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In Morocco, Israeli innovation minister hails ‘amazing’ opportunities ahead

Orit Farkash-Hacohen signs wide-ranging agreement with counterpart to boost Israeli-Morocco cooperation in agri-tech, water management, food, AI

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Tech Israel editor and reporter.

Israeli Minister of Innovation, Science and Technology Orit Farkash-Hacohen (left) speaks with former Moroccan energy minister Amina Ben Khadra and SNC CEO Avi Hasson at the 'Connect to Innovate' conference organized by Start-Up Nation Central in Casablanca, Morocco, May 25, 2022. (SNC)
Israeli Minister of Innovation, Science and Technology Orit Farkash-Hacohen (left) speaks with former Moroccan energy minister Amina Ben Khadra and SNC CEO Avi Hasson at the 'Connect to Innovate' conference organized by Start-Up Nation Central in Casablanca, Morocco, May 25, 2022. (SNC)

CASABLANCA, Morocco — Israel and Morocco are signing the first government-to-government agreement to facilitate tech and science collaborations between the two countries on Thursday.

The agreement is being inked by Israel’s Minister of Innovation, Science, and Technology Orit Farkash-Hacohen and Moroccan Minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research, and Innovation, Abdellatif Miraoui, a day after the Israeli minister announced the memorandum of understanding (MOU) at the Israel-Morocco “Connect to Innovate” technology and business conference in Casablanca, organized by non-profit organization Start-Up Nation Central (SNC).

During closing remarks at the three-day conference Wednesday, Farkash-Hacohen praised rekindled official ties between the two countries and efforts to bring about collaboration in sectors like renewable energy, water management, agriculture, and food. The minister said both countries have an “amazing opportunity” to collaborate and address common challenges that should not be missed.

“This is a special event. It has been only 18 months since we signed and reestablished the diplomatic relationship with the kingdom of Morocco. While governments sign treaties, people are the ones who are actually building peace,” she said in her address.

The minister sang Israel’s innovation praises in sectors like water tech, energy efficiency and storage, and sewage treatment, and said many of these technologies were born out of necessity following some difficult years of drought in the late 2000s and early 2010s.

She also hailed Morocco’s New Development Model, a vision for the North African kingdom laid out last year by the government to invest in areas like green energy, smart agriculture, and food security.

Israeli Minister of Innovation, Science and Technology Orit Farkash-Hacohen speaks with SNC CEO Avi Hasson at the ‘Connect to Innovate’ conference organized by Start-Up Nation Central in Casablanca, Morocco, May 25, 2022. (SNC)

Morocco has been facing one of the worst droughts in decades this year and has been looking to mitigate the impact on the agriculture and food industry. Last month, the kingdom announced the construction of a new seawater desalination plant to offset future drought periods. Rabat hopes the plant, near the city of Agadir on the southern Atlantic coast, will become the largest in the world at 275,000 cubic meters.

Farkash-Hacohen said Israel has learned many lessons about drought and water shortages, and can convey best practices to other countries looking to cooperate.

“As every tech entrepreneur knows, partnerships are [a] key to success,” said the minister. “Israel’s innovation talent… can be a partner in achieving the two states’ goals,” she added.

The Israeli government, she said, was “committed to this cooperation to succeed.”

The wide-ranging MOU between the two ministries is a “big multiplier and positive push” and will focus on “agriculture, food processing technologies, water and desalination, renewable energies and environmental technologies, on AI, and more,” she said.

Under the framework of the agreement, the two countries will jointly fund R&D projects, seminars, and scientific meetings, according to the announcement.

At the signing later Thursday, Miraoui said the deal will “enable us to foster the cooperation between our universities, whether through joint-scientific research programs, students inward and outward mobility, or sharing of best practices. I am fully convinced that this partnership will open up broader opportunities ahead.”

A focus on climate and Moroccan leadership

At the conference on Wednesday, former Moroccan energy minister Amina Ben Khadra, currently the general director of the National Office of Hydrocarbons and Mines (ONHYM) of Morocco, said the world climate crisis requires governments and entrepreneurs to “think green” and focus on renewable energies as strategic assets.

Morocco, she said, has made green energy a government policy and a “strategic choice” for over a decade, launching an energy transition back in 2009 with the National Energy Strategy and building the Noor-Ouarzazate complex in 2016, the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant at 3,000 hectares (11.6 sq. miles).

The Ouarzazate solar power station, also called Noor Power Station, is a solar power complex located in the Drâa-Tafilalet region in Morocco, 10 kilometres from the town of Ouarzazate town, in the Ghessat rural council area. (Overflightstock Ltd via iStock by Getty Images)

The kingdom has vowed to increase the renewable capacity in its electricity mix to 52% by 2030, made up of 20% solar, 20% wind and 12% hydro. It hopes to reach 80% by 2050.

In addition, Rabat was among the few countries at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow late last year that committed to not build any new coal power plants.

With the public sector funding a majority of Morocco’s renewable energy projects, Ben Khadra said the kingdom hopes to now attract private investment and “position Morocco as a platform for green industries.”

“There is so much we can do, we can benefit from Israeli tech. We can have a lot of cooperation and joint work with Israeli companies,” said the former energy minister.

Israel climate tech

According to Start-Up Nation Central, Israel is home to about 700 startups and companies working on climate-related challenges, among them 100 companies in the energy subsector. The climate sector, according to SNC’s tally, also includes companies in the transportation, mobility and food tech industries.

Of these 700 or so startups, 25 were invited by SNC to attend the conference in Morroco and present their technologies to potential partners and customers.

Tel Aviv-based Eccopia, for example, touted its robotic cleaning and analytics solutions for solar panels designed to keep modules clean in a series of company presentations at the conference.

Eccopia, traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, uses a water-free, fully automated robotic solution to keep panels at peak performance and prevent potential damage. The company’s customers include leading solar energy providers worldwide.

In a related field, Calanit Valfer, managing partner at growth capital impact investor Elah Fund, presented portfolio company Zooz Power (formerly Chakratec), the developer of an ultra-fast power booster for electric vehicles (EVs), which she said was a “missing link in the value chain.”

Zooz’s offering “solves range anxiety” (a concern among EV drivers that the battery will run out of power before they reach their destination) and “makes the charging experience like stopping at a petrol [gas] station — about 15 minutes and they’re on their way.”

The boosters are modular and take up about half a parking space, making them ideal for installation in key areas such as parking lots, airports, and hotels. The company says this type of system overcomes grid limitations (where EV infrastructure is still behind) and can accelerate EV adoption and rollout.

The Zooz power booster for electric vehicles. (Screenshot/Zooz)

Zooz is traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and currently operates beta sites with its power boosters at the Vienna airport and a hotel chain in Germany. It also has partnerships in the US, Valfer said.

Omer Sella-Tunis, director of business development at Tomorrow.io, the developer of a weather and climate analytics platform, described how the company can help Morocco, “one of the most advanced countries in the world in fighting climate change,” with weather modeling and climate-based decision-making.

Tomorrow.io’s customers include JetBlue, Uber, Ford, and United Airlines. The company has about 200 employees across offices in Tel Aviv, Boston, and Boulder.

Israeli precision agriculture company SupPlant, which presented at the conference on Tuesday, announced that it signed an agreement with a Moroccan company to pilot its tech in a field of about 1,700 hectares (6.5 square miles) of various crops.

Israeli startup SupPlant combines plant sensing and AI to provide growers with data for better decision-making. (SupPlant)

SupPlant combines sensors and AI to provide growers with data for better decision-making. Its sensors are placed on five locations on a given plant — deep soil, shallow soil, stem, leaf, and fruit — and the data culled from the sensors “is uploaded to the cloud every 10 minutes and combined with climatic forecasts in order to give the farmer unique and precise irrigation recommendations and insights,” SupPlant CEO Ori Ben Ner told The Times of Israel in a previous interview.

“This is very helpful in day-to-day farming, but especially crucial before an outstanding weather event is expected, while granting the farmer specific irrigation recommendations to ‘weather the storm’ and not over-, or under-, irrigate,” said Ben Ner.

SupPlant’s technology was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Best Inventions for 2021 (alongside three other Israeli inventions.)

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