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Why Narendra Modi's Israel Visit is Vital for his Stated Goal of Doubling Farmers Income

Why is Prime Minister Modi’s Israel visit placing such a heavy stress on agricultural cooperation? The key to understanding this is the government’s stated aim to double farmers’ incomes and the belief that Israeli agriculture and irrigation technologies can help deliver that goal.

Tushar Dhara | News18.com

Updated:July 5, 2017, 3:24 PM IST
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Why Narendra Modi's Israel Visit is Vital for his Stated Goal of Doubling Farmers Income
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during a joint statment with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting in Jerusalem. (Photo: Reuters)
New Delhi: Why is Prime Minister Modi’s Israel visit placing such a heavy stress on agricultural cooperation? The key to understanding this is the government’s stated aim to double farmers’ incomes and the belief that Israeli agriculture and irrigation technologies can help deliver that goal.

Consider the following slogans: “More crop per drop”, “Hark khet ko pani” (water for every farm), “Doubling farmers’ incomes”.

These encapsulate the government’s thinking on how to raise agricultural productivity. Israeli technology is vital for each of these aims.

But first, a short digression on Israel’s water management system. When the nation was founded in 1948 it realized that it was severely water stressed. Sixty percent of the land was desert and the annual rainfall was 50 cm. There were no rivers of note and no chance of water sharing in a hostile neighborhood. Rainfall has fallen to half the level of 70 years ago while the population has grown 10 fold according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Israel thus had to come up with innovative water solutions.

The result is a centralized water management grid, developed over the decades to make maximum use of water. The center piece of this strategy was drip irrigation. Instead of flooding fields, water is delivered directly to the plants roots in small quantities.

Now compare this to Indian agriculture. Only a small portion of Indian agriculture is irrigated, mostly through canals. The canal network is most extensive in North India, particularly Punjab, Haryana and Northern Rajasthan, and relies on excessive use of water, leading to water stress and overuse. The farmer in these regions typically thinks that the more the water delivered to his farm, the higher the productivity. This attitude is being severely challenged by changing water patterns due to overuse and climate change.

This is where the government thinks Israeli technology can help. The Middle Eastern nation recycles 90% of sewage and the recycled water is used for agriculture. Plants have been engineered to grow in arid conditions and sea water is desalinated for human use.

India has always been interested in Israel’s mastery of drip irrigation, but it now wants the partnership to blossom. “Israeli firms have the technological know how while Indian partners know how to navigate the complex bureaucratic maze here,” Anai Joglekar, who is in charge of political affairs and special projects at the Israeli Consulate in Mumbai told News18. “This visit will create momentum for partnerships on the ground.”

It is hard to ignore that there is an Israeli technological solution for each of Modi’s slogans: More crop per drop and har khet ko pani (drip irrigation), doubling farmers’ incomes (an integrated water management system for agriculture). It’s a partnership that can expand and that’s why Israel’s government has committed Rs 500 crore, which the Indian government may match, analysts hope.

Further, the Israeli experience with collectivized farming has become a template for a plan that is being pushed by National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). A Kibbutz is an Israeli collective community based on agriculture while a Moshav is a cooperative agricultural community. Both these are being explored as templates for “farmer-producer” companies by NABARD. However, one of the main problems of Indian agriculture is the small size of land holdings. Corruption in cooperatives is a well-known problem, particularly in Maharashtra. Plus, the government does not have the money to pump into co-ops.

The government and NABARD are keen to push farmer-producer companies where a large group of farmers pool their land together and work as a collective. They could be registered as a non-profit, company or trust, would produce business plans and access capital from formal banking channels.

Maharashtra has already asked the Israeli Consulate in Mumbai to prepare a plan for establishing a farmer-producer collective in Dehni village in Yavatmal district, which has one of the highest incidences of farmer suicides.

India has already adopted drip irrigation in some parts of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Haryana. An article in Forbes India in 2010 reported that the Israeli firm Netafim, the world’s largest micro-irrigation company, indigenized its Family Drip System (FPS) for mainstream farming in India. Drip irrigation is now available for farms that are as small as a quarter acre.

No doubt, both governments will be hoping to take this partnership forward by providing a government to government framework that would enable corporate partnerships to flourish.

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| Edited by: Swati Sharma
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