By Ruari Phillips, Consultant
Israel is working with Ethiopia and other East African countries to improve agriculture by developing new technologies. Computer drip irrigation, early warning systems and thermal imaging are some of the projects underway. Farming accounts for half of GDP and 83.9 percent of total employment in Ethiopia, so improving productivity is a priority. Horticulture was the main point of discussion at a recent conference. Israel is an example to the world in optimising the use of water. The country has high-level technologies and their involvement will benefit both small and large-scale farmers.
“We recognize the hard work and invention of Israeli scientists in creating appropriate products,” said Ethiopia’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Minister, Dr Eyasu Abrha. “New technologies and developments will go a long way to improving efficiency.”
Israel’s Agri-Tech sector has recently gained strong ground in the global competition for funding. The nation has a population of 8.5 million and more than 400 start-ups. It’s dry and desert climate makes it a natural source of innovation. Since the 1950s, Israel has been finding miraculous ways to green their own desert. They are now sharing those discoveries far and wide through channels such as MASHAV, Israel’s Agency for International Development.
MASHAV recently celebrated 60 years of cooperation with Ethiopia through a photo exhibition in Addis Ababa. The agency has changed the lives of many people in that time by introducing new products and technologies. Quality varieties of highly exportable avocado seed were introduced by MASHAV. They also brought computer drip irrigation to the country which has increased output massively. Only 5% of the arable land in Ethiopia is cultivated through irrigation but that is increasing every year.
“We concentrate on human capacity building,” said Raphael Morav, the Israeli ambassador to Ethiopia. “MASHAV train people on the best farming techniques and technologies. The majority of projects we undertake are very effective.”
East Africa is an ideal place for growing a wide array of cereals, fruits, vegetables, flowers and spices. On Valentine’s Day this year Ethiopia exported more than 11 million pieces of flower and it is the second-largest provider after Kenya, with over 100 growers on 1,700 hectares. The majority of farmers currently use the rainy season from June to August to water their crops, leading to only one harvest. Drip Irrigation and Computer Drip Irrigation is an effective way to address that problem.
The system works by pulling water from rivers and lakes with lifting pumps. This water is then pumped through a hose with holes along crop rows. Drip Irrigation saves a lot of waste and money. Governmental programs are available to help farmers and suppliers who want to invest in drip irrigation. Purchasing and importing high-quality equipment requires less capital investment thanks to these programs.
“Prior to July 2010 we were over-using water on our fields,” said one farmer. “It was a bad example to the local community and also faced us with huge bills. The benefits of drip irrigation are fantastic and any business involved in dry-land agriculture should make use of it.”
Amiran is one organisation bringing Israeli know-how to Kenyan fields. The company focus on small and medium-size farms with no access to technology or good tools. Amiran’s signature offering is its Farmer’s Kit, which provides growers with everything they need, from seeds to greenhouses to fertilizer. These kits, which cost $3,300, are suitable for an eighth of an acre. The company also offer farmers monthly checkups from a trained agronomist. Since 2009, 7500 kits have been sold with 75 percent of customers achieving the crop yields they want.
Smart Farming is another sector where Israel can pass on invaluable knowledge to East Africa. The technology uses data-driven solutions and high-performance hardware to increase resource efficiency and crop yield. In 2016, Israeli companies in this category raised $27 million which was 7.4% of the $363 million raised globally. In 2016, Israeli Ag biotech companies raised $14.7 million. Other categories showing promise are machinery, robotics and drones.
“Israel has always answered its own agricultural challenges, and in the process has created an impressive industry,” said a recent report. “The country is exporting technology across Africa which is always tested by our farmers first and has our seal of approval.”
Israeli entrepreneurs are also using IoT systems, machine-learning algorithms and drones to spearhead innovation in African farming. Technologies can be used to analyze soil, water and plant tissue which provides crucial information to farmers. According to a recent report, more than 20 Israeli investors plan to start new agricultural companies in Ethiopia by 2020. As challenges become ever pressing, farmers across East Africa continue turning to Israel for collaboration.