By Dr. Meir Shlomo, Ambassador of Israel to Thailand
The current economic crisis resulting from the impact of COVID-19, has led Thailand, like other countries, to explore economic restructuring in order to provide more domestic work opportunities and compensate for the loss in export and tourism.
One of the options on the table is to increase the work force in the agricultural sector, in order to develop a more sustainable self-dependency and domestic resilience, in face of global instability.
Israel has gone through a similar process in the past. Few weeks ago, in a kick-off event for the wheat-harvesting season in Israel, the Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin, visited a Kibbutz, a cooperative of farmers based on socialist concept, and said “Without agriculture, Israel has no independence”. In these words, he emphasized the similarities between Israel and Thailand.
It is widely known that agriculture is one of the most important foundations of the State of Israel.
Over the past seven decades, Israel’s determination to develop a stable agricultural sector, has led Israel to become a global front-runner in agricultural technologies. Nowadays, Israel shares its innovative capabilities and provide substantial solutions to the global community, in order to assist others in overcoming the current challenges.
In light of the long-term structural changes post-Covid era, one of the long-term strategies which should be explored, is the enhancement of innovation-driven agriculture, which can serve as a new economic engine for the local population.
However, it is true, that the agricultural sector is currently suffering from enormous challenges, and such structural changes, and the adoption and investment in innovation and smart farming methods, cannot be left to the sole farmer. It will require a strategic plan and massive subsidies by the government.
The current severe drought and the limited access to irrigation water is one of the most pressing challenges in Thailand and in South-East Asia.
Israel also suffers from frequent droughts, as 60% of Israel’s territory is merely desert and water scarcity is a regular constrain. Out of necessity, Israel has accumulated valuable knowledge over the years, by investing in Research and Development (R&D) endeavors, and developed numerous highly successful water technologies. Drip irrigation, Fertigation, Wastewater treatment, and Integrated water management, are only some of the successful means to tackle water scarcity in Israel.
Another important segment, which must be addressed, is the necessity to increase crop productivity. Precision agriculture enables to tackle the low yield prevalent problem, and increase the quantity and quality of produce.
The use of the combination of data from sensors, satellite images, machine-learning algorithms and big data analyses are all part of the precision agriculture toolbox, which is being used in Israel. It helps farmers to quickly analyze the crop growth and potential diseases, and harvest in the optimal time. It also minimizes farming risks costs, and thus, it provides more profitability and cost-effectiveness for the farmers.
Labor shortage is yet another structural aspect, which need to be solved. In the short term, in some countries, like in Thailand, many unemployed workers might seek work in agriculture, while in other countries, the pandemic has created a severe disruption to food supply chains, and significant labor shortage during harvest season.
However, in the long run, the aging society and the future labor shortage is a significant challenge for many countries. As such, the use of smart farming solutions, can reduce future dependency on labor-intensive demand.
As the entire world is struggling to mitigate the economic impact of Covid-19, the development of innovative agriculture can become an engine for future economic prosperity and a source of stability in many countries, including Thailand. It will not only enhance the competitiveness of the local farmers, but will also prepare societies to handle possible threat of food insecurity.
Sharing valuable knowledge between countries, and investing in agricultural technologies, might be one of the keys in the hands of mankind, in the common struggle to overcome one of the greatest challenges of this century.
About the author
Dr. Meir Shlomo is the Ambassador of Israel to Thailand.