Dan Alluf, Mashav Counsellor, Science, and Agriculture, was in Nepal as a guest speaker for ‘Small Farmer Summit, 2019’ that concluded on Friday. Mashav is Israel’s International Development Cooperation.
Israel is a leader in the agriculture sector due to its success in utilizing technology and innovations for farming even in the desert areas. Over 2,500 Nepali farmers have reached the Middle Eastern country in the last five years to learn modern farming skills.
The Indian government has also started a partnership with the Israel government to set up ‘centers for excellence’ to emulate Israel’s success in agriculture. Even the government of Nepal is reportedly seeking Israel’s help in setting up similar centers in Nepal. Republica’s Sagar Ghimire caught up with Alluf at the sidelines of the summit to talk about Israel’s experiences on agro technology and innovations, center for excellence and ways to develop Nepal’s agriculture sector. Excerpts:
Please briefly share the success story of Israel in the agriculture sector.
More than half of Israel’s land is desert with no water at all. This created a challenge for Israel when it was born 71 years ago. We actually needed to generate water first. With this challenge before us, a lot of innovations came. Like many things, necessities create innovations. They drive many aspects in development. There was invention of drip irrigation and the ability to drive water from source to the farm land. Amid this, farming has to be justified and it has to be a business. For this, good genetic, good variety, intensive cultivation and market like Europe -- all of these created a large ecosystem that supported the end result of Israel becoming a leader in agro technology.
How the technologies and innovations reach the farmers?
We talk about agro-technology. But, the base of everything is farmer. Israeli farmers look to increase their income and justify their business model behind the farm. When farmers grow, we usually start with market. Where will these products go? When we identify the potential and the justification, then we will move into investment. We will identify the resources required and agro-technologies needed. We think in terms of how we can do it in the most cost-effective way for the farmers. It is not only about government to farmer, but it’s also about farmer to government. The government comes up with policies first. For example, when the state of Israel was established, the policy was to begin the national project of bringing water to the field of every farmer. This project created the starting point. From there, a lot of evolution came. The government is generating knowledge and making sure that this knowledge is moved to the farmers by extension. This creates very efficient way of transfer of knowledge. On the other hand, there are also actual ways for farmers to communicate back to the extension and to the state.
How do you think small farmers in Nepal can grow stronger?
Farmers should come together to grow. A group of farmers can invest in infrastructure, identify what they require and put together a packaging house. They can reach the market with one price -- their price -- and without involvement of middlemen. Sometimes, an individual farmer cannot afford to make investment or it does not make sense in the investment in agro infrastructure. If hundreds of farmers come together, they can build infrastructure, buy machinery, and set up packaging houses on their own.
Israel has set up ‘centers for excellence’ in India in partnership with the Indian government. What is it about?
When we shared knowledge with the Indian government about agricultural development, the model of establishing a center of excellence came up. The Indian government also said that it wanted the center to focus on key crops. The center for excellence is actually a farm that is demonstrating the full value chain of selected key crops. The center for excellence is a platform showing Israeli technologies tailored to local conditions, and it is generating knowledge. So, farmers who come to the center will get recommendations on how to plant, grow and irrigate. They can also get training. They can come for one day or one month or a cycle of crop and work in the field to learn how farming is done. We show them new things like what happens if you put pomegranate in every four meters and how to get light, irrigation and all other things. So, it is about generating knowledge, demonstrating, and training farmers.
Who should make investment in innovations, technologies, and research and development in agriculture sector?
You need to understand the ecosystem and local dynamics to answer this question. In Israel, research and development comes from the DNA of the people. People are innovators. It’s unbelievable to see farmers, without asking, change ways and buy agro technologies, but alter it to their field. So, it should come from the people. It also definitely should come from the government and private sector. Both have strong roles. A government has all the resources and it looks from the top and far. It does not always look from the income point of view. And the private sector has the tools to do research and development and make changes. If the three of them work together in the right way, the sky is the limit.