Technological advancement has proved to be a necessity for the agriculture sector, globally. Israel, a small nation in a geographical area, has achieved many milestones in the various areas of agriculture, from sapling growing to the high-tech greenhouses, irrigation, fertigation, plant protection, farm monitoring and many more.
As a part of India-Israel Partnership in Agriculture (IIAP), Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India and Government of State of Haryana signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with International Development Cooperation (MASHAV), Government of Israel in 2006 for establishing Centre-of-Excellence (CoE) for Vegetables in Karnal, Haryana. With an objective to benefit the Indian farmers, the CoE was established in 2008.
“Israel has successfully gained excellence in few areas of agriculture. We want to take this knowledge to Indian farmers. We are mapping the challenges and trying to address them. The objective of the project is to achieve the higher yield, both in quantity and quality by using the resources like water, energy and land in an efficient manner,” says Dan Alluf, Counsellor, MASHAV. The organisation deals in various development sectors, especially in agriculture in many developing countries.
“We are replicating this project in many parts of India as per the requirement of these regions,” Alluf adds.
The Centre in Karnal is the first CoE under the IIAP. In the second phase of the project, during 2011-15, 15 of 26 CoEs for various crops in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have become operational. Rest of the 11 Centres are expected to be operational very soon. For the third phase, MASHAV has invited Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, West Bengal and Goa for establishing CoEs in these States.
The Karnal Centre is dedicated to vegetables through protected cultivation while rest of the Centres will extend to the various kinds of fruits and vegetables, beekeeping, floriculture, dates, dairy, among other allied sectors.
“We want the farmers to have the strength to choose from various crops. Today, the majority of them are restricted to cultivate rice, cotton, sugarcane or corn. We want them to choose varieties of fruits and vegetables which are usually giving bigger revenue and profit,” Alluf further says.
Israel gets very low rainfall, as the country is located in the arid and semi-arid region. The weather conditions led the Israeli agricultural scientists to develop such technological advancements which make the dry country able to bring agricultural revolution. Today, the country recycles sewage as well as sea water for drip irrigation and cultivates fruits and vegetables even in the waterless deserts. They are supported with the high yielding advance varieties of seeds to harvest better crop.
According to Alluf, one of the major things which make research in Israeli agriculture advanced is that the farming community in the country is very proactive. This approach pushes the industry to get them better solutions.
In the Karnal Centre, the Israeli experts share their drip irrigation, fertigation, sapling growing and house management technologies with Indian farmers. Approximately, 50 farmers everyday visit the Centre and get training for protected cultivation. The interaction with farmers has been positive which has led around 1,300 farmers to establish house facilities in their fields across the State. Further, the Centre keeps monitoring the farmers’ greenhouses.
Though it is expensive for the farmers to afford the cost of a greenhouse which costs around Rs 50 lakh per acre. However, the major portion of the cost is subsidised by the States. It may differ in different States, depending upon the States’ policy.
“The protective way of cultivation enables farmers to eliminate the usage of pesticides on the vegetables from the first day itself as no insects enter into the crops. There is hardly any pest attack in the greenhouses. It reduces the cultivation cost of the farmers, says Dr. SK Yadav, Deputy Director- Horticulture, Centre of Excellence for Vegetables, Karnal.
The Centre also produces six million saplings of high yielding varieties of vegetables in 28 to 30 degree Celsius temperature and sells them to the farmers.
In all the greenhouses in the Centre, established for vegetable cultivation, irrigation is done by drip irrigation which is monitored by a computerised control room. It saves around 60 percent of water as compared to the flood irrigation. The plant roots have to be covered by the plastics which saves water from vaporisation as well as pest attacks to the plants. Fertilisers are provided by fertigation in irrigation water in the control room as per the nutrient requirement of the plants.
Citing an example of yield, Dr Yadav claims, “The tomato plants increase to 20-25’ long in nine months. Depends on the variety, per acre tomato yield stands at 15 MT to 150 MT per year. Beef tomato (150 gm/piece) produces 150 MT per year per acre, cherry tomato (18 gm/piece) produces 15 MT per year per acre while regular tomato produces 100 MT per year per acre.”
Venturing into Dairy
Considering the largest market for milk and other dairy products, MASHAV has signed an MoU with Haryana Government to establish a CoE for dairy. Its location is yet to be finalised by the State government. Israel claims to have done a number of innovations in dairy sector, from genetics to technology, monitoring and the cattle behaviour. “The Israeli cows have record of producing 40 litres milk daily. This is the outcome of technological know-how, how to feed the cow, nutrition, health and other dairy expertise. We have a basket of solutions,” says Alluf.
On the suitability of Israeli cows in India, the MASHAV official says, “Israel is an arid country where cows are grown in the desert between 35-40 degree Celsius. They are familiar to handle the heat. We are addressing the same challenges in India in terms of climate. Israeli cows are very suitable for Indian weather conditions. We are planning to have at least 100 cows in the Centre.”
The joint initiative taken by India and Israel has potential to bring a paradigm shift in Indian agriculture where low income has put pressure on farmers. Indian agriculture faces a big heat if any year fails to bring normal monsoon. The back to back deficient monsoon has put pressure on the farmers in India. On the other hand, if Israel can grow vegetables in the desert, India needs to think on it.
About 80 percent of Indian farmers are having lesser than five acres of land. Hence, farming through greenhouses has potential to bring big change in the lives of small landholding farmers. The high cost of greenhouses cannot be afforded by the small and marginal farmers. Thus, the role of the Government becomes very crucial to facilitate the farming community.