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Anyone with a keen interest in modern agriculture will have noticed that Israeli agritech innovations are popping up left, right, and center. Israel spends 4.3% of its GDP on research and development – the most of any country – and according to the World Economic Forum, it is where companies embrace change the most and where innovative companies grow the fastest. 73 years after gaining statehood, Israel is making David Ben-Gurion’s dream of ‘making the desert bloom’ a reality. 17% of Israel’s total agricultural budget is allocated to R&D, and close cooperation between farmers, the agricultural industry, technological research, and the government seems to be a recipe for success.
Kibbutzim sowing seeds of innovation
Well before statehood had even been achieved, early Israeli pioneers sowed the seeds of agricultural innovation by founding the first kibbutz: an agricultural community focused on sharing land and resources and working together to tackle tough farming challenges. Harsh land, scarce water, a limited labour force, and limited trade with neighbouring countries stimulated resourcefulness in Israeli agriculture, and the kibbutzim ‘can-do’-attitude still characterises this sector.
Even today, the kibbutzim lie at the basis of Israeli agritech innovation, and more than half of the country’s agritech ventures are managed by someone who grew up in a kibbutz.
India’s agriculture is composed of many crops, with the foremost food staples being rice and wheat. Indian farmers also grow pulses, potatoes, sugarcane, oilseeds, and such non-food items as cotton, tea, coffee, rubber, and jute (a glossy fiber used to make burlap and twine). India is a fisheries giant as well. A total catch of about 3 million metric tons annually ranks India among the world’s top 10 fishing nations. Despite the overwhelming size of the agricultural sector, however, yields per hectare of crops in India are generally low compared to international standards. Improper water management is another problem affecting India’s agriculture. At a time of increasing water shortages and environmental crises, for example, the rice crop in India is allocated disproportionately high amounts of water. One result of the inefficient use of water is that water tables in regions of rice cultivation, such as Punjab, are on the rise, while soil fertility is on the decline. Aggravating the agricultural situation is an ongoing Asian drought and inclement weather. Although during 2000-01 a monsoon with average rainfall had been expected, prospects of agricultural production during that period were not considered bright. This has partially been due to relatively unfavorable distribution of rainfall, leading to floods in certain parts of the country and droughts in some others.
I begin nearly every program I lead with the same question. “What is agriculture?” I’ve heard MANY answers over the years, but the most unique and humorous response came while doing a summer program at an elementary school in Des Moines a few weeks ago. After asking “What is agriculture?” a third-grade boy raised his hand with utmost excitement and said, “It’s when you look up at the stars with a telephone!” He was thinking of a big word that starts with A, but not the one I had in mind.
While this example is funny, his understanding of agriculture was similar to most upper elementary and even older students I encounter. Other very common answers are “nature” or something involving “cultures.”
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