With Israel in the vanguard of making deserts bloom, read latest report from Israel’s Ministry of Economy and Industry how it has literally planted the seeds of its AgTech success. This may well be of Interest to South African farmers as the Israel Trade Office will be hosting an AgriTech RoadShow from March 25-28 in Pretoria, Limpopo and Stellenbosch. Charles Abelsohn contributed to this report by the Ministry of Economy & Industry.
Even prior to statehood, Israel’s pioneers set out to cultivate the land, tackling the challenges posed by limited natural resources by setting up agricultural communities such as kibbutzim and other farming cooperatives to ensure that any future state would flourish. The country also took it upon itself to fulfill the dream of its first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, by making the desert bloom, developing agricultural techniques for arid regions which would turn non-arable lands into fruitful fields.
Over 70 years later, Israel is now tackling some of the 21st century’s biggest global challenges – including feeding a planet with an ever-growing population – with a thriving AgTech sector that is carrying on the country’s longstanding tradition of integrating ingenuity and innovation with cutting-edge agricultural techniques.
What helps explain Israel’s global renown as an AgTech powerhouse? Israel’s strong tech ecosystem, coupled with its deep historical focus on agricultural resourcefulness, has provided the perfect setting for the AgTech sector to flourish. Underscoring the Israeli government’s commitment to supporting AgTech innovation, the Israel Innovation Authority offers R&D support for promising AgTech companies, granting between 20%t to 50% of approved R&D budgets to aid the development of new products and technologies.
One of Israel’s greatest success stories in the field is Netafim, a company founded in the Negev Desert in 1965. The company rocketed to international prominence with the introduction of the world’s first commercial drip irrigation system. Now the world’s foremost irrigation company, Netafim remains a global leader in sustainable farming and crop management solutions, operating in 110 countries with 4,300 employees, 29 subsidiaries, and 17 manufacturing plants. Netafim’s innovative solutions played a pivotal role in putting Israeli AgTech on the map, setting the stage for a slew of new companies in the field, including 750 active startups and other firms in the food tech and AgTech sectors, with $189 millionin food tech and AgTech investments in 2017. With a focus on biotech, crop protection and irrigation methods, AgTech investors see the Startup Nation as fertile ground for some of the most inventive technologies and solutions in the sector.
Simcha Blass is more than deserving of the title “Father of Modern Drip Irrigation”. Simcha Blass (November 27, 1897 – July 18, 1982) was a Polish-Israeli engineer and inventor who developed the modern drip irrigation system with his son Yeshayahu. Instead of releasing water through tiny holes easily blocked by tiny particles, water was released through larger and longer passageways by using velocity to slow water inside a plastic emitter. The first experimental system of this type was established in 1959 by Blass who partnered later (1964) withto create an irrigation company called . Together they developed and patented the first practical surface drip irrigation emitter.
Modern drip irrigation has arguably become the world’s most valued innovation insince the invention in the 1930s of the , which offered the first practical alternative to .
Today, Netafim manufactures and distributes crop management technologies, including monitoring and control systems, worldwide. To put things into perspective, Netafim controls over 30% of the global drip irrigation market in the world and the company’s recorded revenues were over $822 million in 2015.
Says South African farmer Bruce Nicholson, “I’m new to Netafim Drip system; I’m actually got a passion for it now. Where before my average yield was 87 tons per hectare, now, the same sugar cane fields are yielding over 110 tons per hectare – this is a huge inspiration for anyone.” Furthermore, using special probes with the system “it tells you when your profile is full, so that if you go over the profile you are wasting energy. With this system our energy savings is pretty on-the-nail.”
Among the country’s hundreds of cutting-edge companies:
- Taranis is a leading AI-powered precision agriculture intelligence platform that uses sophisticated computer vision, data science and deep learning algorithms to identify crop threats on a granular level, enabling farmers to effectively monitor fields. The system allows farmers to increase crop yields and create a more sustainable farming ecosystem through intelligent insights and oversees millions of acres in Argentina, Brazil, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States.
Evogene is a biotechnology company aimed at improving crop performance using a unique computational predictive biology platform. The company’s platform leverages big data analytics to generate deep insights to help improve crop yields, combat diseases, and protect against pests. Clients include Syngenta, DuPont, Monsanto, and Bayer.
ADAMA Agricultural Solutions is a global crop protection company, with an innovative fungicide mixture for soybean rust. The company is the first global crop protection company to be publicly traded on the Chinese stock market.
While Israel’s AgTech success has played a key role in supporting the country’s growth and development, its benefits are borne out around the world: from Africa, where farmers are harnessing Israeli drip irrigation technology, to China, which inked a $300 million trade agreement that will boost exports of Israeli energy and agricultural technologies, and beyond. China isn’t the only country looking toward Israel to make great leaps forward in agricultural solutions: Israel has also built partnerships with developing countries including India and Vietnam, leveraging the country’s deep expertise in the sector to integrate AgTech solutions and train local farmers in efficient, sustainable methods of crop production and irrigation. In Africa, the Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry, in cooperation with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, recently launched an initiative, Tikkun Olam Ventures, that will link local communities to Israeli AgTech solutions, with an eye toward aiding 5,000 farmers over the next five years.
With a robust innovation ecosystem and a storied history of creative agricultural solutions, there’s no telling what new Israeli AgTech solutions will take root in the years to come.
The Trade Office will be hosting an AgriTech RoadShow from March 25-28 in Pretoria, Limpopo and Stellenbosch. For more information, please email Johannesburg@israeltrade.gov.il
Southern Comfort. Israel’s Netafim Drip system explained by South African farmer Bruce Nicholson and revealing his experience with the system. “Even our fertilizer is put through the drip system.”