‘It’s really a ‘to be or not to be’ question,” Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir
told The Jerusalem Post during an interview at his Beit Dagan office on Tuesday.
“If the second or third generation of people who established Israeli agriculture
will not be interested in following their parents, there will be no
To keep young people interested in pursuing their
agricultural roots, he said, Israel will have to create terms that will attract
them. Continuing to integrate technology development into rural kibbutzim and
moshavim will be crucial to the persistence of these communities in the future,
the minister explained.
“We have to enable young people to build their
dreams in an agricultural environment,” Shamir said. “There is a lot of hitech
in agriculture, but it’s not the authentic one.”
Making agritech as
attractive as and part of the “authentic” Israeli hi-tech environment will not
only bring more young adults back to this environment, but will also generate a
“huge amount of money” with “real business” opportunities, he
Emphasizing that farmers will be able to “put the seed in the
field without me,” Shamir said he would rather focus on his “own added
With an engineering degree from the Technion-Israel Institute of
Technology, the agriculture minister has worked as an executive at various
venture capital and hi-tech firms throughout Israel. “My own added value is how
to make sure the seed they are putting in the ground is the best kind, how to do
business overseas,” he said.
Some agricultural technology projects he
specifically praised included a business developing pomegranate seeds into
cosmetic resources, and another breeding cattle embryos to sell
“It’s not just by exporting zillions of tons of tomatoes and
oranges and making no money – because basically when you export oranges, you
export water, which is expensive in Israel, and labor,” Shamir said. “I prefer
to sell smartness and knowledge.
Then you can get much more
Along these lines, the ministry announced this week the
advancement of Shamir’s proposal for an agricultural research development fund
for the periphery, amounting to NIS 30 million for the years 2013 and
Exporting Israel’s agritech knowledge to other countries – as well
as bringing representatives from the developing world to study here – will also
remain a critical component of the ministry under his leadership, Shamir said.
For example, Israel will receive 60 agricultural professionals from Latin
America within the next year, double that of last year, he added. Hundreds of
work-study professionals from Southeast Asian countries are also here learning
In India, meanwhile, representatives of the
Agriculture Ministry are continuing to administer research and development
centers throughout the country, where the Israeli experts train local
professionals, who then relay their knowledge to farmers on the ground, Shamir
said. Most recently, the ministry has also been approached by a number of former
Soviet Union countries for potential agricultural technology
In addition to improving the appeal of agriculture to
youth, Shamir said he has plans to focus on the rural development segment of his
ministry. To do so, the ministry has opened up a new department to improve the
appearance and infrastructure of rural villages, in hopes of making them more
attractive to young couples. “All of these things are to create one thing – to
be the honey that will bring the [bees] to those places,” he
Equally important to advancing agritech and developing
Israel’s rural areas will be protecting animal rights, Shamir stressed, noting
that animal welfare must remain under the authority of the his ministry – and
should not be transferred to the Environmental Protection Ministry, as many
animal rights activists have argued.
“Our position is loud and clear,” he
“It should be our responsibility – you cannot separate the
responsibility with the authority.
We cannot create agriculture and then
have somebody will limit us because of other issues not related to our national
For example, Shamir said, if a pack of wild animals is spreading
rabies or another disease to other animals or humans, the Agriculture Ministry
must have the authority to eliminate these individuals without the interference
of a conflicting ministry, he said. “To be effective, everything that is related
to agriculture and production should be under one umbrella,” he
Just as the Energy and Water Ministry holds responsibility for both
the development of and environmental regulations concerning the country’s
natural gas resources, so too should the Agriculture Ministry be responsible for
both the cultivation and protection of the country’s animals and cultivated
land, according to Shamir. Both of these issues have become highly disputed
subjects among the resident ministries and their widespread opponents in recent
months and years.
“You cannot on one hand look for cheap energy, and on
the other hand ask that everything will be perfect environmentally,” he
Likewise, he emphasized, “if we will not enable our people to
create something out of our land, there will be no Israel.”
As far as
animals in particular, Shamir said that it is important for a farmer to know
that he has one, central place, he can turn to with all issues related to his
herds –the Agriculture Ministry. Israeli animal rights regulations, he
explained, adhere to the global standards of OECD countries – such as when it
comes to how to treat chickens and cows, and how to determine the amount of
space that they need.
The ministry is in the process of expanding chicken
coop size all over the country, Shamir added. However, he said that he would not
be adhering to all of the demands of animal rights groups, such as those calling
for coops enabling chickens to open their wings.
“What is good for the
French chicken will be good for the Israeli chicken,” Shamir said. “And this
should be somehow connected to the constraints we have.”
emphasizing the importance of “not going backwards” as far as animal welfare,
the minister said it is impossible to immediately destroy all the chicken coops
built during the 1950s – as the farmers do not have the resources to build
completely new ones. The result, he said, would mean a loss of local business
and a need to import eggs.
In the cattle industry, the Agriculture
Ministry is specifically aiming to achieve an environmental goal by transforming
cow waste material into biogas – by launching financial incentives for farmers
to dispose of the waste in such a manner, he explained. For the increased
protection of the cows themselves, Shamir said that the ministry has mandated
reduced temperatures in cowsheds as well as spraying the cows with cooling
water, which also increases milk productivity.
expressed satisfaction at his recent compromise with MK Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid)
on the latter’s bill to ban the Israeli trade of foie gras – a liver delicacy
derived from forcefeeding ducks and geese, still popular in many European
By banning the trade of the product rather than its import as
planned, the country is able to remain an advocate for animal rights without
damaging “the commercial relationship between Israel and Europe.”
will not be a precedent that can be used by other countries against us,” he
“Moral issues are different in every country.”
note, Shamir said it was important to him not to set such a precedent with
respect to a ban on importing fur products – a bill broadly advocated by animal
rights groups and several Knesset members. Aside from the use of fur in hats
worn by the religious community, there is almost no fur industry in Israel, and
a prohibition could only cause unnecessary international problems, he explained.
“It’s not an Israeli issue.
It’s a worldwide issue, and someone is taking
advantage of the political situation here – new Knesset members are looking for
a horse to ride on,” Shamir said.
Implementing such a prohibition in
Israel would only “hurt some of our best friends around the globe like Canada,”
as well as the religious population, he added.
“I don’t want somebody to
use me as a tool for an issue that will hurt Jews and our best friends around
the globe,” Shamir said.
Stressing that he has no problem with the moral
goals of many animal rights groups and that his ministry professionals conduct
constructive dialogues with most of them, Shamir said that activists should not
be making cynical use of these very issues for their own agendas.
not afraid to confront the greens,” he added.