The business of government is politics, but there’s a time to put politics on the shelf, according to Davendra Fadnavis, Chief Minister of the State of Maharashtra in India. “Everybody has to eat,” Fadnavis told The Times of Israel in an exclusive interview. “Israel’s agricultural and water technology is helping to satisfy global hunger. Who could disagree with that?”
India’s strategy in the past has been to keep Israel at arm’s length so as not to aggravate its relationship with the Arab world and its large Muslim minority. But that strategy goes out the window when it comes to engaging with Israel for its agricultural technology. Israel and India have extensive ag-tech ties, with government-level projects to improve growing techniques for a wide variety of crops, to dozens of business collaborations between private companies.
In fact, one of the biggest irrigation solutions firms in the world – NaanDanJain – is an Israeli-Indian firm, created in 2007 when Israeli irrigation tech firm NaanDan merged with India’s Jain Irrigation Systems. “India is an agricultural country, and we are helping India bloom with our affordable drip irrigation, filter, and fertilizer technology,” said Amnon Ofen, director of NaanDanJain. “There is no question that our firm has been responsible for the green revolution in India. I would estimate that NaanDanJain products have helped increase India agricultural output by tens of percent. Millions of Indian farmers are using Israeli equipment and technology, and they are producing more from their land.”
Ofen and Fadnavis were speaking on the sidelines of Agritech 2015, a major agricultural technology event in Tel Aviv that drew some ten thousand visitors from Israel and abroad. Among the visitors were delegations from dozens of countries, many led by government officials; no fewer than thirteen agricultural ministers and eight deputy ministers attended the show’s first day, reviewing the mostly Israeli technologies for growing, packing and sorting, fruits and vegetables, and watering, fertilizing and protecting land and water resources that were spread out over 14,000 square meters of exhibition space. Hundreds of farmers, corporate and agricultural professionals, and government officials joined Fadnavis at Agritech. While in Israel, Fadnavis met with other top officials, including Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
India, said Fadnavis, had several major agricultural challenges that Israel was helping the country with. Although his state, Maharashtra, is one of India’s most urban – nearly half its 110 million people live in cities like Mumbai, Pune, and other cities, and the state is one of India’s wealthiest and best developed areas – half the population lives on farms, many of which operate as they did for hundreds of years. So despite the high level of urbanization in his state, said Fadnavis, there is still a great need for the agricultural technology Israel can provide.
“We use technology to provide moisture security and optimize water allocation, to have more ‘crop per drop,’ maximizing the use of water resources to save as much as possible, and use what we save in as intelligent and productive a manner as possible.” Drip-irrigation technology from companies like NaanDanJain and Netafim – which is also very active in India – are a big part of that, and Fadnavis would like to see much more usage of drip-irrigation in India. “In Maharashtra, we currently use drip-irrigation on two million of the 20 million hectares of land used for agriculture, and we plan to expand that to 5 million over the next several years.”
Why not 20 million? “Because these systems are still expensive for many farmers,” Fadnavis said. “We need to reduce costs, and one way to do that is to produce more drip-irrigation systems locally. We have been in talks with some Israeli manufacturers to build a manufacturing plant in Maharashtra, and when that happens we are optimistic that many more farmers will adopt drip-irrigation. Meanwhile, we are planning to mandate the transfer of whole industries to drip-irrigation. Currently, we are working to install drip-irrigation in all our sugar cane fields.”
Most crucial for Indian farmers, though, is finding and adopting post-harvest technologies – systems that allow farmers to extend the life of their crops, enabling them to bring their produce to market.
“One of the biggest issues for farmers in rural India is preserving their produce,” Fadnavis said. “Post-harvest solutions that can help farmers get their produce to markets, where they can fetch better prices, are among the Israeli technologies that we are very interested in. I have been talking with a number of Israeli companies about various technologies, such as cheap cold storage systems. In the past these systems have been very expensive, but new breakthroughs have reduced the cost significantly.”
In addition, he said, Israeli technology was being used to help farmers develop seeds that will produce sturdier and more nutrient-rich crops, as well as fight plant diseases.
The Israeli tech is available, and it works, said Fadnavis; for proof, just look at Israel, which has one of the highest “crop per drop” ratios in the world, using less water than almost every other country to produce high crop output levels. “That’s the kind of model we are striving to achieve. Israel has shown the way in agricultural technology, and we are looking to Israel for help in solving our problems.”