Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dov Pasternak - Part 1

Dear All,

Dov Pasternak is a giant. I am sure he is embarrassed to read that, because he is the nicest, most unassuming man you can imagine. Actually, I am the more embarrassed because I had no idea we were visiting such an important person.

The short list of Dov's accomplishments? This is the person who introduced drip irrigation to China and Europe. He holds the UNESCO Chair on combating desertification in sandy deserts. It was his work that revealed that pomegranates - among other plants - can thrive on salt water. The list of plant varieties he has developed for arid climates is vast. He was the first to recognize that the best way to adapt plants for arid climates is to start with plants from other similar places, rather than starting with varieties that thrive in more temperate zones. Sounds obvious, right? But he was the one who thought of it, and this concept forms the core of the work he does today.

But you shouldn't think that he is only (!) a very nice world-renowned scientist. He has a firm grasp of business and understands how to bring his innovations to market for the benefit of the poorest of the poor.

(Just a little more praise, Dov - I'm almost done.). Dov's mind is always going. He is incredibly creative on a wide range of topics, but is happy to accept good ideas wherever he finds them. A good example is what he learned from Frieda Caplan, the woman who named the Kiwi fruit, the Sunchoke, and other produce items. (Google her - she's amazing.) She explained to Dov the importance of product branding, so his varieties have catchy names like Pomme de Sahel (his adaptation of Christ-thorn or Jujube tree), Moringa sucre (catchier than PKM1, right?) Icrixina (to his improved Xina tomato). Not just plants get catchy names. So do programs - I'll tell you later about the African Market Garden and Farmers of the Future.

So do processes, like "bullshit technology." Let me tell you the story of Dov's work with Acacia tumida. As you know, acacias thrive in sub-Saharan Africa, Israel, California and other places. Scientists have scoured the globe for varieties of acacia that might have useful characteristics for the Sahel, the narrow band of semi-arid land to the south of the Sahara, which spans the continent and is home to the world's poorest people. He hit a home run with Acacia tumida. A. tumida thrives in hard laterite (more about that later, too). This variety has no thorns. Once the tree matures, its branches are excellent for firewood and they REGENERATE within a year of being cut. Its seed is 24% protein and is excellent chicken feed - and chickens provide good food security, giving both meat and eggs.

But Dov had a problem with his acacias. Unless he fenced them, goats would eat the saplings. And fencing would not be practical once they were outside of his research facility, in the hands of poor farmers. Dov struggled with this problem, asking others for ideas. A professor of veterinary science gave him the beginning of a solution when he told Dov that when goatherds want to wean a kid, they smear her teats with. . . Well, you know where this is going. Anyway, it works first time, every time.

Dov experimented with various ways to apply this information, and after testing came up with a solution of cow manure, water and glue which, applied once a month during the dry season for 1-2 years, repels goats until the trees are established.

I think this is a long enough letter. Next time I'll write less about Dov and more about what he is accomplishing in Africa.

Can you tell we are having a great time?

Love, Judy and John

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