Feature: Israeli companies promoting urban agriculture techs

Saturday, 2018-10-13 12:21:37
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A net greenhouse in Los Pinos, Mexico, the largest greenhouse tomato project in the country, developed with Israel's Netafim drip irrigation and greenhouse technology. (Photo: The Times of Israel)
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Israeli companies and experts are part of a global effort to promote and develop urban agriculture technologies. They believe urban farming is the way to secure food supply around the world.

"There are three main technological ways to do urban agriculture, and we are involved in all of them by working with most of startups and companies in these field around the world," Dubi Raz, agronomy director of Israeli drip irrigation giant Netafim Global, said in an interview with Xinhua.

The technology which makes urban agriculture possible is the ability to grow crops without the need for land and sun. It is a revolutionary technology which makes it possible to produce food anywhere in the universe.

Instead of the sunlight, there is a special artificial light which is designed and adjusted to crop individually. This modification ensures perfect growing conditions.

The second revolutionary part of urban farming is the use of water or special substrate instead of soil to grow vegetables and fruits. These technologies make it possible to grow crops on walls or vertical layers.

Although the technology exists, it is still an expensive practice in most cases.

"Because it is costly to grow crops inside the city. It doesn't make sense to produce sample wheat, tomatoes or any other plants, which consume lots of expensive energy to provide the artificial conditions," Raz said.

"That's why most of the urban agriculture is applied to leafy vegetables with really short growing cycle," Raz explained.

However, not everyone takes economic factors as top priority.

Tagit Klimor is a founding partner of Knafo Klimor Architects and a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning at the Israeli Technion Institution.

Knafo Klimor Architects designed a huge vertical productive wall at Expo 2015 exhibition in Italy, showing the world the possibility of growing wheat, rice and corn in building walls.

"In a sustainable economy, we need to put into consideration the damage to the nature, pollution, energy consumption and so on," said Klimor.

"In urban agriculture, we are giving exact amount of water and ingredients the crops need ... for example, all the water are coming from the growing facility usage," Klimor added.

For health issues, urban agriculture products are more fresh with more nutrition ingredients.

However, Israeli government wants to encourage local farmers to grow crops in the countryside instead of cities.

"There are only a handful of urban agriculture places in Israel, and they are pretty lame," Avigail Heller, head of Urban Agriculture Community Branch at the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, told Xinhua.

Heller said that the Israeli government is not encouraging the urban farming. Taxes on urban farmers are higher than traditional agriculture farmers.

"Israel is a small country where the farm fields are a half-hour drive from the cities. So there is no initiative to grow crops in cities where the land is much more expensive," said Zvi Alon, director general of Israel Plants Board.

"Our mission is to continue to lead and improve our techniques of making more crops by using less water and soil. It is the real solution to the food shortage crisis," concluded Alon.