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Israel simply can’t afford to export water

  • Friedman Professor Ronnie - HOME
So says Professor Ronnie Friedman from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel’s largest university) who was a guest and speaker at the Fed’s national elective conference and Israel Expo over the weekend.
by ANT KATZ | Mar 10, 2015

Israel helps in SA bee crisis

Hebrew U must feel like home for the South African-born Friedman. His family made Aliyah in 1960, when he was just nine years old. He went through high school on a bursary provided by the SAZF before doing his first two degrees at Hebrew U. He then did his PHD at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Friedman Professor Ronnie
From there Prof Friedman went back to Hebrew U to pursue what was to become a distinguished academic career.

Has held many positions over the years at Hebrew U where he ended his academic career as the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture. Hebrew U is the only university with a faculty of agriculture.

Friedman is now the vice-president for external relations and advancement at Hebrew U. This was the first time that he has returned to SA since 1960.


RIGHT: Prof Friedman at the Jewish Report stall at Sunday's Israel Expo

Prof Friedman says that agricultural education today completely different from what it was in the past. “Biology is biology,” he says, but with the rapid advancement of agricultural technology, the way to teach agriculture is by approaching it across the entire range, from conception of seeds to post-harvest protection, he says.

And, today, this always has to be viewed “in an environmentally friendly manner.”

21st century agricultural triangle

To explain how he views 21st century agriculture, Friedman draws a triangle; in each corner he writes a word: Farmers, Industry, and Research. The objective: that farmers get healthier and larger agricultural output.

The farmer, he explains, is at the core of his triangle. The agri-industry is those who supply goods and services to the farmers. Research, he says. Is the key to increasing the yield a farmer can expect from working the same land. This applies across the spectrum of agriculture, he says, from animals to vegetables, from dairy to fruit.

Hebrew U’s agriculture department, therefore, focuses on both teaching farmers and developing and commercialising agricultural technologies.

“A consequence of necessity”

Israel’s agricultural leadership globally, says Prof Friedman, is a consequence of the country’s necessity. That is why Israel leads the field in so many agricultural commodities and agri-technologies today.

David Ben Gurion always said that Israel had to strive for food self-sufficiency, explains Friedman. From the beginning of the State of Israel, therefore, agricultural research has been at the forefront. How could the country feed its people in their arid and arid conditions and with limited arable soil and access to water.

By the mid-seventies, says Prof Friedman, Israel had achieved food security by becoming completely self-sufficient.

The research and development that led to this incredible achievement then became intellectual property that Israel could export.

One famous example, and myth, is around the development of the mini tomato. It wasn’t developed in Israel, says Friedman, it came from Japan. But the Israelis made it better by classical genetic selection, he explains, “not genetic modification (GM)”.

“I personally don’t have anything against GM foods,” says Friedman, “but many consumers do.”

Similarly, Israeli research created cows that deliver 18,000 litres per year. This is more than 50 percent higher than anywhere else in the world. Again, says Prof Friedman, was not the result of injecting the cows with hormones or “any other hocus pocus methods,” he says, but simply by researching and perfecting their nutrition.

“We can’t afford to export water”

Under Prof Friedman’s guiding hand, Israel has completely rethought its view on agricultural exporting. “A single grapefruit takes about three buckets of water to grow,” he says. “We can’t afford to export water.”

So Israel took the route of developing and selling smart and better seeds, and re-importing the products thereof. The smart seeds they sell don’t re-germinate and so their customers have to buy new seeds from them every year.

Similarly, Hebrew U became the world leader in drip irrigation technology. Originally this was done to meet Israel’s own needs, to deliver water to crops more efficiently, with less water loss and ever increasing yields.

They overcame huge technological challenges, such as having holes that don’t clog up. And, says Prof Friedman, every tech developmental success leads to further research and improvements. For example, they have now developed the world’s first drip irrigation system that runs underground.

South Africa is a major buyer of Israeli agricultural technology, he says.

Israeli drip irrigation systems are commonly used in SA. Other areas of cooperation include crop sciences and seed development and production.

One of the biggest areas in which Israel is currently assisting SA, says Prof Friedman, is in regard to bees. “South Africa is losing bees fast,” he says, and this could have a catastrophic impact on the pollination of crops.

The research project is being funded by the SA government, some local agricultural interests and money has even been provided from overseas. Hebrew U, says Prof Friedman, has been tasked with coming up with a solution – something that they are well on the way to delivering.

What was Friedman’s experience on meeting SA Jewry? “Walking around this expo and seeing the amount of Jewish organisations you have, and how active they are, is indicative of what an amazing community you have,” he told Jewish Report.

2 Comments

  1. 2 Denis Solomons 13 Mar
    israel leads the world in desalination ; I am sure that South Africa could benefit from this technology .
  2. 1 nat cheiman 13 Mar
    SA does not want Israeli or Jewish technology. BDS says that anything from Israel should be boycotted.
    Zuma and co can rely on BDS and its Islamist agencies for technology . YEAH!!!!!! Right.

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