While Israel promotes its cutting edge agricultural technology in countries around the world, its own farming sector is withering away, according to a farmers’ spokesman.
Writing in Globes this week, Yaron Solomon, Agricultural Union settlement department director, noted the irony of using agritech as a tool for diplomacy while the ignoring the needs of Israeli agriculture.
The Ministry of Agriculture has been “crowing” about a new agreement with Russia to develop irrigation technology, storage and preserving of agricultural produce and cooperation with Israeli agricultural experts, worth 15 billion shekels.
Meanwhile, “the government is implementing a scorched–earth policy. Although there is no decrease in agricultural output, farmers’ profits are falling, and more and more farmers each year are looking for alternative sources of income,” Solomon writes.
Data from the Central Bureau of Statistics tells a tale of woeful decline. While 15,000 people currently earn a living in agriculture, 20 percent of whom work part-time, the figure was 50,000 in the 1980’s.
“The farmers’ average age is 62; young people are not entering the industry. Israel is indeed exporting agricultural know-how all over the world. Agricultural fields here are a giant experimental farm for developing some of the world’s best technologies, but Israel supports the fewest farmers in the OECD, and is pushing uncontrolled imports that are in effect aiding thoroughly subsidized Turkish and European farmers.”
“The government’s policy is slowly eliminating the small growers, and when there is no renewal of fields, there is a shortage of produce, and the land becomes arid. One painful example is the farmer from Binyamina who recently gave away 500 tons of tomatoes for free, after finding that he was losing money on what he sold because of imports from Turkey.”
Solomon’s solution is for the farmers to wage a campaign aimed at changing government policy. The struggle, he says, should focus on susidizing water for farms, increasing payouts by KANAT (the nature damage fund), expanding research and development, and the Ministry of Agriculture Agricultural Investment Administration, and the next generation.”