Feature: Israeli agritech sector flourishes amid growing need for innovation

Source: Xinhua| 2018-04-23 18:41:47|Editor: pengying
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By Keren Setton

JERUSALEM, April 23 (Xinhua) -- The Israeli agritech sector is blooming and everybody wants in.

Known to have a highly innovative and nurturing hi-tech ecosystem, Israel has a relative advantage due to years of overcoming less than ideal conditions and evolving into a thriving agricultural powerhouse that has provided the world with some breakthrough solutions.

Israel, a largely arid country, has been successful in making its desert go from brown and dusty to a flourishing green. One of the world's pioneers in agricultural developments, drip irrigation was invented in the small country and is now used in farms across the globe.

Nurit Levi, chief editor of the IsraelAgri.com website said the current climate conditions in the world together with the local expertise offered by Israel firms make them attractive investments.

"Precision agriculture and precision irrigation which developed in Israel due to its own needs, now have greater meaning in the whole world," Levi told Xinhua, "As land and water resources dwindle because of climate change, there is a greater need for these technologies."

Ori Ben Ner is the chief marketing officer for SupPlant, a plant-based autonomous irrigation system which determines how much water plants need through various sensors situated on both the plants and the ground. By offering Big Data Irrigation (BDI), the company is on the cutting-edge of agricultural developments.

SupPlant technology is already being used in 14 different countries and in hundreds of plots.

"On average, we help save between 20-30 percent in water usage and we significantly increase the yields," Ben Ner told Xinhua, "We are capable of keeping plants at very low stress levels and keep watering them so they remain like that."

The appeal of such technology is clear-cut.

The need for autonomous irrigation is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years.

According to Ben Ner, he is not aware of similar technology available at the moment. Most companies are limited to automatic, not autonomous, irrigation based on humidity of the soil but not real-time data or sensors that then "close the circle of irrigation."

"This is how irrigation will look like in the 21st century, it would be irresponsible not to do it like this," he added.

Although the agritech is a relatively small sub-sector of Israel's flourishing hi-tech industry, the horizon looks clear and sunny.

According to data provided by Start-Up Nation Central, a nonprofit organization that serves as a gateway to understanding and permeating the Israeli start-up scene, approximately 13 percent of the 6,480 active companies in the Israeli hi-tech arena deal with agritech with 8.1 percent of the investments in the ecosystem going towards those companies.

"Food and agriculture are the next big thing," believed Avner Avidan, CEO of Israeli start-up Inspecto, "Israel has the image of an innovative country and so people come here automatically to look not only for cyber innovations, but also for agritech."

Inspecto has developed technology aimed at early detection of food contaminants.

"It's a combination - Israel has the solutions and the audacity to go to places and present the solutions," Levi told Xinhua, "There is something primal about Israel because of the necessity to respond to its own needs and also because Israelis by nature take a lot of shortcuts and get results quickly."

"Shortcuts are in the Israeli DNA," she added.

Inspecto, for example, is already in cooperation with large companies in both Israel and China, reducing food waste and making plates healthier and less toxic.

"The way things are being done today with regards to the needs of the industry are obsolete," Avidan told Xinhua.

The handheld device created by the company can detect contaminators in food on the spot, something which up until now was only done in sophisticated laboratories - a time consuming and costly process.

While currently focusing on the coffee business, which has recently suffered a blow to its image because of the alleged findings of the carcinogen acrylamide in coffee beans, Inspecto expects to further branch out it's abilities.

Not looking to replace the labs, Avidan said they can provide real time results that will streamline the current process of finding dangerous contaminants.

The company has already received global recognition. Last year, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) granted Inspecto with an Ideas4Change Award acknowledging its innovative idea that will help promote sustainable development in the field of food safety.

Last month, SupPlant received a new product innovation award from international growth partnership company Frost & Sullivan.

Both Israeli firms said they are not aware of similar technology available elsewhere.

Still, Nurit Levi said modesty is needed.

"Israelis have learned not to be arrogant, to listen first and adapt their solutions to the place, to the local culture and then take it step by step," she explained.

In an ideal world, the solutions being offered by SupPlant, Inspecto and others should get significant government backing. According to Ben Ner, Avidan and Levi, funding from the government is minimal.

"If you want to make progress, you won't sit and wait for the government," Levi said, "a company needs a lot of private initiative and investments."

For the firms mentioned here, their success means government support is not needed. However, as the world deals with challenges of climate change, water scarcity and food safety issues, global backing for innovative technologies should be given.

Not resting on their laurels, the hi-tech companies in Israel continue to further develop their solutions. Competition is fierce and new innovations are just around the corner.

As long as they keep standing on their toes, success is all but guaranteed.