HANOI – Israeli technological and farming management expertise, coupled with a Vietnamese desire to improve the quality of a vast agricultural landscape, provide an ideal basis for increasingly strong collaboration between the two countries, a senior Vietnamese official told The Jerusalem Post.
“Cooperation has been enforced and strengthened year-by-year especially after high-level visits of agriculture ministers, including our minister [to Israel] in 2012 and recently the visit of your minister, Yair Shamir [to Vietnam],” said Tran Kim Long, director-general of the Vietnamese Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry’s international cooperation department, at his office in the country’s capital city on Friday.
Today, there are more than 2,000 Vietnamese students studying agriculture in Israel, particularly in the Arava, Long said. Meanwhile, more than 50 training courses have been conducted by Israeli farming experts visiting Vietnam, from which about 3,000 students have benefited, he continued. In addition, a dairy demonstration farm near Ho Chi Minh City, run by the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Mashav Agency for International Development Cooperation, provides local dairy farmers with access to modern milking equipment and know-how.
“This farming model has become a good farming model, not only for Vietnamese farmers but for the region,” Long said.
In 2012, when Vietnamese Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Cao Duc Phat visited Israel, the two countries signed an export-import agreement regarding animal products, and they are expected to do the same with plant varieties shortly, according to Long.
During Shamir’s visit to Vietnam – in November 2013 – he and his counterparts announced their intention to develop a joint agricultural research and development fund between the two countries.
“There are some very good conditions for cooperation in the agricultural sector in the future,” Long said.
Future cooperation in the agricultural sector between the two countries would likely continue to focus on transferring technology and know-how, the director-general explained.
In the past, Vietnam has largely focused on quantity and large-scale productions, and many achievements have been made in terms of restructuring innovation policies.
“But we haven’t concentrated on the deep internal quality, in terms of value-added [quality],” Long said.
“There are many possibilities in terms of cooperation in the future, especially with some targets of our sector.”
Vietnam’s main agricultural staples include rice, coffee, peanuts and sugarcane, as well as cashews, rubber, coconut and peppers, Long said. In the past, cooperatives dominated the farming sector, with joint land management and a socioeconomic structure, Long explained.
Following the 1986 Innovation Reform – known locally as the Doi Moi Policy, which allowed for more openness in entrepreneurship – privatized farming became more popular. But today, the Agriculture Ministry is trying to encourage joining new types of cooperatives, in which farmers can share access to advanced machinery and make use of modern services together, Long said. Thus far, the ministry has succeeded in connecting many rice farmers in the Mekong Delta with this purpose in mind.
Vietnam would like to reach an internal growth rate of 4.5 percent for the agricultural sector, increasing that figure to 4.7% when accounting for added value. A goal is also to bring annual import and export of agricultural products up to $40 billion from the current $27b., he explained.
“In order to achieve those targets we need to open the market toward value-added, toward food safety,” Long said. “We also have to prioritize some cooperation programs, some research and especially about the technology transfer program.”
The sectors of agricultural disease prevention and breeding, and particularly hi-tech for harvest and post-harvest, are also sectors that have great potential for collaboration opportunities, according to Long.
“We welcome business from Israel to work with us in this field,” he said.
As far as the agricultural research and development fund desired by the two countries is concerned, Long acknowledged that minimal progress has been made toward advancing the fund in the past year.
He stressed, however, that he would soon be meeting with the Israeli ambassador in order to discuss the mechanism for implementing such a fund. The two governments would likely provide seed money, while mobilizing additional funds from the private sector, Long explained.
“This joint research fund is good for both sides; if we can do it together more research would be produced and we could fill some gaps,” he said.
“We are not so developed in terms of technology. From your side, you have very advanced technology.”
The Vietnamese could benefit from Israel’s hi-tech expertise and organizational skills, while Israelis could find reasonable labor costs and land availability in Vietnam, the director-general said.
“We have very hardworking people,” Long added. “If we can realize the fund, I think it would be a very good tool for business.”
Vietnam and Israel originally established bilateral relations in 1993, and while the relationship experienced “a slow start,” the connection eventually “rocketed,” Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s ambassador to Vietnam, told the Post
, also on Friday in Hanoi.
Eilon Shahar said she views the potential of continued collaborations as great, particularly in the transfer of know-how, entrepreneurship and innovation.
“Vietnam is aware that at this point they are at a crossroads where they need to produce more with less – they need the technology,” she continued.
While Israel might not be an attractive export market to Vietnamese, they look at the Jewish state as a place where they can acquire much needed technology, Eilon Shahar explained. In the agricultural sector, government officials have recognized the need to minimize resource depletion while increasing output – necessitating swift modernization.
Asked how Israel could benefit from increased cooperation with Vietnam, Eilon Shahar responded that “in every area of cooperation where you have a developed and a developing country you can ask the same thing.”
“First of all, you assist,” she said. “You’re assisting a developing country. The other thing, of course, is that at the end of the day, every process in which you give, you also gain. It’s never one-sided.”
A third benefit for Israel, she explained, is the strategic combination of economy with development – namely, providing Israeli companies access to a new market.
“That’s, of course, very important. You have the giving, the training, the know-how” Eilon Shahar said. “But you also provide access to Israeli technology, and Israeli technology is followed by Israeli companies.”
Likewise, with regards to the potential joint agriculture research and development fund, Eilon Shahar said that such a collaboration could contribute positively to bilateral relations, adding another layer to the existing relationship.
Outside of agriculture, the countries cooperate across a variety of other areas. In September, the Israeli Embassy launched a start-up competition, selecting four promising, young Vietnamese start-ups in conjunction with the Vietnamese Science and Technology Ministry.
These four companies will be traveling to Israel in December to meet with Israeli counterparts, accelerators and incubators as well as receive some training, Eilon Shahar said.
In the education sector, 12 rectors and presidents of Vietnamese universities were recently selected to visit leading Israeli institutions of higher education. Just three weeks ago, 20 Vietnamese students began a one-and-a-half-year plant sciences program through Tel Aviv University and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, she added.
Stressing that she would like to see more Vietnamese students studying in Israel, Eilon Shahar said that thus far all of the scholarships for the students have come directly from Israeli universities rather than from the government.
Overall, the ambassador expressed satisfaction in relationship between the two countries, as well as its potential for growth.
“I feel that I am lucky to be serving here at a stage in which the relationship has matured but there is still so much to be done,” she said.
Ultimately, as that relationship continues to blossom, it will likely revolve around the mutual yearning for innovation and a Vietnamese appreciation for Israeli advancements in this arena.
“When we say ‘hi-tech,’ all the people in Vietnam think about Israel,” Long said.