Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Tel Aviv on 4 July for a three day visit. The two countries established full diplomatic relations 25 years ago but this is the first time ever that an Indian PM has visited Israel. It was not Mr Modi’s first trip to Israel, however. In 2006, as Chief Minister of Gujarat, he visited the country to investigate Israeli drip irrigation, which India duly bought after his tour.
Even though defence and security popularly characterise the Indo-Israeli partnership, the two countries are increasingly focussed on technological and business collaboration, mainly in the fields of agriculture and water conservation. Companies from both countries inked technology and business-to-business agreements worth US$4.3 billion ($5.6 billion) (excluding defence) in a move many argue is a step towards a broadening partnership.
India’s unstable long-term food and water security is indicative of its ever-growing interest in Israeli food and water management. Mr Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presided over the inaugural CEO’s Forum, which aims to improve business-to-business links between India and Israel. The Forum, with about 15 companies from each country attending, sought to extend the length of business visas, to open up India’s agricultural sector to more investment and to make the overall transfer of knowledge and people easier. Additionally, both leaders initiated the Israel-India Innovation Initiative Fund, or I4F. Each government will put US$4 million ($5.2 million) a year for five years into the fund to encourage Indian firms to open development centres in Israel, and Israeli companies to quench India’s increasing thirst for water treatment and conservation plants.
Due to climate change, changing rainfall patterns and hikes in temperatures, India needs to diversify when it comes to planting crops. Since farming is becoming an increasingly uncertain practice, farmers must plant a variety of crops each season in case one, or more, of them fails. Furthermore, Indian farmers need to move towards more heat-resistant crops, such as chickpeas, pulses, millets and sorghum, as temperatures continue to rise. Those crops, however, suffer from chronic underinvestment as they do not fetch a high price at market. Their health benefits and the security they offer to farmers, however, are slowly being recognised. Given those positive signs, it is possible that Israeli investment will be directed into modernising India’s cropping habits, perhaps through the already successful Indo-Israeli Agricultural Project. India could gather the relevant knowledge and investment elsewhere, but Israel certainly possesses the expertise that Indian farmers require. Through the aforementioned Agricultural Project, Israel has established some fifteen Centres of Excellence across India, with plans to expand that number to 25 over the next two to five years, which have provided India with the knowledge on how to ‘diversify its fruit and vegetable crop’. Israel also has experience in producing heat-resistant crops, knowledge that India is hungry to obtain.
Modi also sought out more Israeli investment in India’s water management technologies. India’s ground and glacial water sources are rapidly receding and that, coupled with the country’s varying monsoon, means more investment is needed in water conservation technologies. Since traditional sources are running out, India may have to look to the sea for alternative water supplies, a position similar to that of Israel. During his visit, Modi test drove a recently developed “mobile desalination buggy” that turns sea water into potable water to be consumed or used for irrigative purposes. Furthermore, India is experimenting with artificial groundwater recharge, a process of manually inserting water back into the ground to replenish an aquifer. Israel has over 20 years of experience in that field. The Dan Region Wastewater Reclamation Project involves collecting wastewater, treating it, placing it back into the ground and then reusing it across the Tel-Aviv-Jaffa region and other surrounding areas to service about 1.3 million people. It is therefore quite obvious why Mr Modi wants to make India an easier place for Israel to do business in.
Given the salience of food and water security to India’s overall stability, the extensive courting of Israel was a signal to Modi’s support base back home, mainly the farming community, which accounts for ‘15 per cent of India’s US$2 trillion ($2.6 trillion) economy and employs more than half of the country’s 1.3 billion people.’ India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), promised to double farmers’ incomes by 2022 and, given the recent loan waivers for farmers and the GST’s embrace of agriculture, one could argue that absorbing more Israeli technology is a signal that the BJP, above all other parties, keeps its promises. The BJP is obsessed with “promise keeping” and believes that it is the only party that enacts policies that are best for the country, no matter the political cost. Even though the recent loan waivers, the GST and the India-Israel meeting all carried some political risk, the BJP will continue to implement policies that strive to fulfil their election promises.