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Instead of Imports, the Agriculture in Israel Needs New Initiatives

A reform unveiled by Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and Agriculture Minister Oded Forer will remove all tariffs on foreign-made agricultural goods imported into Israel. According to the two ministers, this will encourage the economy to open up to competition, lower prices, streamline trade, and enable economic investment in existing farms in Israel. On the other hand, there are Israeli farmers who are furiously protesting the decision. After all, if the state prefers to import basic agricultural products such as fruits, vegetables, and eggs, the agriculture dream of Zionism may really come to an end. It won’t be completely unreasonable for local farmers to shut down their operations and sell their lands to tycoons who will develop another skyscraper or another mall. To justify the reform, the Ministry of Trade tried to highlight the benefits of the reform. “It will soon be possible to purchase apricots all year round,” one statement said. But the truth is that fruits and vegetables in Israel have been closely tied to the seasons, and when we see ripe watermelons sitting in the grocery store stands, we know that it’s summer outside. In addition to the fear of flooding the Israeli market with goods from abroad, farmers have been claiming for years that the big food chains in Israel are the ones at fault for the expensive fruit and vegetable prices. According to them, it is the wholesaler who cuts the fat check; not the crop grower in the field. Is this a good enough reason to abolish tariffs on imports and bring goods from abroad? Quite the opposite: Give the Israeli farmer financial support by subsidizing the irrigation costs of plots, encourage farmers to cultivate their lands through grants for the purchase of advanced technological tools and vehicles for agriculture, and especially encourage young people to go to work in the field of agriculture. These are the right solutions for the problem, not massive importation of food. Farms around Israel have been begging for working hands. Minister Forer, who also serves as minister for the development of the Negev and the Galilee, can encourage young people and families to relocate to the Negev and the Galilee, settle there, receive subsidized housing, and thus renew the idea of settling the Israeli countryside. In the meantime, the idea of importing goods from abroad is worn and recycled. It is time for new initiatives, such as those that will revive the wilderness and boost Israeli agriculture, and our economy more broadly. All it takes is some creative thinking and a desire to make things happen. –Orit Miller (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)