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Under India-Israel agriculture cooperation MASHAV - Israel's Agency for International Development Cooperation - is working on establishing two Centres-of-Excellence for Date cultivation in India. Israeli experts are bringing in the best practices and imparting training to the Indian farmers. DAN ALLUF, Counsellor, MASHAV and CHAIM OREN, Dates expert in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Israel spoke to MOHD MUSTAQUIM about the latest developments
How has been the journey of India-Israel agriculture cooperation so far?
Dan Alluf: Under the India-Israel Agriculture Project (IIAP), MASHAV is currently having 26 Centres-of-Excellence (CoE) in 9 Indian states. In these CoEs, we are working on seven segments such as citrus, pomegranate, dates, vegetables, floriculture, beekeeping and mango. Through them, we are bringing Israeli expertise to India. For dates, we are establishing two Centres, one each in Jaisalmer in Rajasthan and Bhuj in Gujarat. For that, we have a triangle partnership with State Horticulture Missions (SHMs) of both states for their respective Centres and MIDH (Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture) of Government of India.
What is the status of the Centres?
Dan Alluf: The Centre for dates are in the initial stage. Both Centres are expected to be fully active by March 2017. First of all, we are going to establish nursery so that farmers can get good saplings. This is the second time Chaim has arrived in India to provide training to the trainers who are basically the officials from the SHMs and MIDH, including the farmers. The response from the farmers are very positive. They are implementing the recommended techniques. Chaim is demonstrating and encouraging farmers to implement the best practices. He has been leading knowledge for the benefit of Israeli farmers and doing the same with Indian farmers with same energy and approach.
Chaim Oren: In the beginning, the date farmers were hesitating to apply my recommendations. I organised a seminar for them last year. It was based on new approach, how to treat tree plantation. New varieties brought to India from Iraq through tissue culture. This is a good quality date, yellowish in colour, very sweet and high yielding. It’s helpful for sportspersons, athletes, students and youth as it gives instant energy. People have already been doing cultivation, but their results were not good. I am helping them to bring best practice in their orchards. The main goal is to improve the quality so that consumers can get better dates and increase farmers’ income.
Is plantation done at the Centres?
Chaim Oren: No, the Centres are just in the initial stage. We have divided the date programme into two segments. The Centre will be the major place for the farmers to learn new technology. The officer will have information from across the world and make them available for the farmers.
Dan Alluf: As part of India-Israel Agriculture Project, we are establishing Centres as modality, a source to develop and share knowledge. We are trying to apply all the possible way of communication to make the farmers understand how to make farming better. We are doing innovations, applying many technologies, but the end of the day, it is important that we leave the farmers with more income.
What about irrigation? Do you recommend drip irrigation?
Chaim Oren: When I asked farmers, do you pay for the water? They said, No. I asked them, how much do you irrigate? Every farmer gave me a different number which should ideally be uniform in the same tract of land as the trees consume a certain amount of water every day. They irrigate trees by guessing that how much water a tree needs. Thus, I gave them a tool to measure, how much water a tree actually need. Now, neither the water gets wasted nor the trees feel shortage of water. By this water management, the fruits will comparatively be bigger. We are recommending farmers to adopt drip irrigation for maximum utilisation of water and providing water to the plants equally. Apart from this, there is a tool to monitor the growth of trees and leaves on daily basis.
How do you customise your recommendations as per the local needs?
Dan Alluf: Two months ago Chaim made a video on how bunches of dates are managed in Israel and shown this video to the farmers. Some of the farmers started adopting the method which saves bunches from wind, water and storms while some did not. After seeing the benefits of that method, rest of the farmers started doing the same.
Though we are bringing expertise, but it is customised as per the local conditions. To save the labour cost and time, we are taking some machineries for pollination and managing bunches. As the machineries are expensive, every farmer cannot afford them. Thus, the Centres would buy them and would provide services to the farmers. Any farmer who can afford, can buy the machine on their own.
In Indian market, Dates from Middle East are considered to be of best qualities while the indigenous varieties are not accepted much. Could we see a change in the future?
Chaim Oren: Apart from India’s own varieties like Barhi and Medjool, we are taking world’s best varieties. When modern techniques are brought in the field, upgrade the facilities, apply best practices, it increases size, quality and yield. It is the treatment which makes any variety better than others. If they are treated well and grown with best practices, the Indian consumers would prefer them. If things go as par the plans, one day the world would come to India to take Indian varieties to their countries.
India imports around 3 lakh tonnes of Dates worth USD 200 million. So how long will it take the country to be self sufficient?
Chaim Oren: As dates are better than any candy, India will have to educate its own population to have one date everyday due to its nutritional benefits. It would grow the market of dates tremendously. Seeing the enthusiasm of Indian farmers, I can say that they will be able to fulfil Indian market very soon. People have Chapati or Naan everyday as they know that it is beneficial for the requirements of life. Why don’t you have dates? They are better in nutrition. If you have dates, you will not get fat or diabetes. It will improve your immunity and increase stamina. It is good for the teeth too as it stops developing cavity.
How many farmers are currently attached to your programme currently?
Chaim Oren: Though the Centre is just in the initial stage, in the first seminar, 150 farmers had joined the programme. Since then the number has grown. Once the Centres get fully functional, farmers will join and learn. In order to attract more and more farmers, there will be farmers’ seminars.
Dan Alluf: We are seeing a lot of enthusiasm from the farmers for knowledge and guidance. For example, the farmers who implemented, are today smiling as their income has increased. We are hopeful that there will be more and more farmers getting benefited form the Centres. The Centres will be a sustainable pillar for sharing knowledge which will grow and multiply the number of farmers. We share our knowledge, make them aware about the best practices and leave it on the farmers whether they apply it or not.
What would be the structure of the nursery? Will plants be developed through offshoots or tissue culture?
Chaim Oren: We would take offshoot from Indian farmers’ trees, will put them in the nursery inside the excellence centre. If the offshoot is taken form their own fields, they will plant such saplings without any hesitation. For dates, either plants can be grown through tissue culture or offshoots. Through tissue culture, the tree has to be cut down in small pieces. Then, the leaves are developed from the pieces in the laboratory. Those leaves are developed as saplings in the nursery. Hundreds of trees can be developed from one tree through tissue culture.
What are the technological and research advancement in Israel for dates cultivation?
Dan Alluf: For nursery management, Chaim would guide about the offshoot technology. We are trying to bring a holistic approach. The nursery would create big number of strong plants which would result into big and fruitful trees. Irrigation will be done through drip irrigation so that the water consumption in the arid reason can be minimised and all plants get equal water.
Chaim Oren: The Centres would provide all techniques, facilities and services so that farmers don’t have to move somewhere else for any solution. The programme is going to be a hit as the farmers have positive approach. I think, one day, we’ll be able to learn from Indian farmers too.
It has been a decade of collaboration between India and Israel in agriculture sector, how do you see the achievements so far and what is the future course of action?
Dan Alluf: This is the biggest project Israel has in any other country. It is also the biggest bilateral agriculture project India has with any other country. In terms of output, the farmers have better yield. You can see the vegetables and protected cultivation around our active Centres. Farmers today have courage to invest on Greenhouses which increase their yield along with improved quality produce.
For future, there will be too many things. Apart form nursery management and cultivation, we are going to establish post-harvest management facilities. We want farmers to have post-harvest solutions so that they can have better market access and get better prices. Today we are working in nine states and have invited seven more states to join hands with us.