This year’s World Food Day seemed more timely, pressing and distressing than usual. COVID-19 has brought to the fore significant food system weaknesses and has prompted a drastic increase in hunger throughout the world. There is a tragic irony at the fact that this follows so closely on the heels of the fifth anniversary of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: the world’s best attempt to date to create a roadmap to rid the world of many ills, including hunger. Closer to home, this strange Sukkot without the usual familial hustle and bustle has been yet another reminder of COVID-19’s wide reaching impact.
In this atmosphere of doom and gloom, what news can we turn to for hope? What has Israel done to secure the ‘Zero Hunger’ Sustainable Development Goal that now seems so elusive?
Here is a selection of some of our favourite reasons to be hopeful.
1) World-leading agricultural research
Israel continues to lead the way in developing cutting-edge expertise and innovations designed to address the needs of a hungry and thirsty world.
Minimizing post-harvest losses - Scientists at Israel’s national research institute – the Volcani Center - have achieved unprecedented minimization of post-harvest grain loss. Israel now boasts record numbers for preventing post-harvest grain losses (0.1-0.5%) compared to the world average (10-30%). This approach is being shared with international organisations, scientists and beneficiaries around the world.
Building resilience to climate change - Wheat is eaten by 2.5 billion people across the world and demand for wheat is set to increase over the coming decades. Climate change, increased temperatures and drought all threaten global wheat production. Wheat originated in the Fertile Crescent, under arid and semi-arid conditions and Volcani scientists are using a wide range of local wild relatives and landraces to breed climate resilient cultivars. This has resulted in several commercial cultivars.
2) Pursuing sustainability and conservation to ensure the food security of today and tomorrow
Sustainable farming - In 2018, Volcani established a Sustainable Model Farm for the testing, development and demonstration of sustainable agricultural practices. Volcani’s scientists are working to provide an answer to the question, “How can we realise higher production levels to meet future demand, whilst preserving the environment?”
Combatting desertification – Scientists at Volcani have contributed greatly to efforts to combat desertification through the development of procedures to prevent and reduce land degradation, rehabilitate already degraded soils, and reclaim desertified land. These procedures are shared with international organisations, scientists and soil conservation experts around the world.
Preserving diverse seed varieties - Israel’s Plant Gene Bank, hosted by the Volcani Center, works to conserve the genetic resources of regional vegetation. It is a physical repository for collected seeds for current and future uses and development, and is also part of the collection and conservation programme for wild plants from natural habitats all over Israel.
3) International outreach and partnerships
International capacity-building programmes - In 2018 alone, MASHAV's agriculture programming delivered capacity-building and training activities in Israel and abroad to over 2300 participants. In addition, 40 short-term consultancies were carried out abroad.
Supporting olive growers in Jordan and the West Bank - Through our Olive Oil for Peace programme, we leverage Israel’s extensive expertise to support olive growers in the West Bank, Jordan and Israel. Indeed, whether through the use of recycled water for olive irrigation or protocols which optimize the use of every drop of water, Israel is a leader in sustainably maximizing olive yields in arid areas. The programme not only improves the livelihoods of these local olive growers and manufacturers, but also creates opportunities for communication between the participants, thus strengthening cooperation and mutual trust.
Israel & the hummingbird
The story of the hummingbird is a popular one in environmental circles, often used as a rallying cry for each and every person to take action. It goes something like this:
One day, a devastating fire is raging in a forest. The animals, distraught, stand slightly removed from the trees that they once called home and watch in despair. Only the hummingbird, small as it may be, can be seen flying furiously from a nearby stream to the fire, releasing a few drops of water on the flames with every trip. One of the animals calls to the singed and struggling bird:
‘Why are you even trying? That’s not going to make a difference.’ to which the hummingbird replies:
‘True, but I’ll have played my part.’
In our experience, this message resonates instinctively with many Israelis. After all, it somewhat resembles the Jewish concept of Tikun Olam (‘repairing the world’): a responsibility often described as being too large to undertake alone but too important to leave to another.
There has not been much cause for celebration this World Food Day and, of course, we believe that there is much more that Israel can and should do. But Israel, small as it may be, is playing its part.