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March 31, 2016 4:34 pm

‘Agricultural Superpower’ Israel to Double Number of Centers of Excellence in India as Part of Flourishing Bilateral Ties (INTERVIEW)

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Shimon Mercer-Wood. Photo: Twitter.

Shimon Mercer-Wood. Photo: Twitter.

Israel is being hailed as an “agricultural superpower” across India, a spokesperson for the Israeli Consulate in New York told The Algemeiner, as plans to open up new “Centers for Excellence” in India were announced this week by Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Shimon Mercer-Wood, who is also a former political affairs officer at the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi, made the comment in response to an interview given by Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Uri Ariel to The Hindu, in which he revealed Israel’s plan to more than double its agricultural Centers of Excellence in India. According to Ariel, Israel currently operates 13 such centers and, in the next few years, that number will increase to 28. In a visit to India next week, Ariel will inaugurate a new center in Haryana.

The announcement comes as both countries seek to bolster bilateral cooperation in the field of agriculture. Israel, with its innovative farming technology, has greatly influenced the agricultural sector in India, stated Mercer-Wood, adding that the Israeli drip irrigation method is a favorite of many Indian farmers. “If you go to the state of Haryana, an important agricultural state, and ask a farmer about Israel, they will say irrigation,” Mercer-Wood said. 

“The most impressive parts of the agricultural cooperation between Israel and India have been these networks of Centers of Excellence,” he explained. “What these are are demonstration farms where Israeli technology, know-how and expertise are deployed and Indian farmers are brought to learn Israeli techniques to apply in their own farms.”

Over the last five-six years, the Centers of Excellence, according to Mercer-Wood, have been very successful and “opened up doors to many parts of India that are more interested in cooperating with Israel.” Israel’s recent decision to double the number of these demonstration farms signals that “the single greatest scale of agricultural cooperation Israel has” is with India.

The on-the-ground impact of the Israeli-run agricultural centers on the lives of many Indian farmers has been profound, he said. “The main goal of these farms is always to increase yield. The farmers manage to harvest more crops…fruits, vegetables and high valued crops.” 

Mercer-Wood recounted how Israel had set up a Center for Excellence in the field of growing mangoes. “This was quite chutzpadik and presumptuous,” he said, using the Yiddish term to describe the boldness of Israeli agriculturalists in telling Indian farmers how to grow mangoes, a national food treasure.

After studying typical Indian mango-farming techniques, “The center found Indian farmers were letting mango trees grow to great heights, and therefore the farmers couldn’t harvest the fruit at the top. The simple advice they gave the farmers was to crop the trees and let them grow in breadth instead.” The advice worked, he said, because in the end, “the farmers managed to get a lot more fruit.”  

However, he added, the Centers of Excellence go well beyond dispensing agricultural advice. “They are also about building relationships, acquiring trust. It’s not enough to tell farmers to cut their trees. They are traditional people and have been farming the same way for many many years,” he said. “Only after building the relationship will they take the advice and benefit greatly. One farmer put it very simply: ‘The tree is like my son. I can’t cut it.’ When those at the center managed to speak to him freely and get him to trust them, only then were they successful in updating the farming techniques.”

Mercer-Wood explained that Israel’s growing agricultural ties with India reveal a greater public shift in bilateral cooperation, and have serious political implications, as well. “The relationship between Israel and India has been growing tremendously and steadily for the past two decades. Since establishing diplomatic relations in the early 90s, cooperation in agriculture, defense, trade and more recently technological and scientific research and development, has grown in leaps and bounds,” he said.

“In the last two years, all these existing fields of cooperation have been enhanced, and in addition, the relationship has been given a much more salient public profile in the form of high-level visits, most notable the historic first visit of the president of the Republic of India to Israel late last year, as well as a more friendly posture in international forums such as the UN.”

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  • David Hersch

    Now here is something the South African government, meaning the ANC, can learn from and take an example from instead of playing Middle Eastern politics which are clearly influenced by bribery and misplaced influence. With the quagmire the ANC have created for themselves, here is a way they can dig themselves out of the enormous hole they have dug for themselves and benefit the country and its people. When the country and all its people are put first before self-enrichment, then South Africa will grow and reach its potential. Until then, it will rapidly reverse into Africa like so many African regimes and countries before it.

  • nat cheiman

    And SA refuses to have normal ties with Israel. Jacob Zuma and the ANC are a collection of beauts.

  • Israel does have centres of excellence in the field of agriculture and horticulture only and not on animal husbandry. But the hindu temples have gosalas or cow shelters and have a lot of cows. they do not protect it properly. So if the centres of excellence shows some interest in this field it will be good. moreover they do not allow the slaughter of the cows. so no proper disposal of the corpses does take place. They just bury the corpse or burn it. In both ways it gives problem because either it produces anthrax disease or pollute the atmosphere

  • stevenl

    Does this benefit the average and lower class Israelis?

  • Brenda Franks

    What a great story. How wonderful that our little Israel is managing to as usual help others and improve lives.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if those idiots who just want to disparage Israel read this story.

    Here’s hoping the Chinese government also starts learning from Israel how to improve their yields too.

    Well done Algemeiner for telling this great story. We need uplifting stories right now.

  • It’s obvious why improved yields are important to them, but it’s very important not to sacrifice quality for quantity. The plethora of tasteless tomatoes and apples that now plagues the U.S. exemplifies this concern.