When it was founded in 2019, the then-named Joint Institute for Global Food, Water and Energy Security in Israel represented a partnership between the University of Arizona – which has a wealth of arid agriculture and climate research. water – the Jewish National Fund-USA and experts in Israel’s Arava Valley.
“If you have enough water, then the other things come. If you don’t, then it’s hard to imagine life on earth. There are very talented and experienced scientists on both sides, at the University of Arizona and at Arava, so who am I to tell them what to do? said Mike Kasser, explaining why he and his wife, Beth, helped found and fund the institute that now adopts their name.
To honor and recognize their commitment to founding and funding the institute, the research collaboration will henceforth be known as the Kasser Joint Institute for Food, Water and Energy Security; after the couple’s cumulative donations to the institute hit $1 million.
Kasser is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, holds a doctorate in engineering from the University of Grenoble in France and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He and his wife travel a lot, speak several languages and are very interested in science, arts and culture. The couple met at the Yonkers Marathon in New York and have since run dozens of marathons and done several Ironman triathlons in Hawaii.
One of their most important initiatives – contributing logistically and financially to the Joint Institute for Global Food, Water and Energy Security for several years – is another passion.
On a trip to Israel with Russel Robinson, CEO of the Jewish National Fund-USA, the Kassers visited the Arava Valley, one of the country’s most important agricultural regions. Robinson shared his goal of connecting the region to a university in the United States, and Arizona residents suggested their state institution.
“I brought Russell together with my good friend Joaquin Ruiz at the University of Arizona, the former dean of the College of Science, and I knew we would have a good partner to study water issues,” Kasser said. . As vice president of Global Environmental Futures at UA and director of Biosphere 2, home to the world’s largest lab experiment in earth science, Ruiz has been instrumental in bringing the project to fruition.
Arizona, especially the southern part of the state, is arid like the Arava Valley, which receives an average of only four millimeters of precipitation each year. As the population grows, Israel struggles to regulate water use in the Arava Valley, which borders Jordan.
“The institute’s name change represents the continuation of an innovative project and reflects the confidence that our donors have in this project. We hope that with the name change, more donors will learn about the Kasser Joint Institute and choose to become active partners in this unique endeavour,” said Tania Pons Allon, director of the institute.
Water shortages have many effects, including energy and food insecurity. The Kasser Joint Institute uses a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving by organizing working committees with representatives from the University of Arizona, the Arava region, and local farmers. In the three years since its founding, the institute has focused on two large-scale research projects that will eventually be implemented in the target communities.
The first project is an off-grid agrivoltaic system where crops are grown under solar panels. In this system, the sun is used twice: for food production and to produce energy. “The energy produced in these systems can provide electricity for water treatment, pumping, chiller storage and any other solution the local community will need,” added Pons Allon.
The second project is an aquaponic system where the fish are raised in tanks and then the water from the tanks is used to irrigate the hydroponic crops. This system is completely off-grid with the use of solar panels and could be used to feed a family and generate income.
These research projects can be used to solve problems in the Arava Valley and other regions with similar climates, such as parts of Mexico and Africa. These findings will be used to develop solutions, training and education.
The Kassers are excited to develop partnerships and funding for the institute that now bears their name for one important reason: the world needs immediate solutions to water resource problems.
Although the Kasser Joint Institute is still in its infancy, the couple are already seeing the results of their philanthropy as solutions are discovered and shared with other drylands or developing areas. “It’s going as well if not better than I expected,” Kasser said. “Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t, but it works.” At the same time, the Kassers know that the institute and its climate research need all the support they can get – and soon. As he added, “there is a lot of work to be done. It’s not going to happen anytime soon, it’s going to continue and I hope other people will be part of this work and build on it. For all of our good. jn
Bea Carter is a freelance writer living in Washington State.