Israel is helping the Philippines enter a new era in agriculture that is anchored on knowledge of markets and technology, which has attracted younger people to take up farming as a vocation.
In a roundtable on Monday with editors and reporters of The Manila Times, Israel Ambassador to the Philippines Effie Ben Matityau said his country continues to host agriculture Filipino students who want to be trained on agriculture technology.
“The Philippines has become a beneficiary of this program,” the ambassador said. There are 540 Filipino agriculture students in Israel who are undergoing training on the country’s farming technologies.
Matityau added that in the past 10 years, about 2,000 students mostly from state universities and colleges (SUCs) from as far as the Cordillera region have undergone training in Israeli farming technology.
The Philippines is second only to Vietnam in the number of students currently in Israel undergoing training.
The ambassador said the Israeli Embassy will be partnering with the Commission on Higher Education (CHed), departments of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (DAR) and the Commission on Filipinos Overseas in coming up with an agenda to continue the program of sending Filipino agriculture students to Israel.
The agencies in partnership with the Israeli Embassy are the major players of the Coalition for Advanced Agricultural Technologies. CHed has jurisdiction over SUCs in the Philippines.
Under the program, students who finish their training on Israeli farming technologies and knowledge must “give back” to their community or school, the ambassador said. This “payback” can be in the form of establishing farms in the community or school that showcase how agriculture technologies and knowledge from Israel can help improve local farm productivity.
“This is a kind of formula we tested, [and]the most successful is in India,” Matityau said.
He stressed that the success of a country’s farming sector also relies on knowledge of markets, which include the export markets.
“Philippine agricultural sector depends on high-end markets. It’s about markets. And it has a market which is untouched, which is the export market,” Matityau said.
He explained that the Philippines can serve markets that do not have enough domestically-grown food during the cold or winter months.
According to www.israel21c.org, Israel exports $2 billion fruits and vegetables a year. Israeli farmers employ intensive farming, which uses technologies like drip or controlled irrigation, greenhouses and mechanization to make its lands, which are largely desserts, highly productive.
Importance of IT sector
While he emphasized the need for the country’s farming sector to
achieve a higher level of productivity and tap export markets, Matityau said the agriculture sector can be “the biggest hope, biggest curse and biggest liability” for a developing country.
This is because the farming sector, particularly in developing countries, does not contribute much to gross domestic product (GDP) but employs a high percentage of its workforce.
“The economy cannot sustain 50 percent to 60 percent employment in agriculture. It’s a global issue in the developing world,” he said.
The Israeli ambassador added that development of a country’s Information Technology (IT) sector is also important.
He said that outside of Silicon Valley, Israel has the most number of IT start-up companies.
Matityau also explained that because Israel has a thriving IT sector and its farming sector can feed the whole nation and still export some products, the percentage of its population engaged in farming is small.
“The farming sector of Israel contributed 3.0 percent to GDP and employment is 1.5 percent [of the population],” he said.