For a country like Israel where 60% of the area is desert, exporting high-value farm produce like mangoes and avocados is a matter of pride, whereas for India, among the largest food producers globally, the challenge is to counter the effects of erratic rainfall, raise productivity and use water efficiently.
So, it was with the objective of sharing best practices and technical knowledge from Israel that the agriculture cooperation project was launched in 2008. The implementing partners for the project are the National Horticulture Mission (NHM) under the agriculture ministry, MASHAV, Israel’s agency for international development cooperation, and Indian state governments which help set up centres of excellence as per their local needs.
“Our goal is to help the Indian farmer by exposing them to new technologies tailored to their local needs," said Dan Alluf, counsellor of science and agriculture at MASHAV, Delhi.
“There is a lot of focus on drip irrigation and how to design better farms by using canopy management and use of improved irrigation and fertigation technologies," Alluf said, adding, “Each centre showcases a range of greenhouses to farmers depending on their needs and capabilities. A unique focus is to teach farmers the language of irrigation - when to irrigate and by how much - to increase water use efficiency."
So far, 20 centres of excellence are functioning in different states and five more will be operational by next month. Notable among these are centres for vegetables in Karnal, Haryana, for mangoes in Dapoli and for citrus fruits in Nagpur, both in Maharashtra, and one for pomegranates in Bassi, Rajasthan.
Among the unique projects are a functional centre of excellence for bee-keeping in Haryana and a centre for dairy which is in the pipeline.
Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel in July last year, a new action plan for the years 2018-2020 envisages joint development of new crop varieties and sharing of post harvest technologies.
Further, the plan is to establish a partnership on water conservation that includes waste-water treatment and its reuse for agriculture, desalination, water utility reforms, and the cleaning of the Ganga and other rivers using advanced water technologies.
According to a MASHAV document, vegetable intervention in Haryana showed how crop productivity could be increased 5-10 times under protected cultivation of tomato, capsicum and cucumber, coupled with 65% decrease in water use and substantial reduction in fertiliser and pesticide costs.
Similarly, the mango orchard rejuvenation project in Dapoli resulted in a three-fold rise in productivity within three years.
“Every year, between 10,000 and 20,000 farmers visit each of these centres, and we hope the technologies we are showcasing will echo, carried forward by state governments and the private sector," said Alluf.
“One of the key ways to boost overall agricultural production is to implement better soil-water management techniques that would provide the arid and semi-arid lands better access to irrigation water, without actually increasing the stress on available water resources," said a NITI Aayog concept paper released in October last year.
However, data from the report showed that out of 160 million hectares of cultivable land in India, only about 65 million hectares or 41% is covered under irrigation. Also, just 8.6 million hectares are currently covered under micro-irrigation compared to a potential 69.5 million hectares.
“In states which are water-stressed such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Gujarat, adoption of drip irrigation has been faster but so far, adoption of these technologies among north Indian farmers has been lower due to easy water availability," said Siraj Hussain, former agriculture secretary and currently a fellow at the Delhi-based Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations.
“The centre and state governments also need to push these technologies with more funding. Last year’s budget announced a Rs5,000 crore micro-irrigation fund, but it took almost a year to operationalise it," Hussain added.