Agriculture in Israel has been a Long Hard Struggle
Israel’s agriculture is the success story of a long, hard struggle against adverse land and climate conditions. Over half of Israel’s saline soil is arid or semi-arid (only 20% is arable) and Israel’s natural water supplies are below the UN definition of water poverty. Even so, since Israel’s establishment in 1948, the country has almost tripled the territory used for farming, and production has multiplied 16 times, link. Today, Israel manages to produce 95% of its own food requirements.
Israel’s agricultural success is attributed to the close cooperation between farmers, Israel’s agro industry, and technological research (R&D is about 17 percent of Israel’s budget allocation for agriculture). Technological achievements include computer controlled drip irrigation, computerized early-warning systems for leaks, thermal imaging for crop water stress detection, biological pest control and new varieties of fruit and vegetables. Water shortage is alleviated through extensive water-reuse (86%) and desalination plants.
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Agricultural Economy & Exports
Share of the Economy: Today, Israel’s agricultural sector is a highly developed industry although its importance in Israel’s overall economy is relatively small. Over the years Israel has diverted from an agricultural-based economy to a more sophisticated, industrialized economy with a diversified manufacturing base. In 1979, Israel’s agriculture accounted for about 6% of GDP, shrinking to about 3.3% in 2014, link.
Share of the Workforce: Only a small proportion of the population is employed in actual agricultural production. In 2014 it amounted to just 1.2% of the total workforce, link. But despite a small workforce, and despite the fact that more than half of Israel’s land is desert, Israel still manages to produce 95% of its own food requirements, link. Statistics underscore the success of Israel’s agricultural sector: Israel ranks high for livestock production and agricultural machinery whilst ranking low for availability/quality of agricultural land.
Agriculture in Israel contributed to just 3% of total exports in 2006, link, rising to 4.2% (over $2 billion US) of total exports in 2010. Currently, Israel exports more than $2 billion dollars of fruit and vegetables each year. These exports amounted to 18% of agricultural production in 2014, link.
Agricultural fertilizers are also a major export of Israel, link. About 60% of the country’s vegetable exports come from the Arava region (Israel’s long, eastern valley between the Dead Sea and Eilat). Israel is also a major exporter of dates, avocados, olive oil, pomegranates and almonds, and is a world-leader in agricultural technologies. This success is attributed to the close cooperation between farmers, Israel’s agro industry, and technological research (see below).
Agricultural Technology Export: The State of Israel is committed to fulfilling its responsibility to contribute to the fight against poverty and global efforts to achieve sustainable development. To this end, MASHAV, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, provides technical assistance through the provision of experts sharing their knowledge and technical know-how. In the area of agriculture, it provides intensive programs on entrepreneurship, marketing and post-harvest. For instance, it has taught Russian professionals how to use advanced agricultural techniques for improving and preserving fresh produce, including quality and safety. MASAV has also provided courses on Sustainable Livestock Feed Development and Breeding Techniques in Resource Constrained Situations in Africa.
Collapse of Israel’s Agriculture?
In 2015 Israel resumed purchases of fruit and vegetables from Gaza to help the Palestinian economy and make up for a shortfall in Israeli produce caused by the Jewish biblical fallow or Shemittah year, link. Also, export of poultry and dairy produce to the EU from Jewish settlements has been restricted for political reasons, link. Some claim there are now massive imports of suspect quality produce from the West Bank, Gaza, and Jordan. Whilst Israeli farmers follow strict health requirements and produce high quality food, it is claimed these imported products are not checked for quality, link.
These changes are having a detrimental effect on Israeli farmers. They claim the right-wing Israeli government is not supporting Israeli agriculture. They require the government to immediately tackle the issues of the price of water, foreign workers, “mark up” by the middleman, and the regulation of agricultural exports, link.
Fruit & Vegetables
Israeli fruit market
- Fruit and vegetables amount to typically 50% of Israel’s total agricultural output
- Israeli fruit and vegetables accounted for about 12 billion shekels (3 billion USD) in revenue in 2014
- Total agricultural revenues in 2013 stood at over 30 billion shekels (8 billion USD)
- Israel’s fruit production includes oranges, grapefruits, lemons, apples, apricots, grapes peaches, mangoes, plums and pears
- Israel’s greenhouse production of tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, peppers, herbs, melons adheres to the highest international standards
- The economic advantage of bee-keeping (for crop pollination) proves to be 30 times higher than the value of the honey produced
New Fruits from Israel
Over the years, Israel has given the world some amazing new agricultural products. For example, Israel introduced the seedless, hardy Bet Alpha cucumber, the delicious Galia melon, the spaghetti squash (high in antioxidants), exotic and vitamin C-rich black tomatoes, seedless peppers, a hardy mini basil tree, and the Anna apple (suitable for hot climates), link. This reflects Bible prophecy:
Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit
The trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase
The growth rate of Israel’s beef and veal production increased rapidly in the mid 1980’s (reaching 65% in 1986) but it has leveled off to zero growth in recent years, link. In 1998 about two-thirds of Israeli beef consumption was still imported, but today nearly half of the country’s fresh beef supply is from local producers, link. Israel’s meat production amounts to about 40% of Israel’s total agricultural output, of which 17% is poultry. One more interesting fact: Israel’s cows produce the highest amounts of milk per animal in the world! Recall that Israel was called out of Egypt “to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exod 3.8).
As the world population grows, smart solutions for better agriculture and safer food storage are essential. This means investing in cutting edge agricultural technology, and since 2004 R&D expenditure has accounted for typically 17% percent of the agricultural budget, link. Advances in Israeli agriculture are now helping to feed the world, link. Here’s some examples:
- Israeli drip and micro-irrigation solutions have rapidly spread worldwide. The newest models are self-cleaning and maintain uniform flow rate regardless of water quality and pressure. The Israeli company Netafim is a world leader in drip irrigation
- Thermal imaging is used for water status mapping of crops. This is based upon the correlation between the water status of foliage and its temperature (leaf temperature rises under water stress), link
- Netting of different colors is used for plant growth control
- The breeding of beneficial insects and mites for biological pest control, bumblebees for natural pollination in greenhouses and open fields, and sterile fruit flies to control this major pest in fruit trees
- Generation of unique software to help producers grow fruits and vegetables, raise poultry and dairy cows, manage vineyards and make olive oil
- Development of strains of potatoes that thrive in hot, dry climates, and can be irrigated by saltwater
- Development of new varieties of tomatoes with the aim of making them as tasty as possible, link
- Development of reusable plastic trays to collect dew from the air, reducing the water needed by crops or trees by up to 50 percent.
- Development of algae culture (or Algoculture) for fodder algae, dietary supplements, veterinary pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, bio-plastics and fertilizers
- Post-harvest technologies include modified atmosphere packaging (using biodegradable materials), non-chemical hot water rinsing and biocontrol agents against pathogens
Reforesting to combating desertification
Since the time of Christ the Holy Land (Israel) has undergone gradual desertification – a process by which a region is turned into desert either by natural processes or as a result of poor use of the land, link. For instance, prior to World War I, the Ottoman empire cleared Israel of its pine and oak trees in order to build railways!
But with the first aliyah (Jewish returns) around the start of the 20th century, the need to combat desertification became one of national importance. The new immigrants embarked upon an extensive program of afforestation, and since 1900 almost 250 million sub-tropical trees have been planted in all regions of Israel, from the Golan and Galilee in the north to the Negev in the south, link, link.
Much of the recovery has been achieved through the afforestation programme of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and its partners. As a result, Israel is one of only two countries in the world that began the 21st century with more trees than it had at the beginning of the 20th century: in 1948 forests covered only 2% of Israel’s territory, but by 2014 trees covered 8.5% of the land. By comparison, only 1% of adjacent Jordan is currently forested, link. To date, Israel has some 280 forests, link.
Types of Tree
I will plant in the wilderness the cedar and the acacia tree … the cypress tree and the pine … (Isa 41.19)
What type of trees have been planted in Israel? With a dry climate similar to that of California or Spain, Israel is a natural home for relatively short trees that need little water i.e. sub-tropical trees. Some, like acacias, can go for months without even a drop. But Israel has also planted ceders, the Aleppo pine (also known as the Jerusalem pine), the common oak, the stone pine (also known as the nut pine) and cypress trees (which can live for hundreds of years), link, link. It is interesting to note that, as Israel is restored, Bible prophecy says that these precise trees will be planted.
The reforestation program has had a favourable effect on the humidity of the soil and on rainfall, thereby changing the climate, link. No rain falls in the land from May to September, but Israel now experiences both the former (November-December) and the latter rains (March-April), link, bringing into mind the following Bible prophecy:
Be glad then, you children of Zion … He has given you the … the former rain, and the latter rain (Joel 2.23)
The Negev is the sparsely populated desert area between Be’er Sheva in the north and Eilat in the south. It has an arid and semi-arid climate with an annual rainfall of just 2-6 inches. On the other hand, the Negev has an almost unlimited underground supply of brackish (slightly salty) water, which can be exploited for irrigation using Israel’s new technologies – such as drip irrigation. The Ramat Negev Desert AgroResearch Center (RNDARC), a regional government facility, was built at the junction of two different desert terrain types to study multiple crop/ecosystem interactions. The center works cooperatively with, and provides extension services to, agricultural communities in the Ramat Negev region.
The result is that the region now plays an important role in Israel’s agricultural production, and today more than 40 percent of the country’s vegetables and field crops are grown in the Negev desert. And the Arava, on the eastern border of the Negev, produces over 90% of Israel’s melon exports. More …
The desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose (Isaiah 35.1)
Fish in the Desert
Some desert conditions are also optimal for raising aquarium fish, and so Israeli technology has developed aquaculture – fish farming in the desert! The system pumps low-quality brackish water from deep underground aquifers and fills land pools in the desert. The brackish, warm water is found to be optimal for raising some type of marine fish and shrimp (the latter for export). This system provides an entirely new source of protein and income for desert-dwellers, and as fresh water supplies dwindle it is becoming increasingly important in the arid regions of the world. Israel is also cultivating argan trees in the desert (for their prized oil) and is using brackish water to irrigate olive groves. As prophecy says:
Israel’s Land Management
Today, Israel’s agriculture is the success story of a long, hard struggle against adverse land conditions. Over half of Israel’s saline soil is arid or semi-arid and only 20% is arable. Even so, Israeli farmers have come a long way since the Zionist pioneers began clearing away rock-strewn fields and draining the swampland. Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, the country has almost tripled the territory used for farming and production has multiplied 16 times, link. The preservation of agricultural land that has been recovered is the responsibility of the Israel Land Authority (ILA) – a government agency responsible for managing Israel’s public domain land of some 4,820,500 acres.
NATURAL RESOURCES: Israel’s total annual renewable natural sources of fresh water are well below the UN definition of water poverty. So natural water is at a premium and existing resources are over used.
Israel’s surface water is concentrated mainly in the north and east of the country – notably the Sea of Galilee (the Kinneret) – which is fed primarily from the Jordan River system. In fact, 80% of Israel’s water is in the north and so the National Water Carrier system conveys water from Lake Galilee southwards. The other two main sources of water are the Coastal Aquifer (the coastal plain of the Mediterranean Sea) and the Mountain Aquifer (under the central north-south Carmel mountain range), both of which are accessed by pumping. It is claimed that these aquifers lie under Palestinian territory (Gaza and the West Bank respectively), link, although this can be disputed on legal grounds.
FRESH WATER SHORTAGE: Rainfall in Israel has fallen to half its 1948 average, and Israel and the Levant are expected to get even drier. In 2017, Israel’s Water Authority announced that the Sea of Galilee water level was the lowest in a century. This reflected a 4-year regional drought affecting the whole of the Middle East. It was claimed that there was not enough water in the Kinneret to supply both the Jordan kingdom (an agreement signed in 2015) and the Jordan River, link. The shortage affects pumping and agriculture in the Kinneret area, although much of the rest of Israel is supplied by desalination plants along the Mediterranean coast. As for the future, Israel is promised literally showers of blessings from heaven:
“I will cause showers to come down in their season; there shall be showers of blessing” (Ezek 34.26)
WATER REUSE & DESALINATION PLANTS: Given the lack of natural water resources, and the prospect of an even drier climate, Israel now makes extensive use of desalination plants, reuse of treated sewage for agriculture, computerized early-warning systems for leaks, and computerized drip irrigation and micro-sprinklers. In fact, Israel is a world leader in water reuse (86%) compared to say, Australia (10%). So it may not come as a surprise to learn that, through these technologies, Israel is now a water surplus nation, link, link.
As of 2016, Israel had five desalination plants, the largest (Sorek) producing over 600 million cubic meters of water/year, link. This plant alone provides enough drinking water to supply 1.5 million people! The desalination process involves membrane technology, where saltwater is pushed into membranes containing microscopic pores. The water gets through, while the larger salt molecules are left behind. The key is to capture the microorganisms in saltwater before they reach the membranes to minimize fouling of the membrane.
A downside of desalination is that it is energy intensive (consuming 3% of Israel’s electrical power output) and a by-product is very salty water.
WATER AID: In 2018 Cape Town, South Africa became the first major city in the modern era to threaten to switch off the water supply chain. Under Level 6B restrictions this amounts to just 50 litres of water per day to each of its 3.7 million residents. This is due to the worst drought the Cape has experienced in a century, and poor water management by South Africa’s ruling party (the African National Congress, ANC). In previous years Israel offered assistance in dealing with arid conditions and water preservation, but the ANC never took up the offer. Given the water crisis, an online petition asked the ANC to stop taking a pro-Palestinian anti-Israel stance and ask Israel for help.
Israel now boasts a number of agrochemical companies providing a wide range of products, from liquid fertilizers, to biopesticides, to fungicides, to potassium nitrate and phosphate salts, link. Smart fertilizer management software enables farmers to maximize crop yields, save costs and increase their profits. Israel Chemicals Ltd (ICL) is a leading provider of potash, phosphate fertilizers and technology-rich specialty fertilizers – all critical inputs for Israel’s agriculture. ICL is the 6th largest potash producer in the world and the 2nd largest in Western Europe.
Agricultural Communities: the Kibbutz and the Moshav
Over 80% of Israel’s agriculture is based on ‘agricultural cooperatives’ like the kibbutz and the moshav, living on nationally owned land under a long-term renewable 49-year lease, link. There are also non-cooperative moshav farms which are villages of farmers on mostly privately-owned land. Over time the kibbutz has undergone a change of concept moving from an agricultural community to non-agriculture income and part-privatization.
So Why Boycott Israel’s Food?
Since we live in an interconnected world it is virtually impossible to avoid using Israeli products. Take fresh agricultural produce for example. In 2010, Israel’s fresh agricultural exports totaled $1.33 billion, and some 87% was exported to Europe [UN Commodity Trade Statistics]. Fruit, vegetables and herbs grown in Israel and on its settlements in the West Bank can be seen on sale at all the major supermarkets and greengrocers. The UK is the top market for Israeli citrus fruit, followed by Scandinavia, Russia, Germany and France. In UK supermarkets you will find avocado, sweet potato, tomatoes, galia melon, peppers, chilli, figs, strawberries, grapes, mango, plums, pomegranate, lychees and nectarines – all from Israel and its ‘illegal’ settlements! Is it logical to boycott Israeli fresh produce when we eat so much of it?