Israel and India signed a declaration this week toward advancing the third phase of the Indo-Israel Agricultural Cooperation Project.On the sidelines of the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in western India on Sunday, the countries declared their intentions to expand the project, which remains the largest venture of Mashav: Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation in the Foreign Ministry.The signing took place in the presence of Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir and Indian Minister of State for Agriculture Mohanbhai Kalyanjibhai Kundariya, at the biennial conference held in Gandhinagar.Operating since 2008, the Indo-Israel Agricultural Cooperation Project focuses on building agricultural centers of excellence around the subcontinent, in cooperation with the Indian Agriculture Ministry’s National Horticulture Mission, the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi, the Indian state and federal governments and the Israeli Agriculture Ministry’s CINADCO: The Center for International Agricultural Development Cooperation.During their meeting, Shamir and Kundariya acknowledged the importance of completing the establishment of all 29 joint agricultural centers of excellence, as defined in the current – the second – stage of the project, which is set to conclude in March, according to a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy. The role of the centers is to introduce and adapt Israeli farming technologies to varying local conditions, in order to increase the productivity of the local farmers.Of the 29 centers, planned within 10 Indian states, 15 are fully operational, the embassy spokesman told The Jerusalem Post.“Israeli agriculture is an important platform for cooperation between Israel and its friends,” Shamir said. “If in the past, security issues were mainly spoken about, today food security is a major challenge not only to Israel and to India but to the whole world.”Shamir and Kundariya addressed the need to expand collaboration to involve such technologies as post-harvest management, good agricultural practices, dairy production and water, the embassy said.During his visit, Shamir visited one of the centers of excellence – a facility in the Vadrad Village, part of Gujarat’s Sabarkantha district, the embassy said.He met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi while in Gandhinagar, discussing the strong relations between the two countries, the embassy added.The Indian premier recalled his visit to Israel in 2006 and his admiration for Israeli agriculture and food security.“Already today Israel operates 15 agricultural centers of excellence throughout India and has won great esteem regarding agriculture with Prime Minister Modi,” Shamir said. “During the visit, we agreed to extend the agricultural cooperation agreement between Israel and India and expand it to other states as well as other branches of agriculture.”A delegation of Israeli firms joined Shamir during his visit, participating in Vibrant Gujarat this week. Among other industries, the companies represented hailed from the irrigation, desalination, dairy technologies, farming and defense sectors.Daniel Carmon, ambassador to India and formerly the head of Mashav, stressed the importance of Indian-Israeli agricultural cooperation as a tool for “development diplomacy.”“The concept behind the centers is full cooperation,” he told the Post over the phone from New Delhi on Tuesday. “We are not assisting, we are not helping.We are fully cooperating.”At the centers of excellence, the Indian experts are the owners and beneficiaries, and they will continue to operate the facilities as they grow and mature, Carmon explained. The Israelis provide training, extension and demonstration. Rather than selling tools or technology, they are teaching, he said.“We are in a blitz of inaugurations now,” Carmon said. “It’s really something to be proud of.”While the first 28 planned or already operating centers deal mainly with horticulture, the 29th center will be focusing on dairy production – in line with the prime minister of India’s call for a “four-colored” revolution: saffron for electricity, white for milk, green for agriculture and environment and blue for water.Israel has long been involved in the green component, and now intends to expand into the white and blue areas, Carmon explained.Since the centers of excellence began operating, a critical component has been “bringing experts who roll up their sleeves and start working on the ground,” the ambassador said.“They cut, adapt and paste what we do in Israel to the Indian scene,” he said.Each center has the capacity to impact about 10,000 individual farmers, and in the upcoming third phase of the project, the parties intend to expand to additional Indian states and bring in more technologies, Carmon added. He stressed the importance of continuing to advance agricultural cooperation between the two countries, both for the sake of the farmers as well as the two governments involved. “This is a major ingredient in the bilateral relations,” Carmon said.