“Adapting Israeli R&D to Local Conditions can help Indian Agriculture”

Uri Rubinstien, former Counsellor for International Cooperation (Mashav), Science & Agriculture, at the Embassy of Israel in New Delhi. He played an active role in setting up the Center of Excellence in 10 states across India. In this interview, he points out that these centres have acted as a tool to transfer Israeli technology to Indian farms and that this cooperation has benefited both countries immensely.

Israel is the world leader in agriculture technology. India’s agriculture sector has to feed a 1.2 billion-strong population. In which areas within the agriculture sector can cooperation between India & Israel flourish?

A few years back India went through the first green revolution and became self-reliant in feeding its population, which is not something that should be taken for granted. Now, India is in the midst of the 2nd green revolution which is diversification of its food basket. Israel and India share many similar challenges and India can take advantage of Israel’s experience in overcoming challenges such as water scarcity, increasing of productivity, diversifying food basket, and the use of technology and advanced training by the local farmers. These are just a few of the areas we are focusing on.

Israel-India agriculture cooperation is a significant part of the relations between the two countries. Can you give us the important milestones in this relationship in terms of agreements signed between the two countries over the years?

India and Israel signed an MoU in 2008 for cooperation in agriculture. The second phase (2012- 2015) includes setting up Centers of Excellence’s in Agriculture in more than 10 states throughout India. But for us the important milestones are not agreements being signed but the results you see on the ground such as seeing those Centers of Excellence’s become operational and conducting training for already dozens of thousands of farmers throughout India.

Israel is expected to set up Centers of excellence across 10 Indian states by the year 2015. What are the objectives of these centres? To what extent have they helped Indian farmers?

We are working closely with the governments of each of those states in the project in order to set up those centres according to their local needs and demands. This process is based on joint R&D that is being done by Israeli and Indian experts. The aim of those centres is to increase productivity by implementing and adapting innovative Israeli technological solutions and by providing trainings to the farmers using those advanced methods.

Israel has helped Indian farmers diversify their production basket by introducing new products. These include olives in Rajasthan and dates in the Kutch area of Gujarat. How adaptable have Indian farmers been and what is the success of these ventures?

It is important to understand that diversifying the food basket does not necessarily mean replicating whatever is being done somewhere else. What is being done in the Centres of Excellence is adapting those methods to the local needs of each state. Simple cut and paste would not do the job. We find the Indian farmers very enthusiastic to adopt new proven methods that can increase their productivity. In the case of olives in Rajasthan, you find Indian farmers willing to do something that has never been done in India; that is to grow olives, and we are very proud that soon the first batch of Indian olive oil will be ready. They are very open-minded to implementing new methods.

One of the biggest problems facing Indian agriculture is poor water management. What kind of technological assistance can Israel provide in this regard?

Israel is at the forefront in various fields in the water industry including water management. Israeli experience in recycling water is unparallel. Today Israel recycles more than 80 percent of its domestic water and reuses that in agriculture. Also, Israeli companies are the most advanced in the world in bringing drip irrigation solutions. Ninety percent of the water in India is used for agriculture and industry. Smarter use of water can make a huge difference in India. We are confident that India can benefit from Israeli expertise in water.

With rising incomes in India, the consumer basket is expanding to include more vegetables, fruits and dairy products. Again, what is the scope for Israel-India cooperation in this area?

The scope of cooperation becoming wider and deeper is according to the requirements of our Indian partners and the local market. One sector that we see high growth in is the dairy industry in which Israel has the highest cow productivity in the world, and many methods and technology Indians can adopt and adapt. Nevertheless, we see the main demand is not always to bring new varieties of food and vegetables but to improve the yield of existing ones.

Which are the organisations that are actively involved in promoting Israel-India agriculture cooperation? Training programmes for Indian agriculture officers as well as farmers have been held in Israel. How many such teams have visited Israel and what has been the experience?

Our activity in the field of agriculture in India is conducted mainly through MASHAV, Israel’s agency for International Development Cooperation in the MFA. MASHAV has existed for over 50 years and is active all over the world. MASHAV has vast experience, among other things, in conducting courses for farmers and other agricultural experts, both in Israel and in the respective states. Our activity in India includes bringing Israeli experts to India to work jointly with our Indian counterparts all year long. The feedback we have received so far has been very good not only from the Indian side but also from our Israeli experts that tell us that after almost each visit, they have learned new things as well.

Israel hosts important agriculture events such as Agritech and Agrivest. Has there been significant participation by India in these events?

Agritech, one of the world’s most important exhibitions in the field of agricultural technologies, is held once every three years. The exhibition showcases advanced equipments and technologies, cost saving production and other innovations in the field of agriculture. It provides a platform for interaction between producers, farmers, administrators and those involved directly or indirectly with agriculture or water technology. In 2012, as many as 600 farmers from Gujarat travelled to Tel Aviv Israel to attend the Exhibition. Another proof of collaboration between the two countries is Naandan Jain Irrigation Ltd. Israeli company Na’an Irrigation Systems was renowned for developing the underground sprinkler system. By the mid-1980s, growing competition and decrease in demand forced the company into a considerable slowdown. After roughly 20 years of struggles, Na’an Irrigation Systems merged with Indian conglomerate Jain Irrigation in 2007 and is now aiming to become one of the largest irrigation manufacturers in the world.

What measures can be taken to improve cooperation between Indian and Israeli agriculture companies to promote the business of agriculture?

The single most important thing that can be done by companies in the business of agriculture is joint R&D adapted to the local market. By focusing on local challenges such as post-harvest, dairy industry and water treatment, Israeli and Indian companies can tap into one of the most promising markets in the world. One good example of cooperation in R&D can be seen between the Israeli company, Netafim, one of the biggest irrigation companies in the world, and the University of Tamil Nadu in implying drip irrigation in rice. Results have shown that by using certain techniques and technologies, significant water conservation is being done. As a result, fewer pesticides are being used. In the end, you get not only a healthier product but you also use less resources in the process. These are exactly the kind of projects that we believe can be done between Israeli and Indians at all levels.