Research finds tens of thousands of olive trees planted in Israel’s arid areas environmentally beneficial

Billie Frenkel
Published: 01.12.13

The planting of ten of thousands of olive trees in arid areas in Israel have proved highly beneficial, according to a study which said the trees provide shade for animals, purge the air and even produce excellent olive oil.

The study was conducted by the Faculty of Agriculture at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, with the help of the Agricultural Research Organization. Dr. Zohar Kerem, head of the olive oil research lab in the faculty’s biochemistry institute, who participated in the study, explained that they followed tree-plantings in Israel’s desert areas.

“Olive trees are not very picky,” Kerem said, adding that they can thrive under extreme weather conditions and require very little care and water. Olive trees, he noted, greatly benefit the environment by reducing the atmospheric levels of CO2.

The trees also provide shade and cover for wildlife. In the area surveyed deer, porcupines, rodents and reptiles were seen; and bird numbers have also grown – an important finding considering Israel is a nexus for millions of migratory birds every year.

Some researchers disagree about the environmental benefits of planting trees in arid areas, claiming it leads to a change in the natural fabric and local wildlife. But Kerem disagreed: “It’s a golden measure. Even though it’s agriculture, the area remains intact.”

His views are supported by Dr. Adi Naali an agronomist with the Plants Production and Marketing Board. Naali said that the trees provide good shelter for animals since they do not require pesticides or other human care.

Another benefit discovered was that the groves were unfriendly to invasive species like jackals, whose numbers have grown to disrupting levels. “Jackals feed off of a range of other species and can harm the food chain, but they prefer an open terrain,” Naali said. “It’s harder for them to hunt in olive groves.”

Naali counted other ecological benefits, among them the finding that olive trees, which are evergreen plants, absorb large quantities of CO2. It was also found that olive groves can function as a good waste disposal sites for compost and sewage.

Photo: Ezra Tzachor
Photo: Ezra Tzachor

The excellent produce is another benefit: Kerem told Ynet that an examination of the quality and chemical makeup of olive oil produced from the groves showed that they gave quality oil with great health benefits, due to a high percentage of anti-oxidants.

“We wanted to see whether growing olive trees in these conditions effects the quality of the oil produced,” he explained. “The stronger the olives’ taste in the oil, the higher the quality, because it indicates a higher percentage of anti-oxidants.”

The study may also provide a glimpse at a solution for desertification. “Olive trees reduce wind and soil erosion in the desert,” Naali said. “Thay may be a sustainable solution to desertification from an environmental perspective, and also from an economic and social perspectives, by creating sources of income.

“I’m not saying we should turn the entire desert into an olive plantation,” he stressed. “These are only small groves. The desert is a highly homogenous environment and olive groves can increase of the variety of wildlife and allow for a more variable landscape. It should be done properly, so the groves will be assimilated into the environment.”,7340,L-4328552,00.html