This week, world leaders and NGOs, along with thousands of individuals concerned with green energy, food security, sustainable agriculture, water, disaster readiness and the environment, will come together at the United Nations-sponsored Rio+20 on Sustainable Development.
Israel, which will be represented by Environment Minister Gilad Erdan, has become a leading powerhouse on many of these issues, and is ready to continue to share its technological innovations and expertise to help feed the world and keep it safe.
It is well-timed but not surprising that Prof. Daniel Hillel, an Israeli water and soil expert, recently won the World Food Prize. This first-time win for an Israeli underlines the fact that Israel, a desert nation once challenged by its arid geography and a population explosion, has developed a range of agriculture and water technologies that are already helping to provide solutions to many of the most pressing problems that will be discussed in Rio.
For decades now, Israeli agriculture experts have been sharing their know-how with some of the fastest growing and wealthiest nations, as well as some of the poorest regions on earth, creating sustainable self-sufficiency in food and water supplies.
In recent years, Israeli expertise has been heavily in demand in India, Africa and China, together home to more than half the world’s population. Leaders in these vast nations and regions understand that an escalating world food crisis – soaring prices, growing shortages and burgeoning population growth – which has already sparked unrest in North Africa, could be a harbinger of worse things to come across the globe and closer to home.
None of the underlying causes of the growing crisis – population growth, climate change that threatens to flood large areas of cultivated land, rising oil prices, and transport costs – are likely to ebb in the near future. The fact is they will likely be exacerbated.
Examples of smart, feasible and affordable Israeli solutions to these challenges abound.
Seventy percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water, but almost all of it, 97.5%, is saltwater. Israel is subject to this same ratio, and has long been a world leader in desalination, the process that converts salt water to fresh water so it is suitable for human consumption or irrigation. This process is absolutely vital to desert regions like Israel, and in vast swaths of Africa, China and India, where fresh water is in limited supply.
Israel’s irrigation skill, owing to its limited fresh water supplies and meager rainfall in much of the country, has become legend. Israeli companies have become world leaders in irrigation technology, water management and treatment and desalinization. Israel holds the world’s leading rate of water, recycling 75% of its wastewater, mostly for agriculture. As a comparison, Spain, which is the world’s second largest water recycling nation, uses only about 12% of its water in this way.
Israel, long a country that has fed its own population, has invested heavily in R&D to increase food production. A startling example of its success rests with the Israeli cow, which provides an average of 11,381 kg. of milk per year, significantly outpacing cows in every nation in the world. American cows yield 9,331 kg, Japanese 7.49, Russian 3,698, Chinese 2,832, Australian 5.601, and European 6.139. Imagine how one cow’s yield can change the lives of families in developing nations if Israeli innovation is used on their farms and homesteads.
The Israeli government has long been open and willing to share its knowledge to help feed the world. MASHAV, Israel’s Center for International Cooperation, was established back in 1958 as a division of Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Its agricultural program, the Center for International Agricultural Development Cooperation (CINADCO), was founded on the belief that Israel’s agricultural miracle can be replicated in other countries facing the same kinds of severe food challenges that Israel once faced. According to MASHAV, “Israel’s own tested solutions for problems such as water, capital and land shortages can help the countries of the developing world transform their agriculture from traditional subsistence to sophisticated market-oriented production. It is for this reason many countries of the developing world have sought partnership with Israel addressing their own agricultural challenges.”
The Rio conference is an excellent opportunity to showcase Israel’s desire and capability to work cooperatively with the family of nations to promote international health and stability.