Taming the desert to make healthy eating affordable
Thanks to its investments in innovative agriculture, Israel has become a world leader in inexpensive produce.
For most people around the world, eating healthy comes with a bit of sticker shock. Subsidies often exist for big agricultural industries to lower the price of corn, soy, and sugar - but not for the smaller farms that produce fresh produce. As a result, consumers are often left purchasing cheap processed food for a fraction of the price of the all-natural, healthier alternative. A 2013 Harvard study of 10 high-income countries found that buying healthier foods costs the average person $550 more per year.
The high cost of eating healthy, however, is not a common denominator across the developed world. A recent study of Israel's fresh fruits and vegetables found consumers there paying many times less what comparable produce costs in other countries. In some instances, the price differences are substantial - with produce such as tomatoes (340 percent more expensive), cucumbers (207 percent more expensive), and avocados (316 percent more expensive) trending higher than Israeli supermarkets.
Considering Israel is only a little larger than the state of New Jersey, perhaps it's not surprising that fruits and vegetables are cheaper; especially when weighing the cost advantage of shorter distances to supermarkets. Examine the region's geography, however, (more than half of the land area is desert) and you have a much more intriguing feat of modern agriculture at play.
"We’re on the edge of the desert in an area where water has always been short," said Alexander Kushnir, head of the Israel Water Authority. "The quantity of natural water per capita in Israel is the lowest for the whole region. But we decided early on that we were developing a modern state. So we were required to supply water for agriculture, and water for industry, and then water for hi-tech, and water to sustain an appropriate quality of life."
An Israeli farmer checks on his fresh crops. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)
The road to inexpensive produce was indeed built upon Israel's ambition to tame the desert, a success story that included creating drought-tolerant crops, state-of-the-art desalinization plants, and innovative drip irrigation systems that have since become the international standard. Instead of crippling farmers, the warm climate now empowers them to grow crops year-round - ensuring stable supplies, limiting the need for imports, and enabling the country to produce 95 percent of its own food. Some $90 million is invested annually in agriculture R&D - a strategy that not only benefits its citizens, but also serves as a model for the rest of the world.
"The hard work of Israeli people has made their country proud in the world as an exporter of agriculture products," Jalan Kumar Sharma, CEO of Nepal's Small Farmers Development Bank, said in a recent interview. "Their progress in agriculture is remarkable. Half of their country is covered by desert, with no water at all. But they have been utilizing the water available by producing high quality products to export to Europe and the United States of America. Nepal has to learn from this."
Going forward, Israel is positioning itself as a hotbed for technology startups - with firms leveraging nearly a century of solving agriculture issues and applying that experience to farming issues around the globe.
"The world population is rising and resources are in decline, conventional agriculture will not provide food for the 9 billion people expected in the next few decades," Nitza Kardish, CEO of Trendlines Agtech-Mofet, told The Epoch Times. "Israel has the know-how both in agriculture and in high-tech that can improve living conditions.”
That's good news for Israelis and consumers around the world seeking more affordable access to fruits and vegetables.
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