Yaron Tamir : AgroStudies, a unique Israeli program to become an agriculture entrepreneur
Agriculture is a money-making business if the farmer is a true entrepreneur who applies the best and most appropriate solutions to the local context. This is taught at the AgroStudies international training center in Israel, which Yaron Tamir has run since 2005.
It is essentially field education accessible to the most motivated agricultural students from West and East Africa and Asia, selected by their universities in African and Asian countries in partnership with the Israeli Embassies, Mashav which is the Israeli Cooperation Agency to the international development of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and AgroStudies.
Would you tell us about AgroStudies and your links with the Ministry ?
AgroStudies was established 17 years ago. It is a daughter organization of Granot which is an agriculture cooperative owned by kibbutz. So, it is a secondary cooperative, the largest agriculture cooperative in Israel.
AgroStudies is part of a main concept that the Israeli knowledge should be shared with other countries. As you know, Israel is a very small country with almost no land, no water, a very hot climate. So, we had to improve ourselves as not to starve and developed a very good and advanced agriculture.
The concept of AgroStudies is that students who finish their degree in his university -whether it be in Africa, Asia or Latin America- have a common knowledge: water is always water, the plant is the same plant, the chemistry is the same chemistry. But the big difference is that in countries with more traditional agriculture, knowledge usually stays at the university. It does not go on to the field.
On this matter, Israel is a very good example of the share of knowledge. Our concept is that the future farmer that comes from abroad has learned what he or she needs to know in theory at the university and when they come to Israel, we want to expose them to agriculture that they could not experience in their own countries. So, we are not a university and we are not a replacement to university. For us, they have learned the language in university and now we need to teach them how to write their own book, how to use it.
How do you select your students ?
When we select universities to join the AgroStudies program, we send first a fact-finding mission. Then, it is the universities in the different countries who select the students that are supposed to come to Israel. Our concept is that students should come from a university from remote areas because we aim that after they finish the program, they will return to their village and establish their own farm.
In Israel, we help him or her explore and develop their entrepreneurship side and character. So, one of the most important things that we look at in our selection of students is their entrepreneurs and their level of expectation, those that have the eagerness to do things, to improve things. And our objective is that once he is back in his village and opens his farm, he will use the things he learnt in Israel and will share it with the other farmers in the village. And we have thousand of cases that show that it is happening.
You know, today, it is not easy to convince someone to go into agriculture. They often prefer to go into less intensive jobs in air-conditioned room. It is not easy to be a famer!
So, it is quite a unique program. You hardly have it anywhere else in the world. We know it is successful because all the countries that participate seek higher quotas of students for their country and for their university.
How many countries are you partner with ?
14 at the moment of which 9 African.
How many students did you have from West Africa last year ?
In West Africa, we operate in Ivory Coast, Benin, Togo, in Ghana, Liberia. We used to work in Burkina but it is becoming difficult.
I am a student in, say, Côte d’Ivoire, how do I get to you ?
First of all, you need to be enrolled in one of the universities we operate with. Our partners are all agriculture universities. Israel needs to be part of his agriculture degree so he come to Israel just before finishing his degree or just after. Because if the student goes back to his country for one more year of university, he forgets what he has learnt in Israel.In Israel, before a student arrives, we decide on which farm he will be located. To do this, we give the university abroad a farm description with all the agricultural activities that are being done on that farm in Israel. And the university should do the match between the interest that the student shows in certain agricultural products and what we have to offer in that farm. So, the university has a very important role.
When the student arrives in Israel, on the first day, he is given a laptop. Everything is on it and it is his to keep because when he will return to his country, when he will see in the field an insect he does not know, or a problem, he can log in our system and find the answer. He will also be able to contact his lecturer in Israel. Our purpose is to help them with knowledge once they have returned to their homeland.
Five days a week, the student is out in the field with Israeli farmer. This is the most important thing the Israeli farmer can give him because the farmer is very task oriented. Farmers wish to make money and he will teach him to become a professional modern agriculture. For example, we used to have many mango trees in Israel but it was not profitable so it was cut off to plant other things like avocadoes. So, it is important for the students to understand that a famer is a businessman. You need to make money.
Food security problem is all about raising yields. So, we teach the students how to deal with a plantation, how to do the right pruning, how to allow the plantation to grow the proper way and how to plant the right way. We have a demonstration farm next to every campus. This demonstration farm actually shows low-cost farming, yet very modern farming. It could show the best farming practices but they prefer to show them something that will be important when they are back in their country. Because sometimes, with very small things, you can increase your yields significantly.For example ?
We know today that rice cultivation through flooding is causing land harm because the root of the rice gets oxygen but not as much as it should. So, we you use drip irrigation and you actually get higher yields because it gets better oxygen. And when you harvest, you cut the rice and you leave 30 cm. After 60 days, you have another yield of 85%. Drip irrigation for rice is Israeli technology. It is very popular in India!
What programs do you have ?
We have two: horticulture which is done in English and in French; Animal Science is in English (the highest yield in milk is done by Israeli cow) which includes poultry and aquafarming.
Do students have a scholarship ?
Five days a week, the student is out in the farm together with the Israeli agronomist or farmer. He does all of the farming activity at the farm. For this, he gets paid according to the Israeli law which is about $ 9 an hour. From this amount, he pays his tuition fee, his travel to Israel and yet he is able to save a significant amount of money.
Here, along the agriculture course, students have a business course with all the data coming from their country: the soil, the climate, etc. They do their own business plan for immediate implementation. So, they return with the knowledge they have from the fields, they have their business proposal and they have the capital to start out with.
We encourage agricultural universities in Africa to do an agriculture hub and to lease the land to our graduates who come back from Israel. And if they establish together a cooperative and the university leases them the land, they can teach those who did not have the opportunity to go to Israel. Again, it is a win-win for the community.