A historic partnership between the University of Arizona, Jewish National Fund-USA, and farmers in the Arava Valley, has been renamed as the Kasser Joint Institute for Food, Water, and Energy Security, in honor of a $1 million commitment made to the Institute by philanthropists Beth and Mike Kasser.

“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 some very talented experienced scientists on both sides, at the University of Arizona and in the Arava, so who am I to tell them what to do?” said Mike Kasser, explaining why he and his wife, Beth, helped to found and fund the institute that is now adopting their name.

Research into Agrivoltaic Panels sponsored by the Kasser Joint Institute is taking place in Eilot, Israel.

Mike, who owns real estate investment firm, Holualoa Companies, is a graduate of M.IT., has a doctorate in engineering from the University of Grenoble in France and an MBA from Harvard Business School. They travel widely, speak many languages, and have strong interests in science, arts, and culture. The couple met at the Yonkers marathon and have since run dozens of marathons and done multiple Ironman triathlons in Hawaii. On a trip to Israel with Russel Robinson, CEO of Jewish National Fund-USA, the Kassers visited the Arava Valley, one of the country’s most significant agricultural regions. Russell shared his goal of connecting the region with a university in the United States, and the Arizona residents suggested their state institution. Thus, the seed was planted

“I got Russell together with my good friend Joaquin Ruiz at the University of Arizona, the former Dean of the College of Science and knew we would have a good partner to study water issues,” Mike told us. As the Vice President, Global Environmental Futures, Director of Biosphere 2, and Executive Director of the Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum, Ruiz was key in bringing the project to life.

Arizona, especially the southern part of the state, is arid like the Arava Valley, which only averages four millimeters of precipitation each year. Water consumption in Israel has not been sustainable since the mid-1970s, meaning that the groundwater resources in the Arava Valley – Israel’s leading agriculture region – are becoming more and more important.

“The re-naming of the Joint institute represents the continuation of an innovative project and reflects the trust and confidence our donors have in this project. We hope that with the re-naming more donors will learn about the Kasser Joint Institute and will choose to become active partners of this unique endeavor,” said Tania Pons Allon, the Director of the Kasser Joint Institute.

The institute has already begun research projects to serve the Arava and regions with similar climates in countries such as Mexico and Kenya. Two current projects include agrivoltaic off-grid systems where crops are grown underneath solar panels and an aquaponic fish and irrigation program that can be used by farmers around the world.

For more information or to support Jewish National Fund-USA’s Kasser Joint Insitute, email Tali Tzour at ttzour@jnf.org. 

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Jewish National Fund-USA
Jewish National Fund-USA is the leading philanthropic organization for Israel that supports critical environmental and nation-building activities in Israel’s north and south. Through its One Billion Dollar Roadmap for the Next Decade, JNF-USA is developing new communities in the Galilee and Negev, connecting the next generation to Israel, and creating infrastructure and programs that support ecology, individuals with special needs, and heritage site preservation. Learn more at jnf.org.
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