Thoughts on Israeli agriculture in the shadow of global climate change
Gideon Bacher and Moti Kaplan, Angle - Science and Environment News Agency
The shopping basket that we returned with today from the supermarket was extremely poor and shabby and horribly expensive: a handful of tangerines at the price of tens of shekels and some cucumbers and tomatoes at similar prices. There was no regular bread, only potato flour pitas that cost NIS 25 each. That's all we could find, as the shelves of fresh farm produce were almost completely empty.
True, this is not really what happened today, but such a scenario may well occur in Israel as a result of a combination of several phenomena: the considerable and deliberate reduction of the agricultural areas in the country, and the effects of climate change, which will lead to a dramatic increase in food prices in the world.
In recent years, we have witnessed an expanding phenomenon of significant encroachment on the extent of agricultural areas, especially in the center of the country, in favor of the construction of residences and infrastructure. In about twenty years, the agricultural areas in Israel have shrunk considerably. In the early 10,000s, the rate of construction on agricultural land was about 2.6 dunams per year, and it is constantly increasing. This rate may even increase in order to meet the government's decision to create a planning stock of approximately 2040 million housing units by XNUMX.
Although, part of the planning is expected to be in the saturation and densification of the built tissue through building clearance, building to height and more, but the main part of it is to be built on open areas - mainly agricultural areas that will be converted into built-up areas according to the planning.
Why does China lease land in Africa?
Today there are approximately 9 million people living in Israel and the population growth projections for 2040 indicate an increase of more than 3 million people. As of today, Israel provides a significant portion of the food production required for its population by itself, but with the reduction of agricultural areas, and with the increase in the size of the population, a considerable amount of areas will be required in order to satisfy the requirements.
The thought guiding the trend of milling in agricultural areas is that agricultural area can be given up in order to increase the supply of land for housing in the areas of demand. At the same time, the call is getting stronger to let the market forces do whatever they want in the field of food supply and to open the local market to imports without restrictions from abroad. Lowering the price burden on the consumer is seen as a main goal.
However, the supporters of converting agricultural areas into built-up areas and opening the market to uncontrolled imports of agricultural products ignore, among other things, the effects of climate change on world food production. After all, damage to agricultural production is already clearly visible in many parts of the world, especially in countries subject to fluctuations in precipitation, countries on the book of the desert and in areas affected by sea level rise, floods and extreme events. It is clear that the competition for fertile land and water will only increase and with it an increase in prices and shortages. Especially in light of the fact that the world's population is expected to add another two billion people by the year 2050, along with increasing demands for agricultural products for human food, agriculture and industry.
Several countries recognized the trend long ago and began leasing agricultural land and nearby water sources beyond their borders - to satisfy their needs and ensure their food security. Saudi Arabia, for example, which suffers from a massive depletion of its aquifers, leased thousands of acres of agricultural land in the US to grow alfalfa, to feed the cows in its dairy farm. China, which suffers from severe desertification processes, has been plowing land in Africa for years to grow fruits and vegetables that are sent back to the homeland. And there are many more examples.
to maintain the agricultural assets
Beyond the geopolitical events and geoclimatic changes, there is another reason to prefer local production of food: public health. Relying on fresh, high-quality food with distinct nutritional benefits is better than transporting food from a distance, which loses its quality and freshness.
Beyond that, the preservation of agricultural areas has additional advantages over food production - in providing green lungs to the crowded population, in creating open, wide and peaceful landscapes, which can be seen from the city and the main roads, as a cultural value and a national historical memory of the landscapes of the beginning of the settlement and of the historical agricultural past of the Land of Israel, as an ecological corridor Between nature reserves, and more. It should be noted that in most European countries it is customary to provide government aid to agriculture, for these external contributions, which go beyond food production (which is an integral part of the environmental and agricultural policies of the OECD countries). It is appropriate that the principles of the policy required for the strict safeguarding of the country's agricultural assets be assimilated among the ministries concerned (ministries of finance, agriculture and environmental protection) in Israel as well.
And what about solving the housing problems? The need for additional apartments, employment and industrial areas does exist, and providing a response to this need is the clear duty of the state, but this solution does not necessarily have to be at the expense of open and agricultural areas. Israeli cities are spacious and sparse, and a large part of the new construction is still of a rural, suburban, detached and wasteful character. The planning system in its forms in the country has long proven that it is possible and proper to gather in the existing cities, to increase the density, at the same time to raise the urban standard of living, and to move from a rural-suburban culture to a metropolitan urban culture. This is the spirit adopted by the national master plans, which call for the prevention of waste and encroachment in the agricultural areas, and convergence towards the saturation of the existing cities. It is understood that this also requires the development of systems for mass transportation, public transportation, as is customary in reformed countries.
Israel must take these trends and processes into account, in order to provide the necessary nutritional security for its population. It must also adopt a strict policy in the protection of agricultural areas and their preservation, as well as open areas in general in the State of Israel. We must not reach a situation where we will be exclusively dependent on importing food from abroad. Rather, we must take all the necessary steps to encourage and strengthen agriculture, whether they are regulatory, financial, support for Israeli agriculture, the preservation of knowledge and expertise in diverse forms of aid, as is customary in the world.
A very interesting article recently published in the scientific journal, Ecology and Environment, which found that under current conditions, and with relatively minor changes in food production, plant agriculture in Israel is able to provide food security for its citizens. Hence, and all the more, it is our duty to preserve the agricultural production capacities in the country, primarily the protection of the agricultural areas.
Gideon Bacher is Ambassador and Special Representative for Africa at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and lectures on the implications of climate change on international relations at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
Moti Kaplan is a planner, advisor to the director of planning at the Ministry of Finance on national planning issues, and to governments in Africa, South America and UNDP on agriculture, environment, and ways to deal with the threats of climate change.