Israel and Viet Nam working together in agriculture

Thursday, Dec 27, 2018 08:58

Gil Haskel, Head of Mashav. — Photo courtesy of Israel Embassy

Israel and Viet Nam share the similarity as the agriculture sector is known as the key economic industry for the two economies. But while Israel is more popular for its high-tech agro applications to improve the productivity and quality, Viet Nam still lags behind the world regarding its manual production method. The future of the Vietnamese agro sector relies on start-up companies and an option is to send Vietnamese youngsters to Israel to study the country’s high-tech agro industry.

Gil Haskel, head of the Israeli international aid development agency Mashav, speaks to Vietnam News Agency on how to encourage more agro start-ups through bilateral internship and training programmes.

Could you please give an overview of the agricultural internship programme for Vietnamese students in Israel?

Israel holds an internship programme for agricultural students from 25 countries all around the world. The largest partner for this programme is Viet Nam with 700 students annually. These students are expected to be second-year graduates in agriculture studies. Before the third year, they travel to Israel for one year of internship and on-the-job training, where agriculture theoretical topics will be taken one day a week in the training centre. The rest of the week is dedicated to practical training and work on the farm with high-tech agricultural equipment. The students will get the wage for the works in the farm but they also have to pay the tuition fee for their study in the training centre.

The internship is a unique training programme of 11 months in agriculture, combining advanced studies and hands on ‘learning by doing’ in various fields. It falls under the management and supervision of several ministries in Israel such as Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Trade and Labour. The programme has been running in Viet Nam for 14 years.

What are the achievements that we have got with this co-operation?

The total number of graduates of this programme is around 5,000-6,000 for the past 14 years. After 11 months, the students come back with deeper knowledge and more experiences. We would like to believe these graduates are becoming the backbone of modern agriculture in Viet Nam. One of the purposes of my visit this time is to discuss with the Government of Viet Nam about post-training after they come back to Viet Nam in the way that they will be able to either establish their own independent, large-scale, agri-technological farms or they will be employed in large-scale projects in Viet Nam, by multinational companies, or they will return to universities to teach other students.

According to the report, 5 per cent of graduates have founded their own farms or businesses, half of them have got good jobs in private, foreign and State-owned institution, 20 per cent of them have gone abroad for further study and working; and a quarter of them have continued their academic studies in the university.

I’ve visited some in other provinces. We saw projects in the field of agriculture, specifically the greenhouses where they grow melons and others where they breed fish. These projects’ yield is 7-10 times more than they would have before applying Israeli technology. So this makes the programme very beneficial to the agriculture output in Viet Nam. We believe if all the graduates implement what they have witnessed and studied in Israel, they can turn the face of the Vietnamese agriculture sector in a very dramatic manner. This is the purpose of this programme.

Almost all the high tech agriculture projects have employed the graduates from Israel such as Vineco, TH True Milk, Lam Son, Hoang Anh Gia Lai and Trung Nguyen.

In the past few years, many start-ups have appeared in Viet Nam and a lot of them have failed due to lack of capital and technologies. So could you give some advices for young start-ups in Viet Nam about how they can do? And what the authorities can do to help them?

Isreali agriculture is based on the idea of opening and doing more with less since the country lacks water resource, soil and more. We have to find the way to advance agriculture by using tech apps to enhance the yield of farmers. The results can be seen in Israeli agriculture. Today only 3 per cent of the population is working in the agro sector. We are using less and less water for crops, but still we are able to produce not only for domestic consumption but also export to different part of the world.

Israel is co-operating with Viet Nam in order to share the experience and knowledge it has. We are doing so through internship programmes and courses conducted in Israel for Vietnamese experts, and in exchange, bring Israeli experts to Viet Nam to work with farmers and communities.

In order for the country to succeed in the field of start-ups, there has to be a transformation of the entire ecosystem, and the whole Government and non-Government sectors. All stakeholders, including the Government, academia, businesses and the financial sector, must be co-ordinated. That will allow young entrepreneurs to develop an idea into a start-up, to foster a start-up into a small company, and to promote a small company into a large-scale manufacturing unit. Then Viet Nam will be able to develop a start-up ecosystem like Israel. And Israel is willing to work with the Government of Viet Nam in order to build such an ecosystem.

The system should create favourable conditions for the youngsters in order for them to be as productive as possible. Without these conditions, it will not happen. We understand there is no magic wand that can be waved to make a start-up. It’s a long process, it’s a structural change in the way the Government looks at its youngsters and entrepreneurship.

What would your advise Vietnamese small- and medium-sized companies want to co-operate with Israeli counterparts to develop high-tech agriculture?

I’m not dealing directly with the business connection. I’m dealing with capacity building and training. On the B2B relations, it has to be related with other Israeli authorities, not Mashav. Mashav is only responsible for transferring Israeli know-how, experience and technologies to the Vietnamese professionals.

With any businesses opening, you need to understand the market, the area, and the crop so you have the best way to grow your businesses. However, not all technology can be used for all farmers. You need to choose suitable tech applications, which must adapt to the business plan. Things people learn through internship is not only technology benefits, but also better management, for better ideas. — VNS

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