Combating desertification in the Negev: Dryland agriculture vs. dryland urbanization

B. A. Portnov, U. N. Safriel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Negev region occupies nearly two-third of Israel's land area (21,671 km2) but hosts less than 9% of its 6.5 million strong population. Until recently, the process of desertification did not affect the Negev profoundly. This was mainly due to large-scale afforestation programs, restrictions imposed on grazing, and large water subsidies from the less arid part of the country to its more arid part. However, there are some indications that the process of desertification in the Negev has already started and may accelerate in the future. In light of this trend, the efficient long-term strategy for the Negev's development is essential. The present study compares two alternative strategies of the Negev's future development: agricultural expansion vs. urbanization path. Two basic criteria - the minimization of adverse environmental impacts and economic feasibility - are used for the evaluation. The urbanization path is found to be preferable. Since agriculture and livestock grazing are the major contributors to desertification, replacing them with urban development may lessen the risk of desertification in the future. In contrast, urban development, if properly planned and regulated, may reduce the spatial extent of the area affected by agricultural development, and thus minimize the anthropogenic impact on the desert environment. Economic reason is also important: While even in the future, agricultural production in the Negev may remain limited due to economic considerations, urban development may justify the often-large investment required for the provision of fresh water.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)659-680
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Arid Environments
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 2004


  • Agricultural development
  • Desertification
  • Drylands
  • Urbanization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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