They said it couldn't be done, but a group of Israeli agricultural experts have succeeded in helping local Colombian farmers grow potatoes in a harsh desert environment.
"From this desert you might receive stones, but not potatoes," that's what local farmers in Colombia's northern La Guajira desert said when presented with an Israeli proposal to grow potatoes in the region.
A year later, Israeli know-how and technology has won the day, and produced nothing short of a miracle as local farmers have harvested 11 tons of potatoes from the desert.
La Guajira is a coal-producing region, and the company that processes most of that coal financed the potato project as a world-first experiment to get the tubers to grow in a desert climate. Typically, potatoes only grow in cooler climates where the soil has sufficient moisture. The success in La Guajira is considered a world-first for potato farming in dry, hot climates.
The project was the brain-child of Isaac Gilinski, a Colombian Jewish businessman who is currently serving as Colombia's ambassador to Israel.
The son of Israeli immigrants, Gilinski knew well of Israel's agricultural prowess and, with the help of Israeli agricultural expert Avi Nachmias, determined to bring that expertise to his country. Nachmias and others trained local Colombian farmers and helped install an Israeli irrigation system.
Officials from the Israeli Embassy in Bogota who visited the new La Guajira potato farms said, "The locals were in shock over this miracle. The farmers here are very conservative by nature, so it was not easy for them to break old habits and try something new. But from their point of view, this was a tremendous success, since a local potato harvest will create a lot of new income."
Colombian officials are reportedly eager to repeat what they call the successful Israeli project in other parts of the country.