96. Israel’s hi-tech agricultural research: An exemplar for the world

As Israel considered undertaking agriculture, it had to give a thought to overcome the numerous challenges it faced. As a result, it made the Israeli agricultural research holistic. Based entirely on agricultural research and despite completely adverse conditions for agriculture, today, Israel is largely self-sufficient with respect to it. Moreover, Israel has not limited the research to ownself but has made it available to the whole world. Today, Israeli agricultural research is an exemplar for the globe.

The reason for Israel being at this position is its geographical diversity and contradictions despite a comparatively smaller area which is hardly found elsewhere on the planet. As a result, the topographic conditions found in any corner of the world, are almost certainly found in Israel with some minor deviations. Thus, Israel’s agricultural research proved beneficial to the whole world.

Keeping with time and clubbing science with modern technology, Israel has taken agricultural research to new heights. Going beyond the general consideration of a farmer that, ‘I have to put in a lot of hard work every day and then harvest a surplus produce’; the thought, ‘Of course, I have to work hard. However, it should not be just arduous labour but ‘smart’ labour that gives increasing returns’, has evolved in Israeli agriculture. This change is only because of agricultural research. Additionally, the ‘Digital Revolution’ that happened in the last decade of the twentieth century has the lion’s share in it.

The agricultural research gave birth to many techniques like ‘Precision Agriculture’ and ‘Drip Irrigation’. The main aim of ‘precision agriculture’ is to optimize the available resources to achieve maximum productivity. For this to happen, farming must be done using the available resources in a highly efficient manner, and it should also be unceasing – ‘Sustainable Farming’.

A study of various factors like atmosphere, soil, rainfall, etc. at a particular place is performed to achieve this. On the basis of the study the farmer is advised about the cropping, the seeds to be used, the fertilizers and pesticides to be selected – the proportion and time of administering them, water – it’s quantity and timing, etc. Moreover, weather forecasts and cautions about likely, impending natural disasters are provided to the farmers, thereby assisting them.

More importantly, farmers are not just provided advice but also the real stuff that is – seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, soil conditioners, agricultural tools, various services related to agriculture, etc. Besides, all necessary assistance is provided to the farmers for their harvest to reach the market. For example, information like – details about the demand and the respective locations for various agro products, corresponding rates, standards and regulations to send produce to the markets in other countries, etc. are made available on the go to the farmers at a click of a button through the use of modern digital technology, various apps, etc.

Though the technique of ‘Drip Irrigation’ has been around before Israel came into existence, the design used in the contemporary times can be attributed to the efforts of an Israeli engineer ‘Simcha Blass’. While researching in a desert region, he incidentally noticed a particular tree which had grown more than the others. When he investigated this tree falling in his experimentation area, he noticed an underground water pipeline slightly leaking water near this particular tree, thus benefitting its roots. Having observed this, Blass developed the concept of ‘drip irrigation’ which later was accepted by the world.

Simcha Blass

These days, under ‘Precision Agriculture’, even the task of watering farms using ‘drip irrigation’ is carried out by a computerized system. These systems can autonomously decide on the quantity and the time to release water to the farms considering the climate of the day. The decision about the release of more/less water is automatically made subject to the sensor measuring the moisture in the soil.

Likewise, the use of drones in Israeli agriculture is on the rise. Using the drones, a farmer sitting at his place can view the condition of the entire farm from all the four sides. The drones not only perform other essential tasks like spraying of pesticides and security surveillance of the farm but also indicate to the farmer the ‘health’ of the farm. The conventional way of going around the farm to inspect its health may not always enable farmers to detect anomalies if any. However, the advanced drones provide sharp photographs of the bird’s eye view of the farm from the above the ground and also perform infrared imaging.

Drones in agriculture

The infrared imaging helps to identify the ‘unhealthy spots’ in a farm quickly. They help determine if worms have infested a particular part of a farm or if it suffers some infection or if a specific piece is drying up, etc. Thus, the imaging makes it easy for the farmers to initiate remedial measures quickly.

Infrared imaging of unhealthy spots in agriculture

Such computerized systems (hardware and software) and gadgets are now also developed by private companies and like Israeli seeds, they too are in demand across the globe. Considering the unique importance of agriculture for the nation, the Israeli companies have been taken over by the aim of increasingly delivering the benefits of modern technology and the field of Information Technology to the farmers and are thus making newer inventions. In Israel alone, there are more than 500 companies which are entirely into agriculture-focused research.

The success achieved by its great efforts at agricultural research has not been limited by Israel to ownself but has made it available to the entire globe. In the current time, of all the dealings and agreements that take place annually in the ‘hi-tech agriculture’, more than 7% happen among the companies from across the planet and the Israeli startups.

With its vast population, agriculture has particular importance for an agrarian country like India. Traditional Indian agriculture has certainly evolved. Moreover, in the past few years, Israeli technology has been augmenting it, and one can see its benefits. The Israeli technology and hybrid seeds are also in demand in the African countries. Israeli researchers visit these countries and guide the farmers. Israel also holds representative training programmes for them.

The agricultural research pursued by Israel without getting disheartened by numerous challenges, without losing spirit anywhere and by using the resources available at hand, is indeed a live practical of the world-famous quote of George Washington Carver – “Start where you are, with what you have. Make something of it and never be satisfied!”(To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar

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