Israel has a very small land region and lacks natural resources and favorable weather conditions. But despite that, it dominates the world in agricultural research, innovation and development. The technology that Israel is developing is not only benefiting them, it is bringing benefits to the world.
Agriculture in Israel is an incredibly evolved industry although its importance in Israel’s overall financial system is relatively less, with its contribution to GDP merely 16 per cent in 2020. Israel is a prime exporter of fresh produce and a world-leader in agriculture technologies, even though the country’s geographical environment is not conducive to agriculture development. Over half of Israel’s territory is desert, only 20% of the surface is naturally cultivable. But with its innovative investments in agro-industry they made the deserts bloom.
According to development indicators compiled by the world bank, the area of agricultural land in Israel in 2018 was 28.8%. Although agriculture workers account for only approximately 1% of the labor force as per latest data, Israel produces 95% of its own food needs and dietary supplements this demand by importing grains, oilseed, coffee, cocoa meat, sugar. For any country to sustain, it must have a strong agriculture sector and Israel evidently, has built a self-sustaining agricultural sector. What is more unique to Israel is the idea of agricultural communities, namely Kibbutz and Moshav, which have developed when Jews from all over the world came to the country and began to settle in the country side. Agriculture was practiced in closed communities. A kibbutz is a collective community in Israel that was traditionally based on agriculture. The first kibbutz, established in 1909, was Degania. Today, farming has evolved and partly supplanted by other economic branches, including industrial plants and high-tech enterprises. The moshav, which is generally based on the principle of private ownership of land, avoidance of hired labour, and communal marketing, represents an intermediate stage between privately owned settlements and the complete communal living of the kibbutz.
The development of modern agriculture is closely related to the Zionist movement and Jewish immigration to Palestine in the late 19th century. Immigrant Jews bought mainly semi-arid land. Since independence in 1948, the total land area under cultivation has increased from 165,000 hectares to 433,000 hectares in 2009, and the number of farming communities has increased from 400 to 725. Agriculture production has expanded 16 times, three times the population growth, which is phenomenal.
However, water shortage is a major problem. Israel experiences rainfall between September to April, and the distribution is uneven across the country ranging from 700mm in the north to less than 20mm in the south. As per recent data, the annual renewable water resources are about 160 million cubic meters, of which 75% is used for agriculture. Therefore, most of Israel’s fresh water resources are added to the national water transportation system, which is a network of pumping stations, reservoirs, canals and pipelines that transport water from north to the south. In the Israeli system, farmers also use less water to grow more.
As a recognized leader in the field of water management, desalination and recycling technologies, Israel has established a model of reusing wastewater for irrigation. It treats 80% of domestic wastewater, which is recycled for agricultural purposes and accounts for nearly 50% of total agricultural water. Drip irrigation is one of the most effective methods used by farmers in many developed countries to reduce water waste. Here, water can slowly drip to the roots of many different plants, whether on the surface of the soil or directly on the roots through a network of pipes and drains.
Israel is dominating the world in agriculture research and development, which has resulted in a significant increase in the quality and quantity of the country’s crop. The drive to increase crop yield and quality has also led to the development of new crop varieties and seeds, as well as innovations such as soil improvers that increase crop yields and drip irrigation.
Besides the public investment in agriculture, contribution of start-ups to Israeli agricultural success story has been notable. An amazing start-up Kaiima, set up in 2007, has developed plant genetics and breeding techniques. The Tiberius-based company offers a flagship technology platform called EP that allows plant breeders to improve the inherent productivity of food and forage crops. The company’s customers are non-genetically modified crops seed companies that leverage its platform to breed new varieties of seeds.
Another interesting agro start-up is See Tree, founded in 2017. Herzliya-based company develops and provides machine learning-based data-driven solutions for analyzing the state of trees. This allows users to check the health of trees, shrubs and weak trees using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and IOT multi-sensor data drone imaging technology. Based on object recognition and geospatial algorithms, the core system can recognize, measure, organize data from the orchard after training and provide analytics for accurate decision making. See Tree offers a unique blend of technology-oriented, sustainable solutions to long-term agricultural development.
If Israel can make the deserts bloom, it can certainly offer a lot of valuable lessons to developing countries across the globe. India and Israel already have significant cooperation in the field of agriculture. In 2008, India and Israel signed a project for 3 years based on an intergovernmental agreement. The plan was subsequently expanded to include the period 2012-2015. Within this framework, the state of Israel is required to share best practices and knowledge and provide training through professional training programs in Israel and India. Besides industry-level cooperation, universities also offer training and expertise to Indian counterparts. In 2020, Ben-Gurion University allowed Indian students to earn BGU degree in dryland agriculture, water quality and related topics and opened an agro-research center in Chennai. Via similar programs, Israel has been sharing its expertise and experience with India. Thus, agriculture is yet another area wherein Israel has established itself as a global leader, with lessons to offer to the world.