Israeli partnership bears fruit for Indian growers
With a population of 1.2 billion, a limited water supply and difficult growing conditions, India's agricultural journey to self-reliance has been a difficult one. While the country has made headway in feeding its people, more work needs to be done to educate and train farmers about diversification and sophisticated growing techniques to raise yields. At www.freshfruitportal.com, we take a look at an agreement reached between India and Israel to open centers of excellence for fruit and vegetable production, which could go a long way in propelling the country toward a new level of horticultural productivity.
Spokesman for the Embassy of Israel in India, Ohad Horsandi, said this vital bilateral agreement promised to have a lasting legacy on Indian farming.
"A few years back the Israeli government signed a MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with the government of India for cooperation in agriculture and the outcome of this agreement was that over a period of a few years the two countries would be working to set up centers of excellence in agriculture and horticulture," Horsandi told www.freshfruitportal.com.
"We are setting up centers in states like Punjab, Haryana and Tamil Nadu with the aim of increasing the productivity of the local farmers there as well as educating local farmers about scientific advancements in the cultivation of fruits and vegetables.
"What we do is work together with the governments of the particular state and they tell us exactly what they would like to focus on whether that is vegetables or fruits like mangoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes or anything else."
He said the idea was to blend the expertise of Indian growers with Israel's knowledge and experience.
"On the Israeli side, we provide experts and knowledge and on the Indian side, they bring their local experts, local farmers and they provide the land to set up the center of excellence and also the financial support.
"At the end of the day, we are working to the demands and requirements of the local governments in each individual state. We usually focus on three types of centers; citrus, vegetables (tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers and potatoes) and mangoes."
He emphasized the act of knowledge transfer was not simply a matter of "copy paste".
"We know that methods and growing crops have to go through adaptations and of course climate and environment has to be considered. First of all whatever is grown in the centers has to suit the Indian market.
"For instance, the mangoes people like in Israel may not be suitable for the Indian growers; that's why it's important that farmers and experts on both sides continuously work together. We are not the teachers; we are partners in this fantastic long-term project."
The latest center was officially opened last week in Jalandar with the Punjab Chief Minister Parkesh Singh Badal hailing the agricultural learning hub as a significant part of India's process in becoming a world leader in food production and supply.
He described it as 'a temple of the second green revolution', citing the opening as a 'historic day' for the Punjab.
The Jalandar center is set up on around 15 acres of agricultural farmland with 13 acres reserved for cultivation and polyhouses, and the remaining two used for a mini complex for administrative offices, a plant health clinic, a laboratory, a packhouse, a workshop, a conference hall, a canteen and staff quarters.
The early part of 2014 will also see the inauguration of a center of excellence for citrus located in Hoshiyapur.
Horsandi also highlighted the successes achieved in other centers.
"A couple of hours north of Delhi we set up a center in a place called Karnal, that has actually been working for a while now as it was one of the first ones to be opened.
"They’ve had more than 20,000 farmers already going through the training programs. The idea, in the end, is that all the centers will provide training for hundreds of thousands of local farmers, so the local growers will become better acquainted with enhanced techniques for farming, whether that is smarter water usage or anything related to learning how to use more sophisticated technology.
"The perfect example of what we have achieved in the Karnal center is to demonstrate how, with just a little adaptation, you can increase cucumber yields from around two kilograms per square meter to 10 kilograms per square meter – that is five times more."
He said the Karnal experience was just one example and growers would not always witness such staggering rates of growth; the overall plan is to raise yields by 10-15%. The ambassador also mentioned another mantra of the centers of excellence, which is the importance of diversification to safeguard crops and livelihoods.
"India has gone through the first stage of the green revolution and now, the second phase is to be able to diversify crops.
"We think that by having those centers of excellence together with Israeli knowledge and experience, this will allow Indian farmers to have a more diversified basket of vegetables and fruits and whatever else they need to have on their plate."
There are already two fully operational centers in Haryana; one for vegetables and the other for fruit, and several others are planned across the state. In Tamil Nadu, two centers are on the cards and in Rajasthan a center for pomegranates is being built with two more for citrus and dates in Jaisalmer.
Mangoes will be the focus in Gujarat and Karnataka, while proposals are in place to build agriculture cooperation projects in West Bengal and Bihar.
The program has been ongoing now for two years and all centers are expected to be operational by 2015.