Minister Avi Dichter: President Ilham Aliyev is very focused on mission, knows where he wants to take Azerbaijan

Minister Avi Dichter: President Ilham Aliyev is very focused on mission, knows where he wants to take Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev is very focused on the mission, very updated with the details and he knows where he wants to take this country, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Israel Avi Dichter said in an exclusive interview, according to Azerbaijan in Focus, reporting Trend.

“It eases our way as ministers of agriculture to run forward and to obey the principles of the agreements signed. It is my second visit to Azerbaijan. Last time I was here 26 years ago. Except the name, everything is totally different in Azerbaijan now,” he added.

Talking about the focus of the visit, the minister pointed out that the roadmap on cooperation in the field of agriculture for 2023–2025, signed between Israel and Azerbaijan, is based on the mutual interest of both sides.

Avi Dichter noted that Azerbaijan and Israel will create a joint working group to conduct experiments in agriculture.

“Here you have good soil and you have winter wheat, which is much better than spring wheat. The difference is between irrigated wheat and non-irrigated wheat. Non-irrigated wheat gives you, for example, 2000 tons per hectare and if we irrigate it, it is going to be 7000 or 8000 tons per hectare. How can we do it with less irrigation and better seeds? It is a combination you have to play with it up until you reach the best harvest,” the minister explained.

Dichter said Israeli companies are waiting for the working group to be established, then to create a joint venture.

“It is not going to be a government-to-government project, it is going to be a government-to-government strategy. The working group first of all is going to find the best seeds to the best areas. It is going to see how can the irrigation issue be solved, in which areas and in which ways. It will be established right away. We have to reach some understanding within two years. I believe that many of Israeli tools will be relevant to Azerbaijan’s agricultural system,” he said.

The minister believes that when it starts, it will go to other fields, for example, to fruits.

“In Israel, we apply a system of fruiting wall, which gives up to 50 percent more fruits and much better fruit. So, I believe that once we start, we should move from wheat to other fields,” he added.

Elaborating on cooperation on increasing wheat production, Dichter said the working group will conduct an experiment on a small piece of land.

“Israel’s population is also 10 million like in Azerbaijan, but in land, we are 25 percent of the land of Azerbaijan. That makes a lot of difference. For example, in Israel, one of the most problematic issues is that we cover 10 percent of our demand for wheat with domestic production, while we need to import 90 percent. We have the know-how, we have good seeds, we don’t have to update seeds to the appropriate soil. We discussed this with Azerbaijan’s Minister of Agriculture Majnun Mammadov in Rome a few months ago, we talked about that in Uzbekistan. During this visit to Azerbaijan we signed the Letter of Intent in order to go forward. We had a meeting with President Ilham Aliyev. We are looking forward how to take your advantages to combine them with our advantages and to make much better agricultural products. We also met with managers of some companies here dealing with agriculture. We are going to start with an experiment in a small piece of land. Some fields have lower yield in some places and higher harvest in other places. Part of it is due to the lack of irrigation and part of it is because of different reasons – seeds, soil or other issues. We are going to establish a team group for testing it. We should bring our researchers,” he said.

Avi Dichter noted that half of the territory in Israel is arid or semi-arid, which enables to do very good researches and to bring some fruits and vegetables to the area that is absolutely desert.

“Desert areas in Israel have some places with fruits, vegetables, olive trees, grapes. We’re trying to bring our knowledge, experience in this sphere to Azerbaijan. We also want to bring our seeds which are adapted to such areas, in order to see what kind of increase in harvest we can get here in Azerbaijan. Then we shall go higher in land. It is the request of Azerbaijan to increase it after having experiments. It is going to be 200,000 hectares, which is quite big, and if it is necessary, we can increase it even more. I believe that decades from now, we will be able to have here in Azerbaijan fields of wheat that are totally different than you have here in many other places. Of course, we’re going to share the harvest between the two countries on pure business aspects. It is not going to be a governmental project, it is going to be a business project,” he added.

The minister said the question is how to increase the harvest from the current fields to get more from the same lands.

“Israel and Azerbaijan can decrease the volume of wheat imports from other countries. We are going to work on the prepared fields as a joint venture. If Azerbaijan decides to even more increase the yield of wheat by using the Israeli know-how, it can expand the wheat lands beyond 200,000 hectares. I wouldn’t be surprised, if Azerbaijan becomes an exporter of wheat, but first of all, you have to ensure you have enough wheat to cover your domestic demand,” he added.

Dichter noted that during this visit, the Israeli delegation has been to a new cowshed – ShirvanAgro in Shamakhi region of Azerbaijan.

“It is a beautiful project. An Israeli company is orchestrating it and local entrepreneurs are making it to happen, are putting budget for it. It is bigger than the biggest one in Israel. It will be the biggest in the South Caucasus. The project’s completion is expected by April 2024. It is almost built. The project is being implemented by an Israeli company and a local company. It is something that is going to bring about a dramatic change in the agricultural sector of your country. You will have liquid milk of your own. The project involves about 2400 cows,” he added.

Water management

Avi Dichter noted that Israel made some mistakes over the last decades in terms of supplying water and recommended Azerbaijan not to make the same mistake.

“It is a waste of time, waste of money. Israel had a lack of water. There were commercials calling on people not to waste water. It was hard to watch. We dug a tunnel from the Sea of Galilee, the northern part of Israel, down to the Negev, south of the country covered by arid areas. But that brought fresh water. Over the years we understood that it is not going to continue, because we faced lack of water. After a decade of hesitations, we began to build desalination centers. By less than ten years, two thirds of fresh water that people used was coming from desalination centers. We learned that water waste has nothing to do with climate, it is related to people. The more people you have, the more water you waste. We built centers to recycle water. 55 percent of irrigation in agriculture in Israel is recycled water. So, it solves two problems: first, if gives cheap water to agriculture, cheaper than fresh water and second, you don’t have to pour water to the Mediterranean valleys. To pour wasted water you need to recycle it to a very high level in accordance with the Barcelona Charter. It costs a lot of money, and you pour it to the fish, meaning a lot of money for nothing,” the minister explained.

Noting that Azerbaijan doesn’t recycle water, he said the country needs to construct infrastructure for desalination and for water recycling.

Dichter recalled the contract signed between Azerbaijan State Water Resources Agency (Azersu) and the Israeli national water supply operator Mekorot Water Company for the provision of technical consulting services as part of a seawater desalination project.

In conclusion, the minister expressed optimism about the joint endeavors of Israel and Azerbaijan in the field of agriculture.

“Agreements are written on paper, but partnership is being done on the ground. We’ve done our role in the papers, now we have to translate it into action on the ground. It will be done, it will succeed and it will serve the interest of both countries,” said Avi Dichter.