India and Israel are merging to develop new crop varieties and share post-harvest technologies following the success of the 10-year-old Indo-Israeli Agriculture Project (IIAP) whose accomplishments include growing cherry tomatoes in Haryana, regenerating mango orchards in Maharashtra and demonstrating to Indian farmers the efficiency of state-of-the-art irrigation technologies.
India is amongst largest food producers worldwide, the challenge is to counter the effects of erratic rainfall, raise productivity and use water efficiently, wherein, 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. With an aim 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 centers of excellence as per their local needs.
Dan Alluf, counsellor of science and agriculture at MASHAV, Delhi said ,“Our goal is to help the Indian farmer by exposing them to new technologies tailored to their local needs”. Further he also added, “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, each center 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.”
Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel in July last year, a new plan of action for the coming years 2018-2020 visualizes joint development of new crop varieties and sharing of post-harvest technologies. Among the unique projects are a functional center of excellence for bee-keeping in Haryana and a center for dairy which is in the pipeline. 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. Until now, 20 centers of excellence are working in different states and five more will be functioning by next month. Notable among these are centers 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.
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 fertilizer 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 centers, and we hope the technologies we are showcasing will echo, carried forward by state governments and the private sector,” said Alluf.
According to a report released in October last year, “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.” On the other hand, data from the report disclosed 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.
“States like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Gujarat which struggles with water resources, 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. Later he also added to his statement, “The center and state governments also need to push these technologies with more funding. Last year’s budget announced an Rs5, 000 crore micro-irrigation fund, but it took almost a year to operationalize it.”