06/26/2012 04:31
New initiative marks further step in program overseen by MASHAV.

Israeli and Indian government institutions will jointly launch an online communications network on Tuesday to provide instant contact between Indian farmers and Israeli agricultural technology experts.

The launch will occur simultaneously at the Agriculture Ministry, the Foreign Ministry’s MASHAV program, the already existing Israeli-Indian centers of agricultural excellence in India, the Indian Agriculture Ministry and the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi.

“We are looking for more ways to communicate with the Indian teams,” Efraim Ben Matityahu, MASHAV’s director for international projects and public private partnerships, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday night.

The online communications system is the latest development in an ongoing program between Israel and India, which Matityahu helped spearhead a few years ago, when he signed an agreement to establish centers for excellence to transfer technological know-how and agricultural skills to Indian farmers.

The first such center was launched in early 2011, in the state of Haryana near New Delhi, and is helping to catalyze the “transformation of Indian horticulture,” according to Matityahu.

“This center actually represented the range of abilities in tech and know-how that is applicable to the Indian farmer,” he said. “That was really a very successful launch.”

Quickly, the Haryana center became a hub for training demonstrations and exhibitions for more than nine Israeli companies and has become “a magnet for many Israeli items of know-how and technology,” Matityahu added.

“What is very interesting about the center in Haryana is that it really became a showcase for the whole region,” he said.

More than 70 farmers living and working nearby the center have already emulated what they saw there, and have started revamping their agriculture based on the Israeli models – using tools like greenhouses, open field growth strategies and irrigation systems.

“It’s a major coup because farmers are very traditional,” Matityahu said.

The initial Haryana center not only contains a visitors and training area, but also has a farm of its own on around 10 hectares of land, he explained.

All in all 28 such agricultural centers of excellence have been planned in eight states across India, and four centers, including the original, are already active in Haryana and Maharashtra, where they host thousands of farmers and visitors, according to MASHAV. The two in Haryana showcase vegetables and fruits, while the two in Maharashtra focus specifically on “cluster” fruits – mangos and oranges – explained Uri Rubinstein, counselor for international cooperation for MASHAV at the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi. In mid-July a nursery workshop at a new center in the state of Rajasthan will also open, he said.

The Indian government has invested 90 percent of the funding in the excellence centers while the Israeli government has invested 10%, Rubinstein said.

“The Indians have a lot of knowledge by themselves,” he said. “What we are now doing is fine-tuning.”

Since Rubinstein is the sole on-theground emissary in India and the rest of the Israeli representatives fly back and forth frequently, a more ideal way of facilitating communication among all parties was through an Internet-based platform, according to Matityahu. The online network will be part of a permanent management platform that will eventually include an e-learning system for the farmers, he said.

“They will have a constant communication which will be visualized,” Rubinstein added. “The experts will be obliged for three years.”

The online communications will occur in clusters – in different agricultural categories – an idea for which Rubinstein is responsible. All of the Israeli government experts that participate as cluster advisers will be obliged to serve for three years in the online community, he explained. Meanwhile, the Indian agriculturalists will also be able to communicate among themselves through the forum.

Rubinstein emphasized just how important the cooperation on Indian agriculture is not only to the rural farmers there, but also to Israel’s image. During a three-day open house at the center in Haryana, for example, he noted that 15,000 visitors came and were exposed to Israeli technology.

“Israel will not only be mentioned because of the army and religious problems that we have,” Rubinstein said, stressing that Israel is contributing greatly to Indian agriculture and food security.

“This is a very nice showcase of the Israeli capacity and therefore we are cooperating very strongly with the Israel Export Institute in order to promote the Israeli brand in a sense, the Israeli image of agriculture,” Matityahu added.

So successful have the Israel-Indian centers of excellence been thus far that during a visit to India last year, Rwanda’s agriculture minister stopped at the Haryana center, after which she sent a letter to the Israeli government requesting a similar center in her country, Matityahu explained.

“Next month we are going to be in Rwanda building the center for excellence,” he said.