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Israel’s DeserTech partners with UN to help African nations build ‘Great Green Wall’

Launching program at COP27 climate confab, DeserTech says goal is to develop technologies that can address global challenges, turn Negev into global desert tech hub

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

From left: Sinai Gohar Barak, International Ecosystem Development, DeserTech, M.Toumany Diallo, Director of Mali's  Great Green Wall agency, Tal Biran Ben Gal of the DeserTech Innovation Leaders Program, M. Modibo Kone, Mali's Environment and Sustainable Development Minister, Nicole Hod Stroh, Executive Director of the Merage Foundation Israel, Andrea Meza, UNCCD Deputy Executive Secretary, and Sarah Toumi of the Great Green Wall Accelerator.  (Courtesy, Desertech Community)
From left: Sinai Gohar Barak, International Ecosystem Development, DeserTech, M.Toumany Diallo, Director of Mali's Great Green Wall agency, Tal Biran Ben Gal of the DeserTech Innovation Leaders Program, M. Modibo Kone, Mali's Environment and Sustainable Development Minister, Nicole Hod Stroh, Executive Director of the Merage Foundation Israel, Andrea Meza, UNCCD Deputy Executive Secretary, and Sarah Toumi of the Great Green Wall Accelerator. (Courtesy, Desertech Community)

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — DeserTech, an Israeli platform for climate technologies geared to dry and desert climates, launched a program on Thursday to partner with the Global Mechanism of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and the 11 African countries leading the “Great Green Wall” movement.

The Great Green Wall is an African-led initiative aimed at rehabilitating 100 hectares (over 385,000 square miles) of degraded land across the Sahel region by 2030, generating millions of jobs, and capturing 250 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The launch of the Israeli program was hosted by the Senegal pavilion at the UN COP27 climate conference in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh before a packed audience from Africa that included environment ministers from Mali and Mauritania and a member of parliament from Chad.

Sinai Gohar Barak, DeserTech’s ecosystem development manager, said the project has two aims — developing and implementing technologies that address global challenges, and turning the Negev into a global hub for desert technologies.

Hot and dry, the Sahel — which runs between the Sahara Desert to the north and Savannah to the south — is not only one of the poorest regions on earth, but also one of the most exposed to the devastating effects of climate change. These effects include drought, food shortages, conflicts over natural resources and mass migration.

The land has lost its fertility because of overfarming, overgrazing and overpopulation, combined with natural soil erosion. But since the Great Green Wall project started more than a decade ago, almost 18 million hectares (70,000 square miles) of degraded lands have been restored and 350,000 jobs created.

DeserTech, based in the Negev city of Beersheba, is a joint initiative of the Merage Foundation Israel, Israel Innovation Institute, Ministry of Environmental Protection and Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

It brings together policymakers, entrepreneurs, tech companies, businesses, investors, academics and NGOs to develop, commercialize and promote desert technologies in the fields of extreme climate, water, land degradation, and life in remote places.

The organization recently mapped over 300 Israeli startups and companies developing technologies either specifically geared to, or potentially adaptable for, desert environments.

Nicole Hod Stroh, executive director of the Merage Foundation told the audience, “It’s getting hotter and the land is getting more degraded. We share the same problems and we need to learn from each other about the challenges and solutions.”

DeserTech has been working with the United Nations and is inviting innovators from the Great Green Wall countries to apply for a program during which they will jointly identify the most pressing desert-related needs, learn about appropriate technologies, and collaborate on designing concrete tech-related proposals to present to potential funders.

Participants will take part in seven weekly online meetings, share their challenges with the many tech companies connected to DeserTech, and gather in person for a seminar in the Negev. In April 2023, they will take part in a one-day project design workshop online.

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