Israeli agricultural technology is among the best in the world, and Manuela Zoninsein, 28, would like to help introduce it to China.
Zoninsein was in Ramat Gan last week to attend the fifth annual conference of ROI, which encourages young Jewish entrepreneurs from around the world. She sat down with The Jerusalem Post
to explain her idea.
“I am launching a business intelligence newsletter called Agrigate in
September, focusing on agricultural technology,” she explained. The
newsletter, she said, would survey the Chinese agritech business scene,
highlighting deals, technology, developments, innovations and more, with
an audience of Israeli and US agritech companies.
The Brazilian-born and US-raised Zoninsein has been living in China for
the last three years and working as a foreign correspondent, writing for
Newsweek, Engineering News Record and Climate Wire.
Surprisingly, it was her work as the dining editor for Timeout Beijing
and her environmental activism that led to Agrigate.
“The foodie culture is focusing more and more on what’s happening at the
source. Food also has a huge environmental impact, as agriculture is
one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gases and I think rejiggering
food production is easier than rejiggering transportation,” she told
Zoninsein sees a logical link between Israeli agritech and China.
“China is facing a lot of the same issues that Israel does:
desertification [and] scarce clean water supplies,” she said.
“The government has begun investing in biotech to achieve complete food
Right now, China is importing 30 percent of its foodstuffs and has maxed
out on arable land.
They’re interested in developing pest- and drought-resistant seeds,
where Israel has expertise.”
According to Zoninsein’s market research, Agrigate would be the only
English-language newsletter focused on the Chinese agricultural scene.
“I think there’s little understanding of China [in Israel and the US],
and the level of Chinese spoken in the US is very low as well,”
Zoninsein, who has learned the language, said.
In parallel to the newsletter, she intends to work as a consultant to
build up her credentials and credibility as a knowledgeable source. To
that end, she met with Israeli players in academia and the private
sector during her stay in Israel, and will connect with US players in
September at the Ag 2.0 conference in New York.
Turning specifically to ROI, Zoninsein was enthusiastic about its
support. The fifthyear conference of 120 people was open only to those
who had attended a previous conference.
“They give us business training and lots of networking,” the Harvard
“We met very interesting Israelis and met [representatives from] Israeli
cleantech VC funds during the organized events.
“ROI also encourages collaborations.
I met my web designer here last year. I also got to practice pitching my
idea. The people were really supportive and no one called me crazy, so
it gives me confidence to go beyond this circle to the larger world and
test my idea out on another 120 people.”
There’s been a huge rise in Jewish farmers over the past several years,
Emily Jane Freed, 34, told The Jerusalem Post last week, on the
sidelines of the ROI conference in Ramat Gan.
Freed is the assistant production manager for Jacobs Farm, which has
five ranches and three greenhouses in California, where it grows 250
acres of organic culinary herbs.
“If you lined up the farms side by side, it would take about four and a
half hours to drive by them – about the distance from Jerusalem to
Eilat,” Freed explained.
In addition to her full-time job as a farmer, Freed was also last year’s
volunteer coordinator of the Hazon food conference.
Part of the rise in Jewish farming, she said, is “the tank in the US
economy. People realize they need to fend for themselves more. The other
part is more and more people wanting to know where their food comes
from and what’s in it.”
Hazon has become the central organization for the intersection of
Judaism and food, according to Freed, and drew 650 people to its food
conference last year. It was also asked recently to present the Jewish
take on food at a conference on religions and food at the White House
organized by First Lady Michelle Obama, Freed said.
While initial reactions usually took the form of “What are we going to
talk about? Kugel?” Freed explained the focus of the conference.
“The idea was to talk about what kosher means [in the 21st century],
composting, shmita, pork, the Tu B’Shvat Seder and how to connect to the
land,” she said.
The conference also helped expand Hazon’s Tu Ba Aretz program, which
connects Jewish communities or synagogues with CSAs (community supported
“It’s a good deal for both sides – the community connects to its food
and the farmer gets 30 to 100 signups at a shot for his deliveries.”
The desire to know the source of one’s food is not restricted to the
Jewish community, she noted. Part of Jacobs Farm’s success rests on its
organic credentials, while another part is due to the sheer quantity of
herbs it can produce.
“November and December are our busiest months,” she said. “We pick
10,000 pounds a day of fresh herbs to ship all over the country to meet
the Thanksgiving demand, and then we do it again in December for
The company recently acquired the Safeway supermarket account, which
Freed called “a really big deal.” She opined that while often considered
food for the elite because of its higher prices, organic would reach
the masses when chains like Safeway started carrying it at lower costs.
Freed also offered a fun fact.
“We have a five-acre field just of mint – all of which goes to the
Cheesecake Factory bar and restaurant chain for its mojitos,” she said
with a smile. “They get their own shipment every Monday and Thursday.”