Agriculture is the backbone of a society, as it is the only vertical that sustains its people. Many countries invest highly in research and development in improving agricultural practices, seed development, crop improvement and post harvesting technology to improve their yield and quality. Arid and semi-arid countries in the Middle East lack fresh water resources and have unreliable and variable precipitation. The fresh water sources are also receding which is creating hurdles in their agricultural practices. The characteristic soil of this region is prone to soil erosion which decreases soil quality. However some countries have overcome these barriers by research and innovation to increase their crop production even in extreme conditions (Viala 2008).
Agriculture technology of Israel
Israel is one such country whose topography is arid and farming is a challenge. But this country has acquired the status of ‘world leader’ in terms of agricultural research and development. The research bend of Israel has led to dramatic increase in the quantity and quality of their agricultural produce. The country has invested in research for seed and plant varieties that have high vigor and are resistant to insects and pests; and has also innovated machinery and additional crop supplements. The holistic approach has led to tremendous increase in yield as well as quality and variety of the crops grown in the country (Horowitz 2014).
Israel has worked hard to develop irrigation equipment and they have developed strategies for water and soil management- increasing productivity as well as preventing soil degradation and enhancing water preservation. Irrigation practices like drip irrigation and moving sprinkler systems are a boon to a country which has less than 450mm of annual rainfall. Israeli solutions like micro irrigation systems have gained widespread popularity. An example of Israeli innovation is a kit developed for irrigation. It has helped 700 farming families in Senegal harvest their crops in infertile land three times in one year instead of just once (Shuval 2012).
Open source online resource tools such as Agricultural Knowledge On-Line (AKOL) are also very helpful in keeping track of crops and their requirements. It is an exhaustive resource which helps the producers to grow fruits and vegetables, raise poultry and dairy cows, manage vineyards and make olive oil. AKOL’s is a latest example of many projects that provide farmers with access to information anywhere in the world. This resource is not for Israel nationals alone, but can be used by farmers worldwide. Tal-Ya Water Technologies developed plastic trays that can be used to collect dew from the air, thus reducing water demand by 50 percent. Israel’s GFA (Grow Fish Anywhere) Advanced Systems technology has made it possible to farm fish even in the desert (McCracken 2012).
New harvesting machinery includes equipment that increase the amount of onion harvested with minimum loss and mechanical damage. Another harvester developed is for leucadendron flowers. It is self-propelled ad has additional features such as height control, slope balance and maneuver capability. Israel has also developed a new method and machine which is used for the collection of pruned palm tree branches. This reduces work labour to a very large extent and increases efficiency with minimum loss and damage (Schmitz & Moss 2016).
Yield protection by Israel
Israel has developed protective cocoons to protect grain from water, air and pests. It even protects the grains in extreme heat and humidity. Innovations in pest management have been carried out by employing methodologies involving microbiology and phytopathology. These help to control post-harvest diseases. Bio-Bee, an Israeli company, breeds insects and mites that are not harmful to the crops, providing competition for harmful pests and also produces bumblebees for pollinating crops and plants situated in greenhouses as well as in open fields. Better strains of crops are a priority for enhanced production (Antignus 2014). Hebrew University’s Prof. David Levy’s experiments and research of nearly 30 years resulted in development of potato strains resistant to arid climate, as well as stressful conditions like salinity. Makhteshim Agan of the same university teamed with a company to produce herbicides that have slow release rate and insecticides that would harm only the targeted pests. University scientists Ilan Sela and Haim D. Rabinowitch have created TraitUP, a revolutionary technology that introduces genetic material into seeds of crops without modifying their DNA (Sela et al. 2015).
Agriculture technology of Iran
Iran is another country having the same topography as that of Israel. It is a semi-arid country with annual precipitation of 680 mm. Total arable land of Iran is 12 percent as the soil is not fertile enough and due to poor water distribution. Despite this, Iran’s food security index is 96 percent. Iran is the world’s top producer in pistachio, caviar, saffron, berries and stone fruits. Iran has been a pioneer in hybridization technology.
Despite the global controversy and uproar regarding safety of genetically modified crops, Iran imports around $5 billion genetically modified crops in a year because of its relaxed laws. In 2005, Iran produced its first genetically modified rice. Apart from rice, Iran has also developed many other hybrid crops in laboratory, such as insect-resistant corn, herbicide-resistant canola, stress tolerant wheat, cotton and potatoes. Iran has improved and optimized protocols for mass production of apple, banana, potato, cherry, pistachio and dates. Gene transformation using different resistant genes are being undertaken. They use BT (Bacillus thuringenesis) gene for insect resistance, chitinases and glucanase for disease resistance and choline oxidase used for conferring salt tolerance in plants (Rahimpour et al. 2015).
Iran has developed mechanical equipment for olive, chickpea, wheat, and barley production. Comprehensive surface or drip irrigation systems are installed in farms across plantations and mechanical shaker/harvesters of different types (hand held, tractor mounted and self-propelled) are used. The research institute of MOJA in Kermanshah, Iran has developed chickpea header for harvester machines. This addition has saved farms from losses (30 percent less as compared to manual harvesting). Reportedly there are already 400 Amazone manufactured minimum tillage implements in Iran of which 300 are located within Fars province. The main benefits are said to be reduced land preparation costs and improved moisture content (Langroudi 2006).
Microbial gene banking is another initiative taken up by “Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran”. They are involved in collecting, isolating and preserving microorganisms that are beneficial for soil and plant health. Storage of microbial vectors and cloned genes for plant resistance is also being done (Najmabadi et al. 2003). Although Iran has tried to upscale their agricultural practices, it is not at par with Israel as most of their water bodies are drying up, Caspian Sea is shrinking in size, which was their main source of water. Due to urbanization, most of arable land is being converted for non-agricultural use. The soil which was already not fertile is getting more saline and there are problems of water logging and soil erosion as well. It is also low on funds than Israel, and Iran’s government is not supportive enough for research. (Valipour 2012)
More needs to be done
All in all, there is high scope of development of agricultural practices in arid countries if they are keen to develop their agricultural practices through research and development. These practices can be incorporated in other arid countries of Africa and Asia, with the support of International Food Organization and their respective countries. However, it requires a lot of financial aid; some of the technologies are quite costly to carry out in large scale. Countries lacking in funds may take longer to get into the position of carrying out some of the practices than others (Sivakumar et al. 2005).
- Antignus, Y., 2014. Management of Air-Borne Viruses by “Optical Barriers” in Protected Agriculture and Open-Field Crops. Control of Plant Virus Diseases: Seed-Propagated Crops, 90(1), pp.1–10.
- Horowitz, A., 2014. The quaternary of Israel.
- Langroudi, S.M., 2006. Economic geography of Iran (Agriculture). Press SID Mashhad.
- McCracken, C., 2012. More of the Untold Story.
- Najmabadi, H. et al., 2003. The Iranian Human Mutation Gene Bank: a data and sample resource for worldwide collaborative genetics research. Human Mutation: Variation, Informatics and Disease, 21(2), pp.146–150.
- Rahimpour, M., Sardari, S. & Ebrahimi, B., 2015. The view of Iranian people about GMO Products Consumption, Tehran.
- Schmitz, A. & Moss, C., 2016. Mechanized Agriculture: Machine Adoption, Farm Size, and Labor Displacement.
- Sela, I., Rabinowitch, H. & Gover, O., 2015. Introducing dna into plant cells. US Patent App. 14/641,395.
- Shuval, H., 2012. Water renovation and reuse.
- Sivakumar, M., Das, H. & Brunini, O., 2005. Impacts of present and future climate variability and change on agriculture and forestry in the arid and semi-arid tropics. Climatic Change.
- Valipour, M., 2012. Critical areas of Iran for agriculture water management according to the annual rainfall. European Journal of Scientific Research.
- Viala, E., 2008. Water for food, water for life a comprehensive assessment of water management in agriculture. Irrigation and Drainage Systems. [Accessed March 10, 2016].
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