Israel's special agriculture program aims to create a better world

Israeli program turns students from developing countries into agricultural and economic powerhouses.

BLESSING ALBERT of Botswana, in Gilboa: ‘The existence of women in agriculture is the basis of beautiful things in life – fixing the pipes ready to irrigate the world with knowledge and feed it.’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
BLESSING ALBERT of Botswana, in Gilboa: ‘The existence of women in agriculture is the basis of beautiful things in life – fixing the pipes ready to irrigate the world with knowledge and feed it.’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Since 1995, Israel has been running an agricultural studies program headed by the Foreign and Agriculture ministries. The program – part of the international development activity of the State of Israel – seeks to provide advanced training in modern agriculture to students from developing countries. It also aims to share the entrepreneurial spirit of Israel and practical Israeli know-how with foreign students (particularly from Asia, Africa and Latin America) who are studying agriculture at the university level in their home countries.
Designed by the Midwest Arava Regional Council in 1994, the pilot program initially invited about 50 foreign workers from Thailand. They studied in Israeli academic institutions one day a week while working other days in the agricultural sector, which had struggled to find a stable workforce. In time, the pilot program was officially established and grew exponentially, averaging 8,000 applicants annually. Currently more than 4,000 foreign students participate every year.
The program exposes students from developing countries to technologies and methods of growing and managing modern farms so they can apply the knowledge and skills for the development of agriculture in their own countries. Trainees undergo training in business management and entrepreneurship as well, creating a perceptual change in the transition to a market-oriented economy.
MANOJ MAYAL of Nepal, at the Sedot Negev Agriculture Training Center (visiting Jerusalem): ‘I’m really motivated by Jews and this is a great opportunity for me to learn about them.’MANOJ MAYAL of Nepal, at the Sedot Negev Agriculture Training Center (visiting Jerusalem): ‘I’m really motivated by Jews and this is a great opportunity for me to learn about them.’
The program aims to transform its participants into agricultural entrepreneur, who can return to their homes with new techniques for growing both their agricultural and economical endeavors. At the end of the program, participants receive a certificate and the savings they earned, to be used as seed money for establishing their own agricultural ventures in their own countries. Graduates become a part of the backbone of their country’s agricultural activities. As a result, there is a growing demand for involvement in the program.
The program has had a tremendous impact on the promotion of agriculture and food security in the participants’ countries of origin, and on the establishment of foreign relations between Israel and those countries – even those without pre-existing diplomatic relations with Israel.
Six agricultural centers throughout Israel have taken part in the program: Arava, Agrostudies, Ramat HaNegev, Kinneret, Sderot Negev and Ashkelon. The centers are responsible for both the academic content of the program and the externship on the farms. In addition to receiving housing and health insurance, students are considered employees, and subject to all the provisions of labor law in Israel.
The program runs for about a year, during which the trainees study at the agricultural center once a week, preparing research under the supervision of a mentor from the center. The students then spend the rest of the week applying the theories they have learned in a classroom by working on a farm. Students are paid for their work, receiving firsthand experience on the ground along with a broader perspective of the industry.
The Magazine interviewed two program participants. The first, Ferdinand Demanarig, 21, from the Bicol region of the Philippines, is an agriculture student with a major in animal science. He dreams of returning to the Philippines and starting his own chicken business.
TROY DUHALNGON of the Philippines, in Tel Hai: ‘You don’t get anything that you don’t work hard for.’TROY DUHALNGON of the Philippines, in Tel Hai: ‘You don’t get anything that you don’t work hard for.’

How did you hear about the program?
We were very inspired to apply after meeting alumni of the program who’ve created businesses in the Philippines. Before we came here, they said, ‘Be careful there because it’s very hot there. It’s a desert,’ and things like that. But what? There are trees! It’s very green here! We were expecting the program to be very hard for us, but actually it’s very easy because the technology here is very modern. We enjoy the program and everything in Israel, especially the place! And the people are very kind. Particularly in the kibbutz.
The program seems to be more than just agriculture.
Yes, it’s not just agriculture. It’s learning about different cultures, different people and different technologies that we can bring to the Philippines and share there.
How do you find farming here?
In terms of agriculture, in the Philippines we have ways to deal with animals or plants, and we have our own machines and technologies. But when we came here, we saw that it’s a lot different because here it is more modern, and we are inspired to bring this technology back to the Philippines to help the agriculture development.
So that is something we are thinking about right now. When we graduate, we need to help develop agriculture in the Philippines because, compared to Israel, farming in the Philippines is behind. Israelis don’t waste resources. Under the mountain, the plants are organized. All the different crops are organized, aligned. We see that Israel uses every inch of the land. And everything has irrigation here! In the Philippines we just wait for the rain. If we use that technology in the Philippines, we can make agriculture speedier, more efficient and more productive, so we can provide more food to Filipinos.
FEYI VICTOR KWAME of Ghana, in Tel Hai: ‘Agriculture is my passion and profession.’FEYI VICTOR KWAME of Ghana, in Tel Hai: ‘Agriculture is my passion and profession.’
WE ALSO spoke with Lee Kreiger, 33, of Harish, a manager of the Tel Hai campus of the agrostudies program.
Are you new to agriculture or do you have a long connection with it?
Growing up, before I began my involvement with the agrostudies program, I worked on my family’s fruit-tree farm with my father, wanting to do something related to agriculture. I started working three years ago as a coordinator in the Ruppin campus, and then I came here to be a manager at the Tel Hai campus.
How are you enjoying the program?
I love it. I really like the dynamic. I visit the students on the campus or on the farm or in the house and move around from place to place. It feels like I’m doing something that affects other people. It is not only for the students, it’s for everyone.
It’s for our farmers in Israel, for the students, and for Israel itself as a state, because I hear from students all the time how they love Israel, and when they go back home, they talk about it. And I hear from my students who have already finished the program, about their experience and that they miss us so much. Every day when I get these kinds of text messages from my former students I’m like, ‘Oh, I did something good.’
THEAM MENGLEANG, of Cambodia: ‘There is a great place in Israel called the Western Wall.’THEAM MENGLEANG, of Cambodia: ‘There is a great place in Israel called the Western Wall.’
Do you feel that the program results in any change?
Yes, for sure. The students keep in touch with me even after they return to their countries and tell me about their businesses that they are opening there. I had a former student who was here on a mushroom farm, and he founded a mushroom farm in Uganda from the things that he learned here, and he is selling his products to the market. Every month he sends me updates showing that his business is getting bigger, as are the profits he makes. Students who want to can change their lives after they finish this.
So this is more than just an educational program?
Of course. We take care of everything when they arrive here and during their adjustment time, which is not easy for them. We meet them at the airport when they arrive and they are all shocked. And then it’s a process that we have until they come for the first time to the campus and start their work on the farm. Everything is a process. They come as children and they leave as men.
That’s what I tell them the first time we meet: ‘I’m going to take a picture of you now and the picture of you when you leave. You will see the differences by yourself, between coming like a child, scared and worried and then leaving like proud men when you go back home.’
Do you have any stories to share?
AUGUSTA GLORIA DE JESUS of East Timor, at Mount Hermon: ‘I just can’t get over the beauty of this place.’AUGUSTA GLORIA DE JESUS of East Timor, at Mount Hermon: ‘I just can’t get over the beauty of this place.’
I have many crazy stories! You know when they come here it’s a bit of a culture shock for them. Most of them have never been outside their countries, so their habits are different. In their country, if they want to eat a chicken, they don’t buy it in the supermarket, and they do all the steps of making the chicken suitable for food outside in their back yard.
Now think about the kibbutz. We see, for example, a student taking a live chicken and killing it outside and taking the feathers out. People are like, ‘What is he doing?’ But for the student, it’s normal, because this is what he does in his home.
I need to explain to them, ‘This is not the way we do things here. If you want to eat a chicken, you can buy it in the supermarket already ready for eating.’ We’ve gotten calls from neighbors and farmers complaining that they are murdering chickens. It’s all cultural differences, and mentalities change as time goes on. Usually, when someone complains about one of the students, it’s because of a difference in culture. You can settle this in nice ways.’
Did you ever experience one of those moments where you said to yourself, ‘This why I do what I do’?
Every time I speak with a student who graduated and they update me about what they are doing now, it makes me feel that no matter how hard it is, it’s worth it because I am helping to change their lives there. Before they leave, we always speak with them in both group and personal conversations, and they tell us how much this year has affected their lives and how much we have helped them. It makes you feel like it’s not just an ordinary job when you come at 9 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m. It’s around the clock, and it’s a part of your life always.