IMPROVE aims to improve food security in African countries

Ten of Israel’s leading hi-tech, agriculture-oriented companies presented solutions to the challenges raised by the African representatives.

South African food security delegation visits an experimental hothouse in the Negev (photo credit: DENNIS ZINN/KKL-JNF)
South African food security delegation visits an experimental hothouse in the Negev
(photo credit: DENNIS ZINN/KKL-JNF)
Former British prime minister and envoy of the Quartet, Tony Blair, who is currently chairman of the Institute for Social Change, is known to be a sincere and long-time friend of Israel and the Jewish people and of all former heads of state and government has arguably paid the most visits to Israel.
During the past twenty-plus years, he has been to Israel more than 150 times. Although the various obstacles to travel that are related to novel coronavirus restrictions have put a damper on his physical presence in Israel, he continues to be a regular online guest, and among the events in which he participated last month were a memorial ceremony for former president Shimon Peres on the fourth anniversary of his passing; The Jerusalem Post Conference, which is still accessible on the JP website; and last week, the initial IMPROVATE conference that took place in Tel Aviv and was hosted by its founding chairwoman Irina Nevzlin, who happens to be the wife of Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and who also is chairwoman of the Board of Directors of the Museum of the Jewish People.
Nevzlin and Ronit Hasin Hochman, the former CEO of the Jerusalem Post Group, founded IMPROVATE this year, with the aim of improving food security and a better quality of life for African countries and beyond, by providing a collaborative platform for governments and Israeli technology companies with expertise in finding solutions for a broad range of challenges.
Among the African ministers and senior officials who participated in the first IMPROVATE conference were: Minister of Agriculture Joseph Antoine Kasonga Mukuta, Minister of Fisheries and Livestock Jonathan Bialosuka Wata; and Chairman of the Agricultural Organization CIPA RDC Emmanuel Rwakagara Nzungize, all from the Democratic Republic of Congo; Permanent Secretary of the State Department for Crop Development & Agricultural Research Prof. Hamadi Iddi Boga, Republic of Kenya; Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources Ato Sani Redi, Ethiopia; Ambassador of the United Republic of Tanzania Job D. Masima; Global Head of Client Relations, African Export-Import Bank Rene Awambeng; Minister for Agriculture Jabulani Mabuza, Eswatini (previously known as Swaziland); Agroindustry Specialist Dr. Mpoko Bokanga; and Country Manager for East Africa at International Finance Corporation Manuel Moses.
Ten of Israel’s leading hi-tech, agriculture-oriented companies presented solutions to the challenges raised by the African representatives. Among them were Netafim with its world-renowned drip irrigation systems; ICL with its enhanced efficiency fertilizers; BioFishency, a pioneer in solar-powered aquaculture fisheries; NextFerm which guarantees food security through natural fermentation proteins; Milkey, which has developed a global reputation for increased dairy production; and AgroScout which autonomously monitors disease in agriculture. Also among the Israeli participants were the LR Group, which plans, constructs and develops agricultural projects; AlefBet, which plans the construction of dairy farms and agricultural fields; Bermad, which specializes in solutions for water delivery, Ashra – The Israel Foreign Trade Risks Insurance Corporation and Israel Discount Bank, which discussed financial cooperation.
Science and Technology Minister Yizhar Shai was also in attendance and noted that innovation paves the path to dialogue between nations and reinforces the importance of peace between peoples. Blair, who also featured in an Israel Democracy Institute event in June, said on this occasion that “food security is a huge challenge. It was a challenge before COVID-19, which has just deepened that challenge,” he emphasized, adding “This is a huge opportunity to use technology to help lives, to improve lives, to save lives, to improve the quality of agriculture in Africa, to help Africa fulfill its potential as a major source of food, not just for Africans, but for the world... This is something that is transformative, groundbreaking, and will change the world.”
■ WHILE POLAND keeps enacting legislation, which to some extent, creates hardship for its Jewish population and disagreements with Israel, Polish ambassador Marek Magierowski is one of the most integrated foreign diplomats in Israeli society. One of the first tasks he set for himself when he took up his post two years ago, was to learn Hebrew, which he mastered in a matter of months and which he speaks fluently without a Polish accent. He not only speaks but also writes in Hebrew and he sent New Year greetings in Hebrew on Whatsapp. Even more than the language, he tapped into Jewish and Israeli mentalities, acknowledged the antisemitism that existed in Poland before and during the Nazi occupation, but also noted how many thousands of Poles had risked their lives and those of their families to help Jews during the Second World War. He has familiarized himself with the history of Jews in Poland, Jewish culture and Jewish heroism, and he has lectured on Jewish-related subjects in online discussions, such as one last week in cooperation with the Jerusalem Press Club, and previously in cooperation with the World Jewish Congress. He also has a regular podcast in Hebrew where he speaks about the priorities of Poland’s foreign policy. In addition, he has seen to it that the Polish Embassy has assembled on its YouTube channel a 12-part series on trail-blazing Polish-Jewish women including Sara Schenirer, Wanda Rutkiewicz and Anna Walentynowicz, as well as teachers and students of the Jewish School of Nursing in Warsaw. The latter is in Hebrew.
There are, indeed, two sides to every coin. Inasmuch as the history of the Jews of Poland is clouded by blood-libel, other forms of antisemitism and pogroms, Jewish life also flourished politically, culturally, educationally and religiously. Magierowski seeks to remind us of some of the more positive aspects of Jewish life in Poland.
■ THE GENERAL belief is that during an economic crisis, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. But there are certainly exceptions, even though the rich may be left with more than enough money to live on.
Among the rich whose fortunes have declined are Argentine tycoon Eduardo Elsztein, with many business interests in Israel, but who last week lost control of IDB Development after being its main shareholder for eight years; Yitzhak Tshuva who is an international player in the energy sector, but who simultaneously piled up millions of dollars of debts; and Nochi Dankner, who was the controlling shareholder in the IDB Group through which he had many diverse business interests, but whose sense of business was flawed. Dankner was convicted of fraud, spent time in prison and was given an early release for health reasons. Also suffering a downturn in his fortunes is real estate developer Alfred Akirov, whose holdings under his Alrov company include the luxury David Citadel and Mamilla hotels as well as the Mamilla Mall. Forced closure of the hotels under coronavirus rules have placed a serious dent in Akirov’s income The Mozes-Borovitz family which lost its controlling interest in El Al, is desperately seeking to regain it, despite the company’s growing deficit. Lev Leviev, who has a variety of business interests, is best known for being a diamond merchant and real estate developer. He owes more than NIS 500 million to Israeli banks and no longer lives in Israel. There are other tycoons who have suffered serious losses in recent months, but most have staying power and will eventually bounce back.
■ THE ANNUAL Digital Lifestyle Design festival hosted in Tel Aviv by charismatic hi-tech entrepreneur, inventor and investor Yossi Vardi, has for some years been an international, innovative hi-tech highlight, attracting not only potential investors, but hi-tech geeks whose crazy ideas might not be appreciated anywhere else, but whose potential might be realized at DLD, which is a forum for both serious business and for fun.
For all the well-known, frequently publicized reasons, this year’s DLD happening will take place online from October 12-15 and will include special events for promising start-ups, including an opportunity to get to know the Palestinian hi-tech community and a summit.
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ALTHOUGH THE transformation of the Sammy Ofer Fortified Underground Emergency Hospital at the Rambam Health Care Campus into a special unit for COVID-19 patients, has received considerable publicity, what is no less important in this emergency period, is finding a suitable care center for infant children of medical staff who must go to work, Here too, the Rambam Health Care Campus has been a godsend, especially for families in which both parents are members of the medical center staff. Among staff members who campaigned for a crèche was pediatrician Dr. Tzalil Regev, the mother of a baby boy, who is delighted that the Rambam administration realized the need for implementing such an initiative.
The dedicated coronavirus treatment center will contain 770 beds, including 170 for patients on ventilators.
The facility is a fully-equipped hospital, containing an emergency room, operating rooms, an intensive care unit, three coronavirus departments, a pediatrics area, a delivery room and a dialysis treatment area. “We have invested a great deal of time and effort in this project while hoping that we would never be forced to reach this point,” said Dr. Michael Halberthal, Rambam’s general director of the underground facility that became operational last week.