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The team members of the Cocoa Cure Center, Israel are experienced and dedicated researchers from the Volcani Institute, Agricultural Research Organization (ARO), Israel. They come from a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds. What unites them is an undying passion for learning and discovery, and a love of chocolate.

Meet them below.

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Head Visionary & Chief Scientist

Ellen R. Graber, Ph.D., is a Research Scientist and Group Leader (academic equivalence to Full Professor) in the Institute of Soil, Water and Environmental Sciences, Volcani Institute, ARO, which she joined in 1992. Throughout her career, she has been engaged in multi-faceted and cross-disciplinary research in agriculture and the environment. Her research cuts across the groundwater-soil-rhizosphere-plant-atmosphere continuum along multiple disciplines. Since 2010, Ellen has concentrated on the pyrolysis/biochar platform from a variety of agricultural and environmental aspects, including soil fertility, crop production, plant resistance to pathogens and tolerance to abiotic stresses, and remediation of contaminated soils. Today she serves as an expert on the International Technical Panel of Soils (ITPS), the scientific advisory board of the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO-UN). Dr. Graber is leading the Saving Chocolate Initiative.

Cacao Genetics & Breeding

Ran Hovav, Ph.D., is a Senior Research Scientist and Group Leader (academic equivalence to Associate Professor) in the Institute of Plant Sciences, The Volcani Center, ARO, which he joined in 2009. He has been engaged in genetics and breeding of oilseed crops. His research deals with the genetics and development of the seed and pods of oil crops including peanut, cotton and recently cacao. The lab is concentrated in using genetics markers and genetic maps to investigate mechanisms that control quality, shape and size of seeds and pods. Also, he is the leading peanut breeding person in Israel. All of the peanut varieties grown in Israel originated from his lab, including the new Israeli high-oleic peanut products. Ran serves as an expert on the International Peanut Genome Consortium, and he is the vice-chair of the Israeli Field & Vegetable Crops Association

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Plant Protection - Virology

Aviv Dombrovsky, Ph.D.,  is  a  Senior Research  Scientist and Group Leader at  the  Institute  of  Plant Protection,  the Agriculture Research Organization (ARO), the Volcani Center. The laboratory specializes in the identification of new viral diseases in vegetables and studies the modes of transmission of recently discovered viral diseases in Israel. Topics include virus characterization, the insect vector or mode of transmission/spread, possible agro-techniques to reduce the damage due to the disease. The Dombrovsky laboratory provides virological support to farmers, the agricultural extension service, seed companies and nurseries for the Israeli vegetable industry.

Agricultural Nutrient Management

Shahar Baram, Ph.D., is a Research Scientist and Group Leader in the Institute of Soil, Water and Environmental Sciences. Shahar joined Volcani in 2017, and ever since he has been engaged in optimizing nutrient management in agriculture. Shahar’s research spans the soil-water-plant-atmosphere continuum. In recent years his study focused on quantification and minimization of nitrogen (N) leakiness from agricultural systems, accounting for the irrigation water quality and irrigation frequency. Shahar is also working on phosphorous availability from biowastes, with the aim of optimizing the type and the load of the applied biowaste to the soil and crop needs.

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Food Science & Post Harvest

Zipora Tietel, Ph.D., is a food scientist, a member of the Food Science Department and the Head of the Food Chemistry and Biochemistry Lab in Gilat Research Center. Her research focuses on functional food and food health contribution, mainly in oil crops (olive, almond, jojoba etc.). Her lab is interested in food quality aspects of agricultural systems, looking at food’s secondary metabolites, metabolomics and lipidomics. Main research topics involve interdisciplinary collaborations, e.g. in studying the effects of water quality and nutrient availability on food health properties.

Soilborne Diseases

Omer Frenkel, Ph.D., is a Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Plant Pathology & Weed Sciences, The Volcani Center, ARO. Omer’s research is focused on two main aspects: i) Population biology of plant pathogens, and especially the ecological factors that depict the populations divergence. This research field involves several pathosystems including grapes/Erysiphe necator and Avocado/Lasiodiplodia. ii) Disease control during the nursery stage and the early stage after planting. This field involves epidemiological and disease management studies and involves the following pathosystems of tomato/ Fusarium solani/Clavibacter michiganensis; Cucumber/Pythium. Since 2011, Omer has been involved in pyrolysis/biochar projects, leading the studies of biochar as a tool to suppress soilborne pathogens. Methods used include classic and molecular tools, epidemiology and statistics, metagenomics, soil and plant inoculation with microorganisms.

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Soil Science & Plant Nutrition

Uri Yermiyahu, Ph.D., is a Senior Researcher at the Agricultural Research Organization (Volcani Center) of Israel. His Ph.D. is from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Uri is the founder and director of the ICL-ARO Center for Fertilization and Plant Nutrition, and previously was the head of the Gilat Research Center. Since September, 2019 he has been serving as the Director of Research and Development for the Volcani Center.
Dr Yermiyahu’s research interests focus on plant nutrition and fertilization of crops. His contributions include understanding influences of plant nutrition on biotic and abiotic stress causing factors, mineral requirements in agriculture in desert environments, salinity and toxicity in plants, and managing nutrients as a function of irrigation water quality. He has worked with brackish, recycled and desalinated water and with horticultural crops ranging from fresh herbs and flowers to vegetables and fruit trees


Ally Harari, Ph.D., joined Volcani’s Department of Entomology in 1999. Her expertise comprises the manipulation of sexual behavior and mating systems of insects and spiders, and environmental manipulations to combat insect pests and invaded weeds. Her research strategies combine theory and applied approaches in the search for environmentally friendly solutions to agricultural pest management with the ultimate goal to reduce the damage caused by various pests through the exploitation of the pests’ reproductive systems and use the reproductive system of beneficial arthropods to fight insect pests and invasive weeds. Currently, Ally’s research is focused on four major areas: (1) The effect of volatile communication on reproductive decisions of arthropod pests. (2) Manipulating reproductive decisions of insect pests. (3) Biological control of invasive weeds and its application in agricultural practices, and (4) Encouraging natural arthropod diversity as a tool in pest management.

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Agricultural Economics

Efrat Hadas, Ph.D., is Deputy Vice General Manager, Economy & Quality Management, Investment and Financing Department, at Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture, where she has worked since 1989. As the Ministry’s Chief Economist, she is in charge of investments in agriculture; economic forecasting of agricultural trends at the micro and macro level; long-term planning and implementation of the agri-eco environment and agritourism. In the past few years, Dr. Hadas conducted economic assessments for local initiatives to develop agricultural products, and took part in projects of the EU and the US for assessing the impact of using carbon from electricity production and biocarbon from agricultural waste. Dr. Hadas has taught advanced courses on integrated water resources management in quality management in agriculture, global marketing and farm planning and fisheries-based management in Tanzania, Nigeria, China, Egypt, Kenya and Nepal. She serves as a board member of several organizations, including the Israel Wine Institute, and the Israel Wine Council, the Council for Citrus, Tomato and Corn Products.


Alon Ben-Gal, Ph.D., is a senior researcher in the Department of Environmental Physics and Irrigation, Institute of Soil, Water and Environmental Sciences, The Agricultural Research Organization, Gilat Research Center. Dr. Ben-Gal’s interest focus is self-described as: “X-treme agriculture: managing water in the arid zones”. His research and expertise include: irrigation of crops; agricultural utilization of saline water and of recycled wastewater; optimization of water under irrigation in arid regions; plant response to environmental stress conditions; and flow and transport of water and solutes in the vadose zone. Alon is the author of over 100 peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters. He enjoys active multi-disciplinary regional and multi-national collaboration on topics including agronomic, environmental and economic consideration of irrigation with low quality water and promotion of agricultural water use efficiency.

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Plant-Pollinator Interactions

Arnon Dag, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist (academic equivalent to Full professor) in the Institute of Plant Sciences, The Volcani Center. For the last 25 years, Arnon have been working continuously on plant-pollinator interaction. His research focuses on pollination demands of horticultural crops and on the nutritional demands of pollinators. Arnon teaches an academic course in Bar Ilan University on pollination ecology. He also chair sessions on Crop pollination in international symposiums and published more than 200 papers in local and refereed journals, related to pollination and other relevant horticultural topics

Plant Science - Abiotic Stresses

Akiva Shalit-Kaneh, Ph.D., is a scientist in the Plant Sciences Institute who focuses on abiotic plant stress responses, mainly heat stress, and the effect of this stress at different phenological stages. Additionally he studies these responses in a daily and seasonal context at the whole plant level utilizing genetics, molecular biology and physiology. The crops at the focus of his research are potatoes, tomatoes and cacao trees.


Soil Microbiology

Eddie Cytryn, Ph.D., focuses on various aspects of environmental microbiology and microbial ecology using a combination of isolation based and cutting-edge molecular and genomic methods coupled to bioinformatic pipelines. He is especially interested in plant-microbe interactions and environmental and agricultural dimensions of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Agricultural Robotics

Avital Bechar, Ph.D., is a senior research scientist and the Director of the Institute of Agriculture Engineering (IAE) at the Agriculture Research Organization (ARO) in Israel, and an Associate Professor at Ben Gurion University, Israel. He was appointed adjunct professor at Purdue University, USA, in the years 2011-2012. He holds a B.Sc. degree in Aerospace Engineering and a M.Sc. in Agricultural Engineering, both from the Technion, Israel, and a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering from Ben-Gurion University, Israel, on agricultural robotics and human–robot integrated systems. Prof. Bechar is the founder and head of the Agricultural Robotics and Proximal Sensing Lab at IAE, where he is conducting fundamental and applied research in robotics for agriculture, human-robot collaborative systems and sensor technologies for proximal sensing. He is the author of more than 100 articles in peer reviewed scientific publications.

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Fruit Tree Physiology

Eran Raveh, Ph.D., is a citrus expert who has worked for the Agricultural Research Organization at the Gilat Research Centre, Israel, for over 20 years, and is now its Director. Dr. Raveh has conducted work on strategies to manage high salinity irrigation water, rootstock/scion interaction, interpretative standards for assessing leaf nutrient levels in citrus, girdling for crop regulation, and fruit quality. As a plant physiologist who works on applied research, most of his work is conducted in commercial orchards in collaboration with growers and extension services. Recently, Dr. Raveh developed (together with the University of Florida) a unique sensor for early detection of HLB symptomatic trees based on the polarization of reflected light from the trees.

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