Although Israel’s population accounts for less than the margin of error in China’s population census, and the two countries have great variance in geography and economic structure, China and Israel are both ancient civilizations that are redefining themselves. They boast strong track records in academia, business, and culture, and they are forging a rich track record in business and technological exchange.
Food is a big concern in China — especially since the country witnessed, in living memory, severe shortages and famines. China is investing heavily in modernizing its agricultural capabilities, and its most recent five-year plan serves as a blueprint for and prioritizes sustainable agriculture. The initiative calls for $914 billion in aid to ensure stable supplies of food.
In addition to feeding 1.3 billion-plus Chinese, the country has experienced an endless spate of food safety scandals: tampered ingredients — most recently, rat meat was passed off as lamb. The consumer response has sparked a food consciousness renaissance. Chinese consumers have developed a heightened awareness that they need to investigate their food sources and they are now willing to pay hefty fees — upward of 400 percent in price increases for organic products and imports from abroad — for goods that are guaranteed to be safe. To compound the country’s food problems, China’s agricultural market faces other challenges: because of overtilling, over-grazing, deforestation, and haphazard land management, as well as an overreliance on chemical additives, the soil is degraded. While the country boasts more than 20 percent of the global population, its arable land has been estimated to be less than 6 percent. China’s water constitutes no more than 7 percent of the available water on the planet.
In Israel, necessity pushed the country early on to be innovative in its agricultural systems. Because the country had to be food independent, Israeli agricultural companies developed the skills, technologies, and approaches that are now quite precious. Decades ago, it built sustainable agricultural areas in the desert and addressed natural resource restriction and greater demands for yields. Today, a global economy is beginning to clamor for these solutions.
But China’s Achilles heel is also its secret weapon. With a population that can tip the scales globally, not only does the Middle Kingdom attract the hungry aspirations of corporations and investors worldwide, but its size can also accelerate changes in business that influence the direction of world economies. Take, for example, the clean technology industry. After passing the Renewable Energy Law in 2005, the Chinese government built a framework that propelled its corporations onto the international level. Its wind power, solar panels, and battery power companies, as well as its hydropower industry, have gained universal acclaim. The country intends 15 percent of its total energy consumption to come from renewable sources by 2020. Similarly, even while the government is focused on land consolidation, mechanization, and the professionalization of its agricultural industry, there remains a determined focus on sustainable solutions, which in Chinese is called “smart” or “intelligent” agriculture.
Israel is poised to do well in agricultural collaborations with China. Israeli innovations in sustainable solutions, often called “agritech” or “agtech,” would meet current needs without compromising the ability of subsequent generations to meet future needs. Successful agritech development reconciles environmental, social, and economic demands simultaneously, so what makes good business sense also makes sense for the planet and its people. Israel’s commitment to “smart” solutions that integrate data and technology, not just as implements on the field, but also as tools for planning and strategy, would be invaluable in China, where resource efficiency is not just a mode of survival, but also a strategy with long threads in Chinese culture. Moreover, the practical (“tachlis”) approach of Israelis means that not all solutions are high-tech and expensive. Rather, approaches that would merely require a shift in systems thinking, such as no-tillage or drip irrigation, are seen as cost-appropriate for a country with a huge disparity of wealth between the urban and the rural, farming poor.
Nonetheless, Israeli companies face a distinct set of challenges in entering China. As they attempt to navigate the world’s largest agricultural producer, they will need to bring focused business strategies that are nimble and able to accommodate China’s cultural, business, and political norms. If Israeli companies don’t adequately prepare, research, and conduct due diligence, they will face off against brutal negotiating partners and become lost in the chaos and noise of a booming marketplace.
Sustainability in agriculture is no longer the pipe dream of a group of outlier activists: it is integral to growing food — assuming that we all wish for an adequate supply of food for the human community for generations to come. Now that China has recognized it must minimize pollution, reduce the use of natural resources, and continue to ensure high yields of safe and healthy food, a massive modern agriculture market is emerging for great technologies from abroad. Many of these technologies were initially designed and developed in Israel.