This past November, 13 senior-level officers from China came to Israel for 13 days to learn all they could from the Israeli experience in water management and agriculture.
China is a new global superpower. For decades it’s been the factory of the world, but coming into its own China understands the modern idea of sustainability. Its government and leaders know that a future without a sustainable source of water or food to meet its large population’s needs is not a bright one.
A country that grew from a backwater state in the middle of the last century to a global leader in water technologies today, Israel seems like an unusual teacher for vast China. But although in many ways the two countries are very different, China is turning to Israeli expertise in agricultural technologies, or agri-tech, to ensure a future that China’s land and environment can depend on.
Israel has about seven million people, compared to China’s 1.3 billion. But there are some basic similarities and curiosities that the two nations share, says Yani Xie, director of cooperation with China at the Galilee International Management Institute
in Israel (formerly the Galilee College).
Sharing passion and historical challenges
“I think both countries share a central passion,” she says. “Israelis like the Chinese very much and the Chinese like Jewish people very much. They both have a long history, which has for both cultures been difficult at times.”
Valuing education, excellence, innovation and plain and simple hard work, “the Chinese think the Jewish people are very smart and they want to come to Israel to see how this amazing and smart people have survived in the Middle East. It’s a mystery to them, and they are very curious about Israel,” says Xie, who oversees seven or eight different Chinese delegations to the institute’s training seminars every year. Some of the groups include high-profile VIPs from China. In general, the Chinese visitors come to learn agriculture the Israeli way, but sometimes they also learn management skills at kibbutz-based programs on best practices in healthcare for epidemics such as AIDS, says Xie.
The most recent delegation, from the China Association for International Exchange of Personnel, brought agronomists, researchers, university professors and business people to Israel to learn new skills under the event banner “The Management Programme for Beijing.” The VIP group included Zhenbo Lin, director of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture.
According to Xie, this group from a dry western region in China shares similar water security issues as Israel. In Israel, they learn about drip irrigation technologies, desalination and a range of topics that cover facilities management in agriculture and dry-farming agricultural cultivation techniques using greenhouses.
Some Israeli companies have already made a mark in China, like the drip irrigation innovator Netafim
, and IDE Technologies
, the desalination company from Israel that has built China’s largest desalination facility - with green-tech elements to boot. The curious Chinese visitors wanted to see some of these companies in action and to see Israelis in their native environment.
Israel would welcome many more Chinese visitors
Visiting Israeli farming cooperatives, they also learn all there is to know about modern agricultural technology inside the greenhouse so they can go back and teach farmers how to grow food efficiently in China’s high-altitude and cold areas.
During their 13 days in Israel, the Chinese delegation took courses (taught in English) and enjoyed a range of study and recreational tours to see the land of Israel with the help of a Chinese-speaking guide. “They really want to learn how we manage our water,” says Xie.
And as far as breaking the ice, the trust is already there: “I know that during World War II, when Jewish people were refugees of the world, the Chinese opened their doors and helped many Jewish people. The older people in China still remember this, so they still have a very special relationship.”
Xie says that Joseph (Yossie) Shevel, president of the Galilee Institute, wishes that 1,000 Chinese, rather than only 80, would come to learn in Israel every year. Xie, who is from China, joined the Institute about seven years ago after marrying an Israeli and moving to Israel. She knows from personal experience what the Chinese know and think about Israel.
The Chinese delegation spent 13 days learning Israeli agri-tech
A big highlight for the group in November was the institute’s international evening of socializing and dancing with guests from many different countries. “We are not only catering to Chinese groups but have programs and people from all over the world visit us every month.”
Just recently, the Nigeria government, for instance, turned to Israel to help them rehabilitate some 20,000 oil-field rebels who negotiated with the government and agreed to put down their weapons in exchange for land and new skills (see Rebels with a Cause). Two groups of Nigerians have been to Israel this year - 28 men and women who came to learn about creating businesses from fisheries, farming and livestock.
Every month there are people from Africa and sometimes Europe and North and South America at the international evening. Everyone has to bring their traditional clothes and sing a song and dance. “The Chinese, who sang songs about how much they loved their country, enjoyed it very much,” Xie remarks. In all there were about 20 Chinese who joined in the November festivities, including some business people who were in Israel for other reasons.
Looking to incubate new ideas
So far, the institute has hosted custom-made management training seminars for people from 160 different countries, including people from nations that have no official diplomatic relations to Israel. The seminars are paid for by governmental or non-governmental organizations.
The basic idea is to impart the best practices from the Israeli experience. Israel is known the world over as a leader in growing more “crop per drop,” and coaxing all kinds of produce from the desert sand, in a hostile climate - and under difficult political circumstances in the Middle East region.
Jack Levy, a partner at Israel Cleantech Ventures
, knows how to translate the value of Israeli clean-tech companies to international investors and stakeholders. His firm has invested in a range of Israeli clean-tech pioneers, including Metrolight
for energy savings in lighting systems, and Better Place
electric cars. Recently he's put a special eye on scouting out opportunities in Israeli agri-tech.
Why is this a good bet for his portfolio? "Israel has always been at the forefront of agri-tech innovation," Levy says. "The clear and present need to meet growing food demand is most apparent in emerging markets such as China and so it is natural for the Chinese government to acknowledge the value of bilateral cooperation in this sector. As investors in Israeli clean-tech companies, we welcome these efforts to increase bilateral trade and partnerships which can accelerate the adoption of Israeli innovation in this critical market."
What’s next in store for China in Israel? Xie, now on maternity leave, says that the Chinese are very interested in exploring the Israeli model for incubating startup companies. She is putting together some ideas for a possible program.