Even prior to statehood, Israel’s pioneers set out to cultivate the land, tackling the challenges posed by limited natural resources by setting up agricultural communities such as kibbutzim and other farming cooperatives to ensure that any future state would flourish. The country also took it upon itself to fulfill the dream of its first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, by making the desert bloom, developing agricultural techniques for arid regions which would turn non-arable lands into fruitful fields.
Over 70 years later, Israel is now tackling some of the 21st century’s biggest global challenges – including feeding a planet with an ever-growing population – with a thriving AgTech sector that is carrying on the country’s longstanding tradition of integrating ingenuity and innovation with cutting-edge agricultural techniques.
What helps explain Israel’s global renown as an AgTech powerhouse? Israel’s strong tech ecosystem, coupled with its deep historical focus on agricultural resourcefulness, has provided the perfect setting for the AgTech sector to flourish. Underscoring the Israeli government’s commitment to supporting AgTech innovation, the Israel Innovation Authority offers R&D support for promising AgTech companies, granting between 20 percent to 50 percent of approved R&D budgets to aid the development of new products and technologies.
One of Israel’s greatest success stories in the field is Netafim, a company founded in the Negev Desert in 1965. The company rocketed to international prominence with the introduction of the world’s first commercial drip irrigation system. Now the world’s foremost irrigation company, Netafim remains a global leader in sustainable farming and crop management solutions, operating in 110 countries with 4,300 employees, 29 subsidiaries, and 17 manufacturing plants. Netafim’s innovative solutions played a pivotal role in putting Israeli AgTech on the map, setting the stage for a slew of new companies in the field, including 750 active startups and other firms in the food tech and AgTech sectors, with $189 million in food tech and AgTech investments in 2017. With a focus on biotech, crop protection and irrigation methods, AgTech investors see the Startup Nation as fertile ground for some of the most inventive technologies and solutions in the sector.
Among the country’s hundreds of cutting-edge companies:
While Israel’s AgTech success has played a key role in supporting the country’s growth and development, its benefits are borne out around the world: from Africa, where farmers are harnessing Israeli drip irrigation technology, to China, which inked a $300 million trade agreement that will boost exports of Israeli energy and agricultural technologies, and beyond. China isn’t the only country looking toward Israel to make great leaps forward in agricultural solutions: Israel has also built partnerships with developing countries including India and Vietnam, leveraging the country’s deep expertise in the sector to integrate AgTech solutions and train local farmers in efficient, sustainable methods of crop production and irrigation. In Africa, the Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry, in cooperation with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, recently launched an initiative, Tikkun Olam Ventures, that will link local communities to Israeli AgTech solutions, with an eye toward aiding 5,000 farmers over the next five years.
With a robust innovation ecosystem and a storied history of creative agricultural solutions, there’s no telling what new Israeli AgTech solutions will take root in the years to come.
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