richard Byron-Cox (left), a senior officer at the UNCCD, with Dr. Michael Ben-Eli and Dr. Stefan Leu.

Integrated Technology System

An integrated infrastructure of green technologies will demonstrate the project’s waste-to-resources approach: maximizing the use of renewable resources, eliminating harmful emissions, and aiming for near-zero waste. A Project Design Team, chaired by Dr. Michael Ben-Eli and including professors from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev as well as other leaders in the field from the private sector, has been responsible for developing an integrated green technology infrastructure, which will include a pioneering hybrid wind/solar energy system, a state-of-the-art irrigation system, a bio-gas production system, a wastewater treatment system, and a composting facility.

  • Project Wadi Attir's solar energy system is being developed in collaboration with the Israeli startup AugWind. The system offers a novel technology incorporating wind and solar energy generation as well as storage.
  • The Irrigation System at Project Wadi Attir employs a state-of-the-art drip irrigation technology, developed in collaboration with Netafim, a world leader in the field.
  • Project Wadi Attir's bio-gas facility, designed by Professor Amit Gross of Ben-Gurion University, will convert manure from the animal pens to bio-gas, for use in the project's kitchen and to demonstrate viable options for domestic energy needs.
  • Wastewater from the Visitor's Center, the kitchen and the restaurant will be treated in an open-air biological system. Sewage will be treated by a separate constructed wetland and used for the irrigation of landscaping around the buildings on the site.
  • Solid organic waste from animal pens and agricultural plots will be used in the production of compost, in a system designed by Dr. Shlomo Kimchie. The latter will be used to fertilize grazing and plant growing areas. Surplus will be packaged and offered for sale.
  • The buildings on site, designed by a team at BGU's Blaustein Institute for Desert Research, and led by Dr. Isaac Meir, are designed according to "green building" guidelines incorporating appropriate technologies for energy conservation, passive heating and cooling, natural lighting and the use of energy efficient appliances.

Women Empowerment

One of Project Wadi Attir’s most important aspects is its consistent focus on the empowerment of women. Efforts in this area are a part of the project’s deliberate social innovations, designed in recognition of the important role of women in development in general, and in the advancement of the Bedouin community in particular.

  • Women, alongside men, are among the founders of The Wadi Attir Cooperative (Amutat Wadi Attir) and play key roles in project governance. Several women serve as directors of various project initiatives, including the Dairy Operation, the Indigenous Vegetable Initiative and the Medicinal Plants Initiative.
  • The project has also integrated women's training programs in nearly all of its income-generating activities, and groups of women have completed training sessions in organic dairy and cheese production and organic vegetable farming.
  • These training programs not only provide the women with valuable skills, but they also demonstrate the positive impact that providing meaningful employment opportunities to Bedouin women has on community well being.
  • "The project creates an unprecedented new situation whereby women are equal partners in leading a significant development process with men. Involvement in the project will open new horizons and new opportunities for women and strengthen their ability to influence the fabric of family and community."
    - Amal Elsana-Alh'jooj, Director, AJEEC


One of the main goals of the project is to enrich the biodiversity of the area. Please enjoy this slideshow of flora and fauna which can already be observed on the project site.

Visitors to Project Wadi Attir

For the last few years, the project has welcomed visitors from all over the world, including many distinguished guests.

  • Members of the World Economic Forum, March 2010
  • German entrepreneur and member of The Lab's Advisory Board Matthias Bittner with team member Maryam Abu Rakayek, April 2011
  • Lead donors Robert Arnow and son Joshua, pictured with Dr. Mohammed Alnabari at the project's greenhouse, May 2011
  • Prominent German filmmaker and member of The Lab's Advisory Board, Gabriela Sperl with team member Ali Alhawashla, May 2011
  • Israeli President Shimon Peres, June 2011
  • Dr. Mohammed Alnabari and Dr. Michael Ben-Eli welcoming (L-R) Dr. Clinton Bailey, world-renowned scholar on Bedouin society, Lynn Holstein, Director of External Relations at ISCAR and Stef Wertheimer (second from right), Founder of ISCAR, July 2012
  • Russell Robinson, CEO of JNF-USA (right), pictured with Yunes Alnabari, Project Manager (center) and Melinda Wolf, JNF Board Member, July 2013
  • Olaf Ossman (center left), lawyer and President of Switzerland-based foundation Image of Humanity, pictured with his daughter (center right), team member Maryam Abu Rakayek (left) and Dr. Michael Ben-Eli (right), July 2013
  • Participants in Ben-Gurion University of the Negev's 8th annual Deserts, Drylands and Desertification Conference, November 2014
  • Israeli President Reuven Rivlin meeting with the project team, January 2015
  • Uri Ariel, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, July 2015
  • Senators from the Parliament of the Czech Republic, January 2016
  • Israeli Ministry for Environmental Protection Forum, February 2016
  • José Ángel Gurría Treviño, Secretary General of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), February 2016
  • Ambassadors from nine African countries, March 2016