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Israel pushes aquaculture cooperation in answer to global food security

Israel’s Agriculture Minister Oded Forer talks with Al-Monitor about the first-ever international summit on food grown in the sea and the desert, held this week in Eilat.
The AgrIsrael Sea the Future Conference, Eilat, Oct. 19, 2022.

Israel’s Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Oded Forer and his Bahraini counterpart, Wael Bin Nasser Al Mubarak, signed Oct. 19 a joint declaration of agricultural cooperation. The declaration aims to promote and expand cooperation between Israel and Bahrain in the fields of agriculture, livestock and food security.

The ceremony took place in the framework of the first-ever International Summit on Food Technologies from the Sea and the Desert, taking place this week in the southern city of Eilat.

Dozens of ministers and senior officials from Albania, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Ecuador, France, Georgia, Jordan, Malta, Moldova, Morocco, Romania, Turkey, Ghana, Togo, Costa Rica, Vietnam, Nigeria, Rwanda, Zambia, Argentina, Bulgaria and the Palestinian Authority participated in the three-day conference (Oct. 18-20), alongside representatives of UN agencies, Israeli research institutions and startups.

Initiated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the conference focused on promoting cooperation and innovation in aquaculture, as part of global efforts to address surging food insecurity. The conference aims at increasing the mutual sharing of knowledge, technology and diverse products, in order to expand agricultural products and improve the quality of production.

Speaking at a panel on the second day of the conference, Forer noted that “among the challenges over the next decade, we are touching on one of the most important points for humanity. Food security is our main challenge. The countries of the world cannot grow food as they used to in the past, in accordance with the changing climate and in light of global warming. To do so, we need breeding methods and new technologies.”

Israel’s Minister for Regional Cooperation Eswai Frej noted at the same panel, “Who would have believed that we would be sitting here in Israel with partners from Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco. For me, it is a dream come true. This is the key to security and stability in our region. The next step is to see all the countries around — Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Palestinians. Without the Palestinian side, we cannot move anywhere, because they are part of our region. I believe we can do it together.”

Interviewed by Al-Monitor shortly after the signing of the joint declaration with Bahrain, Forer said, ‘’This conference is a first of its kind. We are touching upon issues that are of global concern. That is why we have so many participants, including researchers, companies and decision-makers, coming from Africa, Asia, America, Europe, the Middle East of course and Gulf countries.’’

Forer explained that the conference is just a first step in Israel’s ambition to turn Eilat, situated on the border with Egypt and facing the Jordanian city of Aqaba, into an international marine-desert research center.

‘’Our idea is to turn Eilat into an international research center for foods grown in the sea and in the desert. We have two advantages we want to use. The first is the extensive knowledge we have accumulated over the years in desert agriculture. The second is our vast research in marine biology. Eilat is located in the desert but is also a seaside center. The shelf slope in the Gulf of Eilat is very steep, offering extraordinary marine life. The Inter-university Institute for Marine Science in Eilat works with several universities and collaborates also with the Volcani Institute, which is Israel’s national agricultural R&D center. So we have extensive know-how we can share with our neighbors and beyond,’’ said Forer.

Forer noted that climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine have all taught us that food security is not a national but a regional and international issue.

‘’Countries fight over natural resources; wars break out over resources. In Israel, we have successfully confronted such challenges. Take, for example, the decision by Avigdor Liberman already in the 1990s [when serving as director general for the prime minister's office] to set up desalination plants to guarantee Israel’s water independence. It was a very dramatic step which then offered Israel a unique position in a region constantly under the threat of droughts,’’ he noted.

Other examples offered by Forer were an innovative technology introduced by the Eilat research center some 20 years ago for growing large quantities of mullet fish minnows and the Israeli research into the farming of bluefin tuna.

‘’The conference is just a first step in the long road ahead of us. It’s a path we must walk together with our neighbors and allies from Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, the Emirates and other countries. This forum enabled Israeli companies to present their solutions to food insecurity, and some of these companies were already approached by participating countries for future business and collaboration ventures. It is a great opportunity for Israel to pour tangible content into the Abraham Accords. Thus, we can strengthen our regional status while helping our neighbors,’’ concluded Forer.


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