India-Israel agricultural cooperation: The down to earth way of combating child labor

Where foreign aid and regulations have failed; Israeli innovation in agriculture is addressing the issue of child labor in India at its roots. Hardworking and proud farming communities in India need right tools and technique to make agriculture gainful – not Western hand-outs.
The bestowal of this year's Nobel Peace Prize to Kailash Satyarthi left me as an Indian with a sense of pride and unease at the same time. Satyarthi is a worthy recipient of Nobel Prize for his lifelong struggle against child labor in India – an honor he shared with Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai.
If the global recognition of Satyarthi's efforts against child labor filled me with pride, it also reminded me of the grim reality faced by millions of children across India. With worldwide some 200 million children working under illegal and exploitative conditions, the problem of child labor may not be unique to India; but with estimated 60 million child laborers in India alone, makes it a pressing issue for India's lawmakers and society as a whole.
The phenomena of child labor is tied to India's traditional dependence on agriculture sector. Despite rapid industrialization and free-market reforms of past 2 decades, agriculture still employs 47% of the workforce, but contributes only 16% to the country's GDP. Small landed and landless farmers make the bulk of agriculture workforce. Agriculture sector is vastly unorganized and agriculture practices outdated. Farmers are often at the mercy of unpredictable monsoon rains for harvesting cash crops.
In these circumstances, a single failed crop is enough to cause existential threats to cash-strapped small farmers. Children are often send to work under exploitative and hazardous conditions to supplement family income or to settle farming debts.
No amount of foreign aid can fix the inherent deficiencies in India's agricultural production. Country's strict laws forbidding child labor have very little impact on the ground reality.
However, Israeli technology and innovation in field of agriculture has delivered where foreign aid and legal regulation have failed. As Media is taken-in by glamorous billion dollar defense deals, bilateral cooperation in agriculture is more significant and transformative factor in the India-Israel relationship.
Israel's agriculture cooperation with India go back to 1960s, when India first began to modernize its agriculture sector under the slogan of "Green revolution".
India and Israel cemented this commitment in 2012 by formally agreeing on long-term agriculture action plan.
Presently, the plan is being implemented in 10 states in India. Under this plan both countries are collaborating in agriculture, dairy production, water management, and related sectors.
The new government in New Delhi recognizes Israel as a strong partner and means business when it talks about strengthening cooperation in the field of agriculture. India's Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh recently called agriculture a "strong foundation for strengthening bilateral relations".
Yonatan Ben-Zaken, head of Israeli Economic Mission in India echos Minister Singh's assessment. According to Ben-Zaken, similarities in climatic conditions make Israeli Agri-Tech solutions and expertise a perfect match for India. In his assessment, implementing Israeli technology and know-how Indian farmer can improve production by 5 to 10 folds.
The center-piece of Israeli initiative are the Centres of Excellence (CoE) being developed at various locations in India. These CoEs showcase latest Israeli innovations in farming, horticulture and dairy sectors and act as training centers for local farmers in new technologies, know-how and techniques. By 2015 over 30 such centers are expected to be functional all across India.
An important aspect of bilateral cooperation is to increase participation of Israeli companies in India. Israel's Ambassador to India, Daniel Carmon recently raised the issue of increasing the role of Israeli private sector in dairy industry with India's Agriculture Minister Singh. According to media reports, Minister Singh assured Ambassador Carmon of "extending all possible cooperation" and pave the way for more Public Private Partnerships (PPP) in dairy sector.
So far the most ambitious project of this dynamic relationship has been of bringing olive plantation to the western Indian state of Rajasthan. Initially over one hundred thousand saplings were flown in from Israel on the behest of Rajestan's Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, the first women Chief minister of the state. In 2006 Chief Minister Raje sought Israeli cooperation after visiting an olive farm in a kibbutz in the Negev desert.
Today olive plantation cover 282 hectare land spread across Rajasthan. In October 2014 first olive refinery rolled into production near Bikaner city – a first of its kind in India.
Drip irrigation is having a considerable impact by improving yields, expanding arable land, reducing farming costs and saving the scares water resources. Israel's drip irrigation giant Netafim has put over a million acres of land in India under drip irrigation systems – benefiting some 325,000 farming families.
Netafim recently joined hands with Tamil Nadu Agriculture University to study the impact of drip-irrigation in conventional Indian crops like rice. Drip irrigation has also been introduced to increase Pomegranate yields.
Israeli technology is helping farmers reduce their over dependence on crops by supplementing their income with horticulture and dairy produce.
As right tools are handed to Indian farmers, they are carving their way out into prosperity by employing their improvisation and ingenuity.
Growing up poor in rural India, I am aware of the plight that young child and old face. I am not writing on these issues as an intellectual. I am talking about my community. I was fortunate that my parents could send me to a state-run school and I was able work my way through the college.
Showing pity or extending charity would be an insult to these hardworking children, who often selflessly take the yoke of responsibilities on their tiny and tender shoulders to help their families – they simply deserve our respect.
As everyone focuses on high-profile India-Israel defense deals, away from the glare a quiet revolution marches on. As world media stumbles from one sensational conflict to another, Israel transforms the way millions of farming families in India cultivate and harvest.