The Philippines and Israel: a history of agricultural exchange and cooperation

L-R TAU President Dr. Max. P. Guillermo, Mayor Erlon C. Agustin of the Municipality of Camiling, and Ambassador Ilan Fluss. (Embassy of Israel in the Philippines)

The Philippines and Israel have a long history of friendship. During the Second World War, the Philippine government offered refuge to approximately 1,300 Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi persecution of Jews in Europe. It was further deepened in 1947 when the Philippines supported the establishment of the State of Israel, being the only country in Asia to do so. These are the main historical pillars of Israel-Philippine relations, which paved the way for more partnerships between the two countries.

L-R TAU President Dr. Max. P. Guillermo, Mayor Erlon C. Agustin of the Municipality of Camiling, and Ambassador Ilan Fluss. (Embassy of Israel in the Philippines)

The government of Israel has been working with the Philippines in several capacities including agriculture under the Center for International Development Cooperation (MASHAV), through the Center for International Agricultural Development Cooperation (CINADCO), and the Philippine- Israel Center for Agricultural Training (PICAT).

Former projects include working with the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) to introduce Israeli technology focusing on the microproduction of avocados, vegetables, and high value crops and later a program of collaborating was established with select state universities on training and upgrading the extension services to farmers.

“What we are trying to do now is to create a partnership with the Department of Agriculture looking at the first stage in the areas of training and extension services through some of the centers of the Agriculture Training Institute (ATI),” Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines, His Excellency (H.E.) Ilan Fluss said.

The Embassy is in the process of planning and discussing how it can meet the needs of its Filipino partners in a more meaningful way, including conducting training and consultation, distributing Israeli agricultural technology, and sending both young farmers and industry experts to Israel for intensive and short training programs respectively.

“We are trying to… support in areas that we believe we have expertise [in] and we can contribute [to],” he added. “Obviously, things have to be adjusted to the climatic conditions here… but… for me, the most important element to the partnership is approaching agriculture in a different way.”

Aside from introducing Israeli agriculture techniques and technology, the Embassy also aims to prove to Filipino farmers that working in agriculture can be profitable, even lucrative.

“Agriculture, quite often, is seen here, especially by the smallholder farmers, as subsistence farming. Now, in Israel, subsistence farming would not exist. It’s a market economy, and the farmer has to make money. How do you make money? By improving your output and minimizing your input. Less expenses, maximum income,” H.E. Fluss said. “…what I’m trying to do is to share this approach, to share some of the best practices, and to share those technologies.”

An Israeli consultant giving advice on hydroponics. (Embassy of Israel in the Philippines)

Ongoing MASHAV programs 

The Israeli embassy, through its many linkages in government and private sectors in the Philippines, have several programs currently ongoing under MASHAV.

One of its most popular ones is the Israeli Agricultural internship program, conducted in cooperation with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) with support and oversight from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Agriculture, which focuses on capacity building and the promotion of food security.

About 500 young farmers or fresh agriculture graduates are sent to Israel annually. The paid internship lasts 11 months and includes both classroom and fieldwork. Participants are given the chance to experience how an Israeli farm works, from cultivation to marketing to pivoting according to changing times. “…the idea is… after they come back… to the Philippines… they change their mindset because they have been working with Israeli farmers, [which means] understanding that agriculture is sophisticated [and] has… to create an income.”

The agencies involved are currently trying to strengthen the reintegration of Israeli agriculture scholars in the country, which can be challenging as a number of students either use their training to get agriculture jobs overseas, or end up not working in the sector altogether. “…we would like to make sure that this program is contributing to the challenge here in the Philippines,” H.E. Fluss said.

The Embassy is also working with several state universities, including the Agricultural University of Tarlac, which is being provided with greenhouses, hydroponics setups, and training. “…the idea is really to do something localized and to help local farmers learn this approach.”

Another academic partner is Central Luzon State University  (CLSU), who is working with MASHAV on an open field drip irrigation project. CLSU is also home to the Shalom Club, a global organization that all MASHAV scholars automatically belong to.

H.E. Flusss at the1Bataan Agri Inno-Tech Center. (Embassy of Israel to the Philippines)

Public private partnerships

The Embassy values its linkages through both government and private sectors. “I work for (the) government, but at (the) end of the day… if you want something that will continue long term, I believe we have to put a lot of effort into the private sector, which is there to make money,” H.E. Fluss said. “…since we’re talking about the markets [and] the economy, we have to… work with the local private sector or with government or with cooperatives, but… working in an economic way for profit. And for that reason, I believe that PPP is very important because at the end of the day, you work together.”

He cited the 1Bataan Agri Inno-Tech Center (1Bataan AITC), a public private partnership between the province of Bataan and an Israeli agriculture company. The company is currently working with smallholder rice farmers using Israeli technology such as water pumps and drip irrigation to help them make more money by planting vegetables during the dry season, when  rice cannot be cultivated.

“We come from the Middle East. We have challenges of being in a drought-prone area… But with climate change and global warming, it’s becoming a global issue, so [it] makes sense in general to move to drip irrigation, but you have to make [relevant] calculations,” he said. “…The dry season is a long season, and in six months, you can get so many vegetables out of your land… So they’re working with the farmers exactly doing that.”

The partnership includes helping farmers surmount challenges such as finding direct markets for their harvests. “…it’s a whole concept changing in a way. How do… these smallholder farmers practice agriculture while not reducing and not affecting the production of rice, which is very important to the country, [while] …adding …high value crops which will bring an income to the farmer.”

The Ambassador recounted his recent visit to the 1Bataan AITC site: “I met some of the farmer  who are into this project and it was amazing to see how proud they were because they’re doing something new, something different, and they’re also able to make some money. So for me, it is by showing to the public that they can do it differently.”

Helping boost food security

Israel is known worldwide as a hub for innovation, including in the field of agriculture. It is in this regard that the Ambassador has been personally requested by the President of the Philippines to help the country’s agriculture sector.

“Food security is a very important socioeconomic issue, so I’m very happy that we talked about it. We’re now working with the Department of Agriculture to identify where we should come in and what exactly to introduce,” H.E. Fluss shared.

“At the same time, I’m also working with the private sector… What we’re trying to do is to [facilitate] introductions between Israeli private sector and the Philippine private sector and I can tell you that this is going very well.”

The Ambassador offered two examples of how Israeli technology has, or can be adapted to the Philippine culture and climate.

First was a cacao project undertaken with a private company looking to expand the production of the traditional Criollo variety. “We don’t grow cacao in Israel, but we have expertise in the approach in some of the practices and when we enter into projects, we use experts from the agriculture sector but there are many elements to it,” the Ambassador explained.

The Filipino partner was introduced to an Israeli company that worked as a consultant, “introducing practices.., I would say the Israeli way, from checking the soil… to irrigation, [grafting procedures, and pest control].…”

The trees aren’t production ready yet, but according to the Filipino partner, “it looks very promising.”

Israel is also excited to be introducing their dairy technology to the Philippines. Israeli cows are the top milk producers in the world, with each cow producing an average of 30 liters a day, a far cry from the Philippines’ average of 9-11 liters a day. “We have dairy farms in the desert in Israel, so it’s about managing the climate, managing the cow.., the feed, and everything else, so I believe that if we introduce dairy farming, including technologies and the management system, then we’ll see a lot of milk and cheese which will be produced locally here in the Philippines.”

Such technologies, if properly applied, have the potential to positively impact the local dairy industry, which currently produces only 1% of the country’s needs.

The Embassy of Israel in the Philippines is looking forward to sharing Israeli dairy technology. (Embassy of Israel in the Philippines)

Changing minds, changing lives

More important than the exposure to new technology is the hope for a change in mindset. The easiest way to encourage this is through proof of concept. “I believe that when you have successful agriculture, it will change mindsets,” H.E. Fluss said. “When farmers will start making money… they will upgrade their standard of living. They will be able to afford better living (conditions), better food, and they will be able to send their kids to be educated.”

The Ambassador emphasizes the need to tailor both technology and mindset to local climate and customs, as well as make the most of linkages between both public and private organizations. “…As a person who is working in creating bridges between Israel and the Philippines… It’s very important for me to always emphasize that I’m introducing Israeli practices. I’m introducing Israeli technologies and Israeli mindset. Now, the challenge is… what you take out of it and what can be implemented in the Philippines. And for this, I must work in a partnership… so I need a very good strong local partner who will guide me… and this is why development is a big challenge.”

What H.E. Fluss hopes to achieve cooperation and progress. “My vision is to see bridges of innovation and technology between Israel and the Philippines… including in agriculture… [To bring] Israeli innovation… Israeli technologies… the Israeli mindset, and then… adjusting to local… needs… and implementing it in the Philippines. And I would like to say that… by the end of my term and beyond, you’ll be able to see that the farmers are… making money [and are]… using this income for the benefit of their standard of living [and] for the education of their children… This is what I would really like to see.”

This article appeared in Agriculture Magazine’s October 2022 issue.

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Yvette Tan
Yvette Tan is Agriculture magazine's managing editor’s web editor. She is an award-winning writer who likes to eat, travel, and listen to stories about the strange and supernatural. She is dedicated to encouraging people to push for sustainable food sources and is an advocate of food security, food sovereignty, and the preservation of community foodways.

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