Israel’s agricultural sector is characterized by an intensive system of production stemming from the need to overcome the scarcity in natural resources, particularly water and arable land. The constant growth in agricultural production is due to the close cooperation between researchers, farmers, and agriculture-related industries. Together they develop and apply new methods in all agricultural branches. The result is modern agriculture in a country more than half of whose area is desert.
Advanced irrrigation methods (Photo: Shai Ginott)
As Israeli farmers and scientists have had to contend with a difficult environment and limited water resources, their experience is especially relevant to the developing world. Its success lies in the determination and ingenuity of farmers and scientists who have dedicated themselves to developing a flourishing agriculture, demonstrating to the world that the real value of land is a function of how it is utilized. The close cooperation between R&D and industry led to the development of a market-oriented agri-business that exports agro-technology solutions - particularly water solutions - world wide.
Agriculture in Israel is the success story of a long, hard struggle against adverse conditions and of making maximum use of arable land and scarce water (including from modern desalinization plants, the know-how of which is a winning export story). When Jews began resettling their historic homeland in the late 19th century, their first efforts were directed - mostly for ideological reasons - to turning barren land into fertile fields. The secret of Israel's present agricultural success lies in the close interaction between farmers and government-sponsored researchers, who cooperate in developing and applying sophisticated methods in all agricultural branches, as well as technological advancement, new irrigation techniques, and innovative agro-mechanical equipment.
Since Israel attained independence in 1948, the total area under cultivation has increased by a factor of 2.6, to approximately 1.1 million acres. The irrigated land area increased by a factor of 8, to about 0.6 million acres until the mid 1980s; however, owing to the growing shortage of water, coupled with intensive urbanization, this is now less than half a million acres. During the past half century the number of agricultural settlements grew from 400 to 750, but the share of the population living in them has fallen from 12 percent to less than 5 percent.
Today, most of Israel's food is domestically produced and supplemented by imports, mainly of grain, oilseeds, meat, coffee, cocoa, and sugar, all of which are more than covered by agricultural exports. Farm production consists largely of dairy and poultry products. Additionally, a large variety of flowers, fruit, and vegetables is locally grown, especially in warm areas that give farmers an early advantage in European markets. During the winter months, Israel is Europe's greenhouse, exporting melons, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, strawberries, kiwis, mangoes, avocados, a wide variety of citrus fruits, longstemmed roses and spray carnations.
The share of agricultural product of the GNP declined from 11 percent to 2.6 percent between 1950 and 2008, and the proportion of agricultural exports decreased from 60 percent to less than 2 percent of total exports. This, despite an absolute increase of annual exports from $20 million in 1950 to $1.2 billion in 2009 due, inter alia, to the widespread introduction of innovative farming methods, modern irrigation and water treatment technologies, and export-oriented farming.