With 28 agricultural centers of excellence already in the works throughout Asia’s expansive subcontinent, longtime Israeli and Indian partners are eying the seaside state of Goa as a target for cooperation on farming.
“They don’t have enough food production and enough effective agricultural production, and they also have a growing tourism industry that needs prime products – dairy, vegetables,” David Akov, consul-general in Mumbai, told The Jerusalem Post this week.
Across India, Israeli and Indian government bodies have long been working together on the Indo-Israel Agricultural Project, the largest project worldwide under the umbrella of Mashav: Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation in the Foreign Ministry.
Alongside the Indian Agriculture Ministry’s National Horticulture Mission, the Israeli embassy and the Indian state and federal governments, Mashav has been planning 28 agricultural centers of excellence around the country – seven of which are already operational.
“There is a good synergy between Israel and India [about] the way we want things to be, the way we analyze and react to different challenges,” Dan Alluf, the Mashav agriculture counselor at the embassy in New Delhi, told the Post
Thus far, 28 centers of excellence are either already open or planned in nine Indian states: Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. While only seven are fully functional at this point, nine others are already in advanced stages of completion, Alluf explained.
“The general concept is that the Israeli government – Mashav – brings technology and experts according to the demands and requirements of local governments,” said Ohad Horsandi, spokesman for the embassy.
At the centers, each of which focuses on different crop types, Israeli experts come to train Indian farmers, who then pass on the knowledge locally, through what Alluf describes as a “professional revolution.”
This form of extension farming, in which Israelis “train the trainers,” is one of four pillars common to all the centers.
The other three pillars include bringing Israeli technology and know-how to the centers and adapting to Indian needs, identifying progressive local farmers and eventually making the centers self-sustainable, according to Alluf.
The longest operating center – at Karnal in Haryana, which opened in 2011 – is the first center to become self-reliant and profitable. At Karnal, local farmers have diversified their crops and are now paying to germinate their seeds in a hi-tech nursery with pest control and irrigation abilities, Alluf said.
“The plant that the farmer gets to start the season is a very good plant,” he added. “What I see here is amazing in terms of the scale and the impact it has on the surroundings.”
As far as expanding to Goa is concerned, Akov, the consul- general in Mumbai, said that Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar recently approached him about the idea. Cooperation in the area of Goa would be under the jurisdiction of the Mumbai consulate, as are those centers of excellence already planned for the Maharashtra and Gujarat states.
“We’re looking for ways to see what the best format will be,” Akov said.
While they could opt to build a center of excellence there, a private sector venture between local Goan and Israeli companies could also be a possibility.
“We don’t know exactly what form it is going to take,” Akov said. “What we do know is that there is interest from the Goa chief minister and Goa businesses.”
In addition to improving the efficiency and quality of food production for Goa’s local and tourist population, Israel is looking to bring tourists from the western seaside state to the Holy Land, according to Akov.
As a former Portuguese colony, Goa has a large Christian community that could be interested in visiting Israel, he explained.
But regarding agriculture, Akov stressed that the Goan government officials are “very interested in using Israeli technology in government training facilities that hopefully will be adopted by individual farmers.”
Matan Zamir, the deputy head of mission at the Mumbai consulate, said he saw a particularly successful model at the center of excellence in Nagpur, Maharashtra, where Israelis coordinate closely with Nagpur University to work on citrus fruit development. Every so often, Israeli experts come to provide expert advice, but the center itself is entirely managed by local staff.
Although the centers of excellence are founded on a government-to-government level, Zamir stressed that it will become more and more important in the future to offer private firms demonstration sites at these sites. Farmers, he explained, could “window shop” among Israeli and Indian companies showing their wares there.
As far as determining locations, such as Goa, for future centers of excellence are concerned, Alluf emphasized that the choice is ultimately up to the Indian government.
Although Mashav has limited resources, Israeli experts who arrive often optimize their time by teaching at multiple centers during one visit, or brining together the farmers of several centers, he explained.
Alluf described the Indo-Israel Agricultural Project as a productive cooperation mechanism, particularly praising the Indian appreciation for innovation.
“They embrace it and try to implement it into their industry,” he said. “It’s part of the change India has gone through in the last decade.”