For the past few years, Israeli technology is being hailed as a panacea for Indian farmers. Israel is making great strides in winning major state funded agriculture projects and is receiving growing support from various state and central government. At the core of this growing relationship of dependence on Israeli agricultural technology lies the foundational myth that Israel made ‘the desert bloom’. Through its dispossession, ethnic cleansing and illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and people, Israel has in fact turned historically fertile lands into technocratic military garrisons.
On ground, this translates into systematic denial of food and resources such as land and water to Palestinians, especially in Gaza. Palestinian farmers have been killed simply for accessing their land. Israel keeps Palestinians under a regime of water apartheid. Palestinian farms and crops are regularly destroyed by Israeli occupying forces and illegal settlers. Central to this project of dispossession is Israeli ago-business in how it turns its illegal occupation and colonization into a profitable enterprise.
Agribusiness as neo-colonialism
- By operating from illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, Israeli agribusiness companies sustain and further Israel’s colonial project of taking over more and more Palestinian lands
- Israeli agribusiness companies actively collaborate with Israeli state agencies in appropriating water resources from Palestinians.
- Many Palestinian farmers are left with no option but to trade with Israel, as Israel restricts all mobility within and from Palestinian territories, which are then sold as Israeli products.
- Companies enabling Israeli illegal settlements receive incentives like “low rents, favorable tax rates, government subsidies, and access to cheap Palestinian labor”.
Netafim, an Israeli company which profits from illegal Israeli settlements, is becoming a leading name in India. Here is look at its background:
- Unsustainable: In 1965, shortly after Israel had concluded the expulsion of most of the Palestinian Bedouin communities from the Naqab, Netafim established itself in Kibbutz Hatzerim – an Israeli agricultural settlement located there, to help ‘making the desert bloom’. In other words, it was built to promote an unsustainable agro-business.
- False claims: Bypassing that in many parts of the world, including India, drip irrigation has been used since generations Netafim falsely claims to have “introduced the world’s first drip irrigation system in 1966”.
- Key to sustain illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land: Netafim works with several settlements to develop technology to ensure they make the best profits from the stolen land.
- On the UN database: is one of the companies from the settlement enterprise to which the UN’s Human Rights Commissioner sent a warning letter in September. This letter warned the company that its name is to be added to the database of companies doing business in Israeli settlements in West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Netafim in India
- Netafim was part of the Kuppam project: an Israeli agrotech project in Chittoor district, then Andhra Pradesh. An independent study by agricultural experts found the project to be “technically unsound, low in agricultural sustainability, environmentally destructive and economically unviable”, enslaving farmers to corporate farming.
- Netafim has been part of Karnataka state’s subsidy scheme for Micro Irrigation as an empanelled company. Accompanied by the fact that agricultural experts and farmers from the state are being sent on paid trips to Israel, Netafim carries an undue advantage through this leverage it is provided by the state government. This is also the case in other states such as Gujarat, Haryana, etc.
- Netafim has a major drip-irrigation project on-going in Bagalkot, Karnataka. The project is in its second stage now, and is being hailed as the world’s largest. In its first stage, the Ramthal Marol project covered 11,000 hectares which has been increased to 24,000 hectares in the second stage. The Rs 768-crore scheme, which is being implemented by Netafim and Jain Irrigation claims to serve 15000 small and marginal farmers. At the end of five years, it will be transferred to Krishna Bhagya Jala Nigam Limited, which would charge Rs 1,330 per acre for maintenance. Unlike the Kuppam project, there aren’t any independent studies to show whether this project has been beneficial for farmers.
Israeli technology and Karnataka
- Karnataka government has been increasingly promoting ‘Israeli technology’ as the way out of the agrarian crisis in Karnataka. After his trip last year to Israel, Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy has been hugely promoting the technology, including setting aside Rs 150 crore for Israeli model irrigation facilities.
- Aside from the Chief Minister, several delegations from Karnataka have gone on official trips to Israel: from groups of farmers to members of political parties. Such trips amount to great PR for Israel and therefore see involvement of the Israeli state.
- Israel has three Centres of Excellence running in Karnataka, which claim to teach farmers innovative ways of producing the fruits the areas are well-known for. These centres emerge from an agreement between National Horticulture Mission and Mashav, Israel’s Agency for Development Cooperation. Mashav is directly involved in expulsion of Palestinian and theft of their land and resources. These centres in Karnataka, and other parts of India, are shrouded in mystery. They are funded and maintained by the State and National Horticulture Missions, established on land acquired by the ministry. The concrete contribution of these centres is yet to be seen.
Beyond the legitimation and PR that both central and state governments provide to Israeli agricultural technology through these centres, trips, budget allocations, empanelment of Israeli companies in subsidy schemes and largescale technology transfer projects, there is little evidence to show how exactly this technology is benefitting Indian farmers. On the contrary, the story of the Kuppam project serves as a reminder of exactly how damaging Israeli technology has been to farmers. The project ultimately not only massively failed and faced agitation from local farmers, the state government was compelled to return the land rent for the period of the project to the farmers. Instead of addressing the deepening agrarian crisis head-on, successive governments have tried to pass the buck by presenting Israeli technology as a solution- a phenomenon that we are seeing unfold in Karnataka as well. It of little surprise that all of this serves Israeli propaganda, to a great extent.
In its 2004 advisory opinion on the Apartheid Wall, the International Court of Justice reaffirmed the obligation for the international community not aid and assist the illegal situation created by Israel through the wall as well as the Israeli settlement enterprise. This implies that Indian state too is under obligation to not support the settlement industry and the apartheid wall.
Following a UN resolution, supported as well by India, the UN Human Rights Council has prepared a list of companies complicit with Israel’s settlement enterprise (which most likely includes Netafim except that its publication is being stalled by Israel and the US) and addresses these companies while a global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) works to make those corporations that are involved in Israeli human rights violations pay a price for their complicity.
It is most urgent than ever that the struggles of Indian farmers against corporate take-over and those of Palestinians farmers for justice and food sovereignty be brought together. A first step towards this would be to call for a boycott of Netafim and demand for an end of its ties with Karnataka government. In the past, Israeli agrobusiness companies such as Agrexco have faced the consequences for its profiteering from occupation and faced liquidation due to boycott campaigns across Europe. It is time for Netafim to pay the price for its crimes too.
 Reported by one of the scientists involved in the study of Kuppam project.