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Israel

CHURCH GROUP USES ISRAELI TECHNIQUES TO REVIVE FARMING

Updated: February 26, 2001 05:00 PM GMT
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Some Jews who migrated to Israel 50 years ago from Kerala have teamed up with a Church group to help poor farmers in the southern Indian state.

The Jewish group joined with Indian friends to form Isra Agrotech Systems, a foundation that aims to share Israeli farming technology and science with Indian farmers.

The Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI) congregation, a native Religious order, is helping introduce the new farm technologies to local farmers, who are reeling from a steep fall in prices of their produce.

A majority of Kerala´s 6 million Christians are farmers who cultivate cash crops such as rubber, pepper, coconut, cardamom and other tropical spices.

Most agricultural products now sell for only one-third of their prices some 10 years ago, and farmers have complained of a three-fold increase in the cost of farming inputs during the same period.

Media and market experts have noted that the crash began after India opened its local market to global trading in 1991, forcing Indian farmers to compete with the international market.

The Carmelite priests view enhancement of Kerala´s agricultural systems as the only way to help the farmers.

The Kuriakose Elias Social Service Society, a social service center founded in memory of CMI founder Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara, is the official partner of the technology transfer project in Kerala.

Based in Trichur, it has already conducted feasibility studies and will start experimental farming in the state in the next three months with the help of the Jews, reported "Deepika," a Church-backed local newspaper.

Society director Father George Thaliaparampil told media persons that they will introduce the farming technology in nine districts of Kerala.

Ignatius Gonsalves, an expert on the Jews of Kochi, has hailed them as "the architects of agricultural revolution in Israel."

Gonsalves, who has visited Israel several times, said the Jews from Kochi wanted to share their agricultural technology with India, especially Kerala.

Jews were never persecuted in India. They first settled in Kochi, Kerala´s commercial capital 2,595 kilometers south of New Delhi. Now, less than 50 Jews live in 14 families in Kochi, where some 20,000 lived before the migration.

"Jews who lived in and around Kochi for centuries knew the land, its people and climate well and always considered it their motherland," Gonsalves, the project´s strategy consultant, told UCA News Feb. 26.

When Kochi Jews migrated to Israel 1950-1970, the newly formed country assigned them only to agriculture and farming, regardless of their skills and educational qualifications, said Gonsalves. This situation challenged the migrants to apply innovative and modern farming techniques.

Bazalel Eliahu, 75, the "master farmer" of the Kochi Jews, initiated Isra Agrotech Systems, and his son Barack Eliahu is the project´s mainstay.

An agricultural researcher, Barack and his friends have completed a series of feasibility studies in Kerala and neighboring Tamil Nadu states for the application of farming technologies in peninsular India.

"Kerala farmlands can work wonders if we followed Israeli systems," Barack, 30, told media at a meeting at the CMI generalate in Kerala Feb. 21.

"Scientific farming could help the situation," Barack said. He promised to introduce new seeds and systematic irrigation techniques developed in Israel.

Isra experts want Indian farmers to "open their minds" to modern systems of farming and abandon traditional systems that rely on monsoon rains, he said.

Other experts pointed out that Kerala farmers have to change their irrigation systems and way of applying manure, and adopt techniques that make water and fertilizer reach plants directly.

"The Jews are now experts in desert farming and eco-friendly cultivation," noted Gonsalves, adding that their techniques would greatly benefit Kerala.

He said that despite severe soil problems in Israel, farmers there produce several fold more than Indian farmers.

END

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