In spite of the changes that have occurred, some of the inherent problems of Israeli agriculture prevail. Water scarcity is a fact that has always struck daily life in Israel. For this reason, this Middle East country has become a leader in the recycling of wastewater with 75% of the total, followed by Spain, with 12%. Israel has therefore developed an agriculture that saves as much as possible while maximizing its resources. “Growing more with less” is its motto. In spite of the fact that the country’s agriculture has always suffered from this problem, its figures indicate the strength of the sector: 55% of the agricultural income stem from exports. This is why next year Israel will host the nineteenth edition of one of the broadest international agricultural fairs, Agritech Israel, in Tel Aviv, between May 15th and 17th, 2012.
Time sweeps away everything in its path, more so in a country which is going through a profound economic, identity and geographical change like Israel. Not even the foundation symbols of a nation can resist the passing of time, as is the case for the kibbutzim. They have gone from communes inspired in socialism to food multinationals listed in the stock market. More than one hundred years after the foundation of the first kibbutz, these agricultural structures symbolize better than anything else the transformation of the country since its foundation at the end of the 40’s.
The change has been progressive but evident. The first kibbutzim were born in the beginning of the 21st century as agricultural communes inspired in theories from the so called Zionist socialism, that believed in the construction of the State of Israel through the class struggle: via the creation of agricultural settlements in rural areas and the a proletariat in urban areas. That is how kibbutzim were born, with collective production means in which every member had only a few private possessions and common property and community life were paramount.
Since the creation of the State of Israel, kibbutzim received state aid. On the one hand they incarnated the alternative economic model based on collective property and a supportive economy that guaranteed agricultural exports from Israel. On the other hand, they were a key element in the geographical repopulation of the land, even in the arid desert of the Negev, in the south, were Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion retired to spend the last years of his life. “Repopulating the desert… that is Israel’s future”, is still quoted as the Labour politician’s motto in Hatzeva’s moshav, in the middle of the desert, remembering the support that the politician provided to build their settlement on sand.
The influence of the particular lifestyle of the kibbutz also got through to the Israeli political establishment. Former Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan or the current President of Israel, Shimon Peres, are some of the names of politicians that grew in these settlements- “The kibbutz is the most important creation of the Jewish People in the 20th century”, sentenced former President Isaac Navon.
But the crisis ignores symbols. When the country went through economic difficulties at the end of the 80’s, the kibbutzim began their transformation. In the last few years, many have been acquired by multinationals and investment funds. Now they generate millions of dollars and are listed in stock markets such as that of London or Tokyo.
This is the case for kibbutz Naan, the largest in the country, founded in 1930 and owned by the Israeli company Naan Irrigation, which merged with kibbutz Dan in 2001. Now they are both integrated in a joint venture (NaanDanJain), 50,001% of which belongs to the Indian multinational Jain Irrigations Systems, with a stock market value of 800 million dollars and listed in India, Singapur and Luxemburg.
NaanDanJain owns five international facilities and a large network of offices around the world, among them Spain, a country where kibbutz Naan and Dan were already present since the 70’s and where the company has its main European office in Almería. Our country is still a great source of interest for NaanDanJain, as Director Ammon Ofen confesses: “We have invested 10 million Euros in Spain”, states Ofen indicating that 20% of its turnover comes from our country. He underlines irrigation technology, a fundamental tool in Israeli agriculture, a leading country in water recycling in its arid landscape, and that exports these techniques to countries all over the world such as China, India or Mexico.
“Since the 80’s, many kibbutzim turned into agricultural technology companies”, points out Israeli Minister of Agriculture Orit Noked. Years ago the collective dream of the kibbutz ended. Some settlements maintain some of their distinguishing features, but capitalism, and not the desert as it was feared, has finally absorbed the kibbutz.