(The author had been to Israel as a part of the CII, delegation to visit Agri-tech Israel 2015)
Most parts of Israel are actually a desert. There are large sand dunes, dry mountains and little thorny vegetation. More than 50% of the area in Israel has annual rainfall of less than 200mm. But surprisingly Israel looks green all across, the roadsides, the hills and the mountains. On the other hand the borders on the other side of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon or Syria are devoid of much greenery, they look dry and deserted. However, interestingly if you have a closer look at the vegetation you would find all along there are networks of pipelines spread underneath the soil. These are nothing but the drip irrigation systems. In a rain deficit area they efficiently manage the scarce resource called water. For them every drop of water matters .They does not have the luxury of monsoon like India. They save each droplets of water and make them reach to the root zones of the plant through the drippers. The drip system in principle is something more akin to a “saline drip” that is used in hospitals. It is not only used for irrigation but it is also useful for fertiliser and nutrients management. No wonder “drip” is one of the great technologies invented by Israel.
Today, of course they have many more technology. One simple technology which they use in conjunction with drip is plant water stress indicators. These are small electronic gadgets which generally used in plantation crops. It measures the water level in plants and signals the need for irrigation. With aided devices one can sit at home and manage irrigation schedules through Web.
Tissue culture is another area where they are much advanced. One can find banana seedlings propagated out of vegetative tissues being commercially marketed. They have been successful in managing various traits in these like yield, cyclone resistance or the enhanced shelf life of the ripened fruits. It is interesting to see that there are seed companies which work on just single item like tomato. They do all kind of innovation on tomato.
Growing vegetables under climate controlled conditions is very common. One can see a large tract of ploy houses along the roadsides. But what are more surprising are large hectares of banana fields being covered in nets to prevent moisture loss. Much unusual like the uses of colour nets or artificial lights on plant growth research are also tried out.Except for the residential land most land is owned by the government and mostly it is the communes which cultivate these. As there cultivation is done on the vast stretch of land, there is also the use of very high of heavy machineries in farming. On the other hand Indian farming is highly fragmented on land holding or farm sizes.
In India, we invest a lot on crop production, but there is very little investment on post-harvest management. Post-harvest losses in horticulture crops itself stands at staggering 10-30%. In Israel there is good amount research and investment in post-harvest technology in both by the private and public sector.ARO (Agriculture Research Organisations), a public sector institute is more like our IARI.It does produce technology which is being marketed by the private sector. In fact 40% of earnings of ARO are out of the technology developed by them. Improving shelf life though various applications like mint oil in potato, edible coatings in fruits, gene manipulation in banana are some examples. Keeping fruits & Vegetables in “stay pack” poly laminate bags improves the freshness to a great extent. This follows the concept of modified atmosphere which also provides breathing space through the micro pores. Weight & colour based sorting and grading of fruits is useful for larger scale operations.
We in India do not have a good health monitoring system for humans as they have for their cows. Every cow here is numbered for identity and an electronic gadget tag is ringed around the neck. This gadget tracks the cow’s rumination and the body movements. These electronic signals are being transmitted to the servers and can also be accessed through hand held mobiles. Whenever there is a health related issue, the ruminations stops at first. The computer sends an immediate alert and veterinary doctor attend to the ailing cow. Similarly, strong body moments indicate the onset of “heat period”. On such indication immediate, “artificial insemination” is done to avoid any loss of productive milking days. The milking of animals is done in “milking parlour”. These are well maintained, safe & hygienic. This also maintains records of quantity & quality of collection of milk from each of the cow.
Agriculture in India is a tradition. In Israel it is science. While we keep repeating what our fore fathers have been doing, they keep inventing newer things and keep it updated along with the development of science & technology. Low rainfall is no handicap for Israel. They have even been growing fish very scientifically with minimal water loss even in the desert areas. To prevent moisture loss, they cover the top & even seepage losses controlled with poly lines in the bottom of the fish ponds. Nothing seems impossible for them, they have mastered the art of water management to the best extent.
India is far better placed in terms of climate and availability of all natural resources required for cultivation. However, we do not use them effectively for growing crops. And whenever there is some aberration like in weather we take it as our fate. In desperation there are also farmer’s suicide cases as we have not built up alternate cultivation methods. Of course, one advantage they have and we do not have is very large land holdings. But that cannot be a deterrent for us in using technology. They have developed good technology even for the small areas like hydroponics or soil less technology. The learnings are that agriculture as a profession has to draw more of educated professional to boost our productivity and income per hectare of land. Although, there are faint trends which are visible even in India, Government can surely encourage innovations of technological revolution like in Israel. It also needs revamp its existing production systems & market infrastructure. For Israel, innovations and “marketing” go hand in hand. Anything they invent they do not shy away from marketing it.