Society

Agriculturists from Kerala explore Israel’s precision farming methods

“The reason we are on this trip to Israel is because there is a crisis in agriculture in Kerala,” says Jojo George Pottamkulam, a cardamom planter based in Kanjirappaly and founder of the Kerala Cardamom Processing and Marketing Co Ltd, (KCPMC). Jojo is one of the 22 agriculturists in search of new and alternative farming techniques to tide over the crisis and is hoping a trip to Israel will give them the answers.

A Kochi-Tel Aviv flight by Arkia that began this September, has triggered a slew of ideas on business, social and cultural opportunities. Cashing on this new route, Arun Sam Abraham, a Kochi-based entrepreneur who set up Preston Global Services, was quick to formulate a “study tour” for agriculturalists from Kerala to explore farming know how and expertise from a country where every farm makes a profit and 65 % of the produce is exported.

Arun, who qualifies his role as an integrator who facilitates knowledge and technology exchange, undertook several trips before curating the tour. Describing the trip as “a study and exploratory tour”, he says “We will be covering areas of hydroponics, avocado farming, technology, drip irrigation, protected cultivation or greenhouses and other related topics.”

He mentions the tie-ups between the two governments but feels that those may not be viable for a farmer who is looking to implement the learning on a practical level. “We provide tailor-made connections with right experts and agronomists,” he says and talks of eye-opening farming techniques like pruned mango orchards with yields of 36 tonnes per acre as compared to 6 1/2 tonnes that our farms clear or of Israel’s second largest dairy farm with 900 cows in which a single cow produces an average 40 litres of milk a day.

Market driven agriculture

Yoni Zaken of Zichron Yaakov Packing House in Herzliya explains the approach taken by an Israeli farmer, “agriculture in Israel is about farming in extreme conditions- in arid and semi arid land. The use of water in an efficient way is important to us, just as adopting new technology, confronting climate change and offering new products and varieties to the market is. Agriculture is market driven. Farmers first look at the market and then at the crop. As most markets are European, exporting techniques are very important. Another issue is of adopting innovations in agriculture, which is hard but makes a lot of sense.”

Shaji Joseph, a horticulture planter from Muvattupuzha, is looking forward to learning specifically about avocado planting and green house cultivation. He has diversified into fruit planting and grows a number of non indigenous fruits like rambutan, mangosteen, durian and jackfruit in his four-year-old plantation. “The Israelis are experts in avocado and pomegranate farming. I want to learn about drip irrigation and pest control, and also about post harvesting methods ,” he says. Of special interest, is cultivation in poly houses and, though it is an expensive method, it will help him deduce many leads .

Use of technology

Kurian Jose, who produces pomegranates, mango, coconut and passion fruits at his farm in Thekkady and retails under the brand Harvest Fresh outside Kerala, shares the same enthusiasm of learning new farming methods and is keen to implement these in his natural and organic farming methodology.

Agriculturists from Kerala explore Israel’s precision farming methods

“As a group, we are traditionally into different kinds of farming — rubber, tea, coffee, cardamom, horticulture. We are looking at possible alternatives to what can be grown in Kerala. It is common knowledge that tea, coffee and rubber are facing a crisis, their very viability is in question. Besides, due to global trade polices, we may no any longer keep our crop profitable vis a vis different destinations,” says Jojo.

To him, the trip means learning more about post- production practices, early processing activities, and storage and packaging processes. “There are multiple things we will observe, analyse and imbibe. Besides looking at advanced systems in irrigation, crop processing, and use of technology, we will also try and understand the market systems — what they do for the crop to reach the market seamlessly. The way we understand it now is that their marketing is done even before the crop is harvested, It is pre-sold.”

While excited about increasing their knowledge of new practices and methods, the members of the group are aware that they will barely have any leisure. “Frankly, it is going to be hard work. We begin at 6.00 am to finish at 8.00 pm,” says Jojo.

Arun adds that with all the challenges the industry is facing they are on board the trip with an open mind.

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 3:15:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/kerala-farmers-seek-expert-agro-expertise-from-israel/article29840234.ece

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