At a REACT4MED Project meeting hosted by the University of Haifa, Israel (29 November – 1 December 2022), Dr. Christos Zoumides represented the research team of The Cyprus Institute and presented the Cyprus case study. REACT4MED stands for “Inclusive Outscaling of Agro-ecosystem Restoration ACTions of the Mediterranean”, and the aim of the Cyprus case study site is to combat land degradation and sustain mountain agriculture in cooperation with Troodos farmers, mountain communities and policy institutions. The project is funded by the PRIMA Programme (Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area), a European Union Programme supported by Horizon 2020, focused on building research and innovation capacities, and devising innovative solutions addressing critical problems in the fields of water management and agro-alimentary systems in the Mediterranean. The Project is coordinated by the Hellenic Mediterranean University based in Crete.

On the sidelines of the meeting, the REACT4MED partners had a chance to visit a unique facility in Israel. There, at a farmhouse of rural Bethlehem of Galilee, a slender young woman picks up off the floor what from a distance resembles breadcrumbs. Yuli Betzer does so with great care and respect, almost ceremoniously. She places each of the aggregates on one open palm of her hand without breaking it up. The dirt comes from her careless guests, who just visited her blossoming orchard and caried it inside under their boots. Yuli knows that this is not mere dirt to be swept away, but the very source of life and fertility of her farm and needs to return it to its rightful place. This is soil.

We seldom consider that the dirt we tread upon is significant, but healthy soil is essential to the livelihood of this Mediterranean community, as for so many others, providing numerous services and supporting the ecosystem and the agricultural production. The carefree visitors, REACT4MED scientists from across the Mediterranean and PRIMA participating states, remain in awe of what they have witnessed at the Bethlehem of Galilee food forest. Yuli Betzer talks about the restoration of soil, the accomplishments and the vision of her community, with unmatched passion and confidence. She wants to bring up her children in a world that respects the ecosystem and develops rather than depletes its resources. Her venture is neither for the faint hearted nor the romantic soul, rather the product of consultation with professional agriculturists and engineers, a solid business plan, and daily hard work. The 500 visitors that come to the food forest every week to taste the fresh produce, learn, and get in touch with nature, make this paradigm shift tangible.

Back at University of Haifa, REACT4MED partners discussed the grave negative impact of unsustainable practices and climate change on soil erosion, soil organic carbon, and salinisation. They come from different backgrounds, Universities, research institutes, and an SME, from Greece, Italy, Germany, Cyprus, Spain, Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, and of course Israel. In their home countries, local communities struggle with the issue of land degradation that threatens their livelihoods, much like in Israel. Large scale restoration actions, such as those already proposed by PRIMA and REACT4MED, and highlighted in the recent COP27, are at the epicentre, and the wide adoption of sustainable land and water management practices applied at the food forest is a step in the right direction. And while achieving what she has succeeded is for many unattainable and even utopian, on December 5, the World Soil Day, the inspiring vision of Yuli Betzer deserves a place under the warm Mediterranean sun.

For more information about the Project, visit and contact The Cyprus Institute ( or the REACT4MED project ( For more inspiration by the work of Yuli Betzer at the Bethlehem of Galilee food forest, watch their video and find more information at

Source: The Cyprus Institute I News (