Relationships with Azerbaijan Should be Strategic – Interview with Israel’s Agricultural Minister

Israel, Jerusalem, 12 May / Trend Arye Gut/ Trend 's interview with Israeli Agricultural Minister Shalom Simhon on the threshold of his visit to Baku this week.

Question: How do you asses the present mutual relations between Israel and Azerbaijan?

Answer: The relations between Israel and Azerbaijan are intensively developing in the political, economic and business fields. I guess in near future Azerbaijan will turn into a strong economic power in the region. Israeli businessmen have great investment prospects in Azerbaijan. The strategic oil pipeline Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) though which Israel purchases oil from Azerbaijan plays a special role in our mutual relations.

The intergovernmental relations are strengthening. This week I will be very glad to pay a visit to Azerbaijan to meet with the country's officials. Several days ago I met with my colleagues - Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer who insistently recommended me to meet with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and I hope the meeting will take place. Moreover, during the visit I will have the honour open the Azerbaijani-Israeli Friendship Park in Baku.

We have a plenty of coinciding strategic interests. Israel with great interest is observing the intensive economic development in Azerbaijan, because our countries along with friendly relations also have common economic interests. That is why for Israel it is important not only to coordinate common foreign political efforts, but also to strengthen economic relations between our countries. I think the relationships between Azerbaijan and Israel should be strategic.

Question: In which agrarian directions may Israel cooperate with Azerbaijan and implement joint projects?

Answer: I think Azerbaijan's agrarian business sector will be very interested in great achievements of Israeli agriculture in the modern stage. Israel is the country which gained impressing success in agriculture. First of all, it should be mentioned that 60% of the country is desert and a good part is mountains, hills and woods. Israel's agricultural development is an unprecedented event in modern history. Sixty years ago European urban repatriates took up agricultural activities and created agriculture in the land which had not been farmed before them not leaving behind in terms of intensity and in several fields even excelling the agriculture of most developed countries with centuries-old traditions.

Israelis were the first in the world to invent a special drip irrigation system. It is unconventional and a sort of revolutionary system: it saves 30-50% of water as compared to usual systems. Water goes to the root of every flower, tree and bush virtually without lost. The required pressure in the system is low, different fertilizers are also pumped through it. Setting up and operation of the system is simple and comfortable. Researches show that the water may be used for cultivating some definite crops. We are ready to offer this system to my Azerbaijani counterpart Ismat Abbasov and Azerbaijani farmers.

As to yield of milk per cow, Israel steadily occupies the first place in the world (average yield of milk - 12,000 litres) and it also takes the first place as to cotton harvest (3.3 tons per hectare, while in USA it is 1.6 tons); the second place as to root harvest (including potato); the third place as to production of citruses (after USA and Spain).

Question: Israel has a big experience in agriculture and taking into consideration this fact, what do you advise Azerbaijan in order to increase output and level of agriculture? What is the secret of successes in Israeli agriculture?

Answer: Agriculture plays a big role in Israeli economy with a share of 5% on the gross national product and 5.6% in the structure of the export. The agricultural workers make up 3.5% of the population of the country. Israel meets its demand for foodstuffs by 95%. The country imports grain crops and oil-bearing crops, meat, coffee, cocoa, sugar which is compensated by the broad variety of products that country exports.

I want to mention that great majority of the vegetables, fruits and flowers are cultivated in the greenhouses. While the average productivity of tomatoes makes up 60-80 tons from one hectare in the open soil, it makes up 500 tons in the greenhouses controlled by the climate computers and pepper - 180-220 tons. But it is not a limit. Israelites have gained their 'niche' in the world foodstuff market. The Israeli vegetables, fruits, plants and flowers are used in Europe in winter time with a special way when there are no fresh ones. The EU accounts for 37% of the export of the agricultural products, North America - 29% and Africa - 3%.

The secret of success of the Israeli agriculture is the close cooperation with the farmers and scientists financed by the government in developing and introducing improved methods in all areas of agriculture, in taking advantage of the technical know-how, up-to-date irrigation technology and state of the art agro-technics. We have achieved big miracles in Israeli genetics and biotechnology and we are ready to share our experience with our Azerbaijani counterparts and farmers.

On the whole, as you see, the most up-to-date technology has been introduced in the agriculture of Israel. The resources are spent in an effective way. The deserts are irrigated and an all-Israel sluice has been built which supplies arid regions with water. More advanced and economical means of irrigation is introduced in order to cut down water expenditures for agriculture which enables to direct moisture directly to the root of the plants. The computer technology is largely applied and greenhouse economy is remarkably enlarged. Programs are being developed to enrich water resources, methods of calling and amplifying rain and desalination of saline soil and reversion of sewage. A large natural subterranean reservoir of salty water revealed in the Negev desert was commissioned recently. The studies showed that this water can be used to cultivate various plants.

Question: What issues are going to discuss with Your Azerbaijani counterpart within the upcoming visit to Baku?

Answer: I will be very glad to meet with my Azerbaijani counterpart Ismat Abbasov. I believe that we have common ground for the further cooperation and we are ready to share our experience with Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Israel's technological know-how in irrigation and hydrology turned out to be especially valuable for many countries and regions. The results of applied branch studies and experience of the complex development of the rural regions is of great interest.

At present, various agricultural and joint research projects make up about one third of Israeli programs of the international corporation. The education is put special emphasis on. Some 600 people from 60 countries are annually enrolled for special agricultural courses in Israel and about 300 people are being educated by the Israeli instructors abroad. We are ready to educate Azerbaijani farmers as well.

The correspondent can be contacted at: [email protected]

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