Seeing ‘i’ to ‘i’ in food security

Our prime minister’s recent visit to Israel is a historic one since this is the first time that a prime minister of India is visiting this remarkable country. Apart from our relationships in agriculture, water security and climate risk management, we have a long record of friendship with Israeli people. I shall cite one example. On the occasion of the conferment of an honorary doctorate degree on me in 1998, the president of the University of Jerusalem said, “You come from a country which is the only one which has never persecuted Jews in our 2,000 year history.” I felt very proud and I do hope that our prime ministers’ visit will further emphasise the tradition of India in following a policy of friendship with all and violence towards none.

In Israel every farmer can be regarded as a scientist because of his/ her knowledge of the various technologies which can help to improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of agriculture. Farmers have particularly specialised in value addition to primary products. They also have developed their own systems of water management using modern digital technology. For example, in most farms the release of water to crops through drip irrigation is controlled by a computer which decides when the crop needs water. Hence irrigation is a need based one. The concept of “more crop per drop” is converted into action in Israel.

Since water is going to be a very important constraint in our country, the adaptation of Israeli technology to suit our farming conditions will be very beneficial. Already there are several programmes, particularly in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat, where Israeli farmers and our farmers are working together to improve the yield per hectare with as limited irrigation water as possible. These procedures are particularly relevant to the delta regions of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The Israeli approach is just not more crop per drop but also more income per drop of water. Israel is a world leader in agro processing and marketing. Inspite of the arid climate and lack of water, Israel has been setting up a record in milk production.  I have seen some of the dairy farms in the Negev desert.

Apart from areas like water harvesting and management, we should also explore new areas of collaboration of mutual interest.  In this connection, I am reminded of the advice of the late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam for whom a memorial has been opened by our prime inister at Pei Karumbu, Rameshwaram on July 27. Dr Kalam used to advocate the extensive adoption of PURA (Provision of Urban Amenities in Rural Areas). PURA will help to give meaning and content to Mahatma Gandhi’s conviction that gram swaraj is the pathway to purna swaraj. Kalam was equally clear that village development is the way to national peace, progress, and prosperity. Under PURA every rural family should be provided with basic amenities like drinking water, sanitation, education, primary healthcare and opportunities for skilled employment. This concept is the same as the Biovillage concept of MSSRF.

 

The Biovillage is one where there is a coordinated action plan managed by the people in the areas of environmental, food, health, and income security. Collaboration with Israel in the implementation of PURA will be very helpful since straightway economic methods of managing the natural resources like land water and biodiversity can be introduced. PURA will provide ample opportunities for the exchange of new agriculture and digital technologies between Israel and India.  In particular, the aim should be to achieve one of the goals of sustainable development: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”.

The best tribute we can pay to the memory and message of Dr Kalam is the implementation of projects like PURA. Unfortunately, this project is not been given the same importance as was done during Dr Kalam’s tenure as President of India. PURA will help to integrate brain and brawn in rural professions including agriculture.

In fact, the characteristic feature of Israeli technologies in the field of agriculture is the marriage between intellect and labour. While collaboration with Israel will be mutually beneficial to both our countries, there are also opportunities for partnership work with their developed and developing countries in the area of sustainable food security. The aim should be the conservation and improvement of the ecological foundations essential for sustainable agriculture. This is the point often stressed by Modi. Kalam emphasis on the need for the optimum use of land and water is ever relevant. In the garden of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, he laid out a medicinal plant garden and many other special gardens so that the gardens become both educational tools and sources of additional income.

I hope in the detailed planning of Israel-India partnership in agriculture, food security and nutrition, we will take into account the opportunities provided by Kalam’s concept of PURA for rural regeneration and happiness.

Columnist: 
M S Swaminathan