What is your opinion about Genetically Modified (GM) crops and foods?
Israel is a GM free country. We focus more on organic farming and adopt those techniques which consume less water. However, we are not opposed to GM as such but we do not want them in our country. Moreover, we have strong trade ties with European Union and you know these countries are opposed to GM. Water saving techniques are our big goals. We prefer less water as we have less of it
Can we expect more such collaborative projects going ahead?
Certainly, India is our great friend. We would like to collaborate in many fields like agriculture, dairy, energy, sewage treatment, etc. Huge potential exists in agri businesses. Israel will have its footprints in 10 Indian states by 2015 as it plans to set up various centres of excellence for floriculture, dairy, fruits and vegetables. We have two successful projects -one for vegetables in Karnal and another for fruit orchards in Sirsa – again in Haryana. Now we are planning to have 26 similar set-ups in different states under Indo-Israel agriculture cooperation agreement of 2008.
What are the criteria for selecting states here for establishing these centres of excellence?
Maharashtra will have the maximum number (four out of 28) of such centres that are to be set up in Nagpur, Rahuri (Ahmednagar district), Dapoli (Ratnagiri) and Roha (Raigad). The centre at Nagpur will be exclusively for citrus fruits, while Rahuri and Dapoli for pomegranate and mango, respectively. A post-graduate harvest college is being established at Roha.
What about other states?
Other states that will have such centres include Tamil Nadu (Hosur and Krishnagiri), Rajasthan (Bassi near Jaipur), Punjab, Gujarat, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar. Hosur in Tamil Nadu will see intensive vegetable production whereas Krishnagiri will have a canopy management training centre of traditional old mango plantations. Three centres will come up in Rajasthan that will be meant for floriculture, vegetables, fruits and dates.
How would you explain the main objectives of such centres of excellence?
Objective of such centres is to demonstrate Israeli agriculture technologies and know-how to local farmers in the use of protected cultivation which allows growing of crops beyond seasonal barrier through efficient use of water and controlling of temperature using poly-houses canopies. The concept of cooperation behind these centres is to create a platform for joint Indian and Israeli agriculture research and development (R&D) on the ground that will benefit both the countries in the long run.
What are those basic ideas which such centres would propagate?
We are the world leader in agriculture technology and will provide seeds and technologies to help grow new variety of vegetables fruits like cucumber, capsicum, mango, dates and herbs. As I told earlier, water saving will also be our core strength. Over 40 per cent water is wasted through leakages. This applies to India as well. We need efficient technology to check such leakages.
What would be new dimensions for Indo -Israel business relations?
Indo-Israel economic cooperation has never been one way affair. Representatives of 15 companies have accompanied me here. They will be exploring potential for their respective businesses. Indian agri scientists would also be working closely with us. For other sectors like IT, I have invited HCL Technologies to invest in Israel for greater collaboration. .The visit is expected to enhance the cooperation between the two sides in the field of economy, commerce, trade, innovation and R&D. We hope to double bilateral trade in the next five years with FTA in place.
Have we made any progress for FTA ?
I discussed FTA related issues with my Indian counterpart Anand Sharma. We will be meeting in Jerusalem again, in about a month from now. Both sides are very keen.