There was much speculation preceding Narendra Modi's recently-concluded prime ministerial visit to Israel. The speculation centred around how Indo-Israeli agreements, such as the latter's support for upgrading the former's defence and cyber security systems, would play out. This gained added significance in the light of mounting tensions over the perceived 'war efforts' staged by China on the northeastern frontiers, apart from the perpetual threat of terrorism from Pakistan. Israel has been an ally to India since the Kargil war, the chief supplier of the latest defence equipment. Having said that, cautious measures must be adopted at the border, and care should be taken to maintain constructive dialogue among neighbouring states on the sharing of land and water. This is especially important when both neighbours have nuclear arms. War situations should be avoided at all costs.
There were other things that the prime minister needed to keep in mind: states where farmers' unrest has ravaged the agrarian way of life, which still supports over 15 per cent of the national gross domestic product and 45 per cent of the population. He also needed to think about states currently under drought watch, those where groundwater levels have reached an all-time low, and those where waste-water management is still in its primitive stages.
A step in the right direction has been taken with the agreement to establish a strategic partnership in water management and agriculture. There is also Israel's effort to offer a set of federal schemes as aid to all nations around the world where populations live below the poverty line and lack safe and sustainable infrastructure. Put simply, this involves lending technology and innovation to developing economies as part of the capacity building programme of MASHAV - Israel's Agency for International Development Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs - which states in its mission goal that it addresses development challenges through a comprehensive and holistic approach. This includes dealing with several intersecting issues such as gender equality, health, education and environment. MASHAV particularly emphasizes demand-driven programmes, country programme ownership and alignment with the national development programmes.
On the agricultural-ecological front, about 100 strategic courses are offered to 1,500-2,000 professionals annually from 100 developing nations. These impart hands-on training on applied aspects of environmental mitigation/adaptation. The prime focus of MASHAV is agriculture and rural development, which includes water management, combating desertification, irrigation and water efficiency, livestock and dairy milk development, integrated pest management, post-harvest management and storage. Even gender equality in terms of women's empowerment in the agrarian sector is part of the curricula. This is one aspect that urgently needs policy reforms in India.
The recent farmers' agitations have already seen protests, suicides and unprecedented damage to property. Several states have already announced farm loan waivers. This step, however, barely addresses the main problem: drought that leads to crop and livestock loss. Interestingly, India had already established bilateral ties with Israel on agricultural productivity in the past. Among the issues on which Israel is to help as per the Indo-Israel Agriculture Project, signed in 2006, were sustainable food, water and waste management, agricultural capacity building, innovation and technology sharing for various sectors, rural development and economic growth, and food production without causing ecological damage. The India-Israel relationship must focus on methods to secure sustainable amenities for marginal agricultural labour, not just ammunition agreements.