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How India & Israel are working together to boost agricultural productivity and crop diversity

New Delhi: In 2006, India and Israel signed an agreement for cooperation in the field of agriculture, titled the Indo-Israel Agricultural Project (IIAP), aiming to improve crop diversity, increase productivity and optimise use of water in India. Israel considers it “the largest agriculture project it is leading in India”.

The project is implemented though establishment of Centers of Excellence (CoE) in Indian states, where Israel’s expertise and knowledge in agriculture and related technologies is disseminated with a focus on local Indian conditions, such as soil, weather and crops specific to each state, according to the website of the Embassy of Israel in India.

The major stakeholders in the IIAP are MASHAV — Israel’s agency for international development cooperation — the Government of India, which sanctions funds for the establishment of CoEs, and the state governments, which define “key crops” for the project and allocate land and staff. So far, 31 Centres of Excellence have been established in 13 states.

Support from Israel for the project is non-monetary in nature, and includes the training of CoE personnel — imparted in both India and Israel — sharing research knowledge based on local conditions, and transferring knowledge on the operation of agricultural technologies.

This knowledge relates to areas including nursery management, cultivation techniques, irrigation, fertigation and sustainability.

The CoEs are further encouraged to adopt nearby villages — ‘Villages of Excellence’ — and equip farmers with the technologies demonstrated at the centre to support the adoption of new methods, according to officials at the centres.

In a statement to ThePrint, the Embassy of Israel in India said the major outcome from the initiative has been Israel’s contribution to Indian farming techniques.

“When we opened our first Center of Excellence in Karnal (Haryana), the components of drip irrigation systems and other agricultural technology were brought from Israel. Now these components are being locally produced in India,” it stated.

ThePrint reached the Ministry of Agriculture over the telephone and via email with queries on the subject, but was yet to receive a response at the time of publication of this report. It will be updated if and when a response is received. Farmers training at the CoEs declined to comment.

ThePrint takes a look at the IIAP, the CoEs and Villages of Excellence, and their significance.


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Centres of Excellence 

From Punjab to Tamil Nadu, the CoEs have similar infrastructure — demonstration plots, automated irrigation and fertigation systems (which supply dissolved fertiliser to crops through a drip system), and conference rooms or training rooms for farmers where Israeli agricultural management practices are imparted.

ThePrint visited the CoEs in Bathinda, Hoshiarpur and Kartarpur in Punjab and one in Ladwa, Haryana, and witnessed similar set-ups there. In Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, horticulture officers ThePrint spoke to over the telephone described similar infrastructure.

The CoE in Bathinda focusses on growing fruit and vegetables in brackish water (slightly saltier water, which is common in southwest Punjab).

It is the only centre in India that is undertaking research on cultivation in brackish water and the only CoE managed by a state agricultural university (Punjab Agricultural University), according to its staff.

The CoE was set up during the fiscal year 2012-13 under the National Horticulture Mission with a budget of Rs 14.96 crore, they said, adding that that the Bathinda centre was different from other CoEs because its focus was on agricultural research rather than just demonstration of agricultural practices.

Naveen Garg, senior olericulturist (who specialises in production, storage, processing, and marketing of vegetables) at the Bathinda CoE, told ThePrint that the centre consisted of a nursery, both for open (field) cultivation and protected (polyhouse) cultivation of crops and plants, based on local conditions.

The centre also has soil and water testing laboratories and runs a solar-powered desalination plant. It further holds large tanks with four different types of water — groundwater, desalinated water (without mineral salts), canal water (said to be the best for growing crops) and a mixture of canal and tubewell water. Due to the desalination plant, the centre houses a tank for the collection of brine (concentrated salt water).

Crops are grown at the CoE using the Israeli drip irrigation system, which also helps with fertigation of crops, thereby ensuring controlled usage of fertilisers and water.

Crops grown at the COEs across India are not commercially produced or marketed but are sold to farmers for further cultivation. The Kartarpur CoE is the only one that runs a vegetable market, selling its own produce to the public during harvest season.

The Ladwa centre, which ThePrint visited, grows 52 varieties of sub-tropical fruits, including 28 varieties of mangoes, five varieties of guavas, five varieties of pomegranates and five varieties of olives.

Ashok Kumar, subject matter specialist at the Ladwa centre, told ThePrint that it was previously a horticultural department orchard and nursery before becoming a CoE in 2016.

“The entire site has demonstration orchards on about 25 acres and a 2-acre nursery under protected cultivation, which provides around 90,000 plants per year for sale to farmers,” Kumar said.

The CoEs in Hoshiarpur and Kartarpur also have nurseries that sell plants to farmers.

The Hoshiarpur centre produces between 60,000 to 70,000 plants a year that are sold to farmers from Punjab, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, and Himachal Pradesh, according to Harjit Singh, the project officer there.

Tejbir Singh, horticultural development officer at the Kartarpur CoE, told ThePrint that the centre produces 20-25 lakh plants and seedlings in a year that are sold to around 5,000 farmers in Punjab, at Rs 3 per plant or seedling.

The CoE in Andhra Pradesh sells 4-6 lakh of non-grafted seedlings and plants, and 13 lakh grafted plants a year to farmers, according to Koteswara Rao, assistant director of horticulture, at the CoE in Kuppam. Grafted vegetable seedlings are sold at Rs 6-8 per seedling to farmers.

The CoEs in Hoshiarpur, Kartarpur and Ladwa no longer receive funds from the central or state governments. They are running on the revenue generated from nurseries, according to officials.

Officials from the Embassy of Israel visit the centres every year, sometimes even once a month, according to Ashok Kumar from the Ladwa centre.

Further, officials from India working at these centres have visited Israel to receive training in agricultural methods. Karamjit Singh Sekhon, director of the Bathinda CoE, told ThePrint that he was part of one such 45-day training programme conducted in Israel.

Villages of Excellence

Hoshiarpur CoE officer Harjit Singh said ThePrint that CoEs are encouraged to adopt villages surrounding their periphery and equip farmers with the technologies demonstrated at the centre. The Hoshiarpur CoE has adopted seven such ‘Villages of Excellence’ in its vicinity.

“The Government of India has moved its focus from the Centres of Excellence to Villages of Excellence, emphasising the adoption of new agricultural technologies,” Singh said.

Ladwa official Kumar said, “Our centre has adopted 16 villages in the districts of Ambala, Kurukshetra and Yamunanagar. Here, we work with five farmers per village — supplying them with new agricultural technologies and plants — and visit every village once a month to resolve queries.”

Kumar added that around half of the farmers in the 16 villages had adopted drip irrigation and fertigation technologies, while all had adopted high density plantation techniques.

“This region has a good water system, therefore not all farmers have adopted drip irrigation technologies,” he explained.

The farmers who adopt the new technologies in the Villages of Excellence are tasked with disseminating the new methods in their local communities by demonstrating their efficacy.

The CoEs and VoEs are managed entirely by the state horticultural departments, except in the case of the Bathinda centre.

On whether the CoEs had impacted farmers, Kartarpur CoE officer Tejbir Singh said that efforts were being made to expand the knowledge gained at the centre across Punjab, and change would be seen slowly.

“Apart from our demonstration plots, we have tried to share our knowledge with farmers through a guidebook that will help them through the agriculture cycle, from sowing to harvesting of various crops, in the local language,” he said.

Kumar told ThePrint that “farmers arrive every day at our centre for training and visit the demonstration plots. We have also started offering training programmes funded and run by the Agriculture Skill Council of India”.

He added that the Ladwa centre was now also equipped with a post-harvest management unit, demonstrating the grading, sorting, washing, ripening and cold storage of fruits to farmers.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)


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Source: The Print

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