28 Feb - 6 Mar 2014 #696

Agricultural envoy

Unlike his diplomatic colleagues in Kathmandu, Israel’s ambassador to Nepal Hanan Goder Goldberger, is often knee-deep in mud in paddy fields or travelling in rural Nepal to find out more about farmers’ concerns. After a recent visit to Makwanpur he spoke to Nepali Times about his passion for agriculture.

Nepali Times: You seem to enjoy field trips to the hinterland more than the Kathmandu diplomatic circuit?

Hanan Goder Goldberger : I feel that travelling outside Kathmandu, even if it is just the neighbouring districts of Kavre or Makwanpur, is always such an amazing experience. I have travelled to 30 districts since my arrival here in 2011 and hope to cover as many districts as possible. I have learned a lot from my interactions with farmers and understanding their concerns.

What are some projects that the embassy is involved in?

We are working with the government and local organisations to improve education, health and agriculture services through MASHAV, Israel's Agency for International Development Cooperation. We collaborate with hospitals in Dhulikhel and Kathmandu in more than a dozen programs related to public health, trauma management and community services. Hundreds of students go to Israel for health, education, agriculture training and we have an active alumni association here. In 2010 the governments of Israel and Nepal signed an agricultural cooperation agreement, and last year we sent the first batch of Nepali students for a year long agriculture training program in Israel.

Tell us more about that. Where did the idea come from?

We began training young farmers from Nepal so they could modernise agricultural practices. Around 200 students who are members of agricultural cooperatives in Nepal are presently studying in Negev, Kinneret and Arava in Israel. And the students there also get the opportunity to work in agricultural sector to get first hand experience of the classroom lessons, support their education, living and travel cost. It is a learn and earn program which we hope will benefit several communities once the students come back and implement what they have learnt in Israel.

What do they learn in Israel?

Over the years Israel has successfully modernised its agriculture producing surplus to export despite its rugged landscape. We hope students who come to Israel will understand the immense opportunity of commercial farming in Nepal and take back lessons home about simple and effective practice like drip irrigation, quality control, market management to expand from subsistence farming. Nepal has abundant natural resources and a large workforce is still dependent on agriculture, but in the absence of modern farming techniques it is still not self sufficient in agricultural products. Nepalis are very hardworking people but in the absence of proper training and infrastructure they are still forced to make do with traditional farming practice. How will farmers profit if the quality and quantity of their products is still what it used to be a decade ago? Nepal’s neighbours are fast growing economies, so they don’t have to worry about the market for their products.

What about Nepali migrant workers in Israel?

We are extremely grateful to the people from Nepal who choose to come to Israel leaving their families and country. It might be difficult for them to adjust to a new place but we are trying our best to ensure that migrant workers feel safe and earn enough to start their own enterprises back home. There are a lot of young people who come to Israel not just as care givers, but also to work in commercial farms which I hope will benefit them in the future. It is unfortunate that Nepal hasn’t been able to generate jobs for increasing new workforce each year which forces them to go abroad.

What prospects do you see for Nepal’s future development?

Nepal has abundant natural resources and all it needs is sound policy and appropriate technology to tap it for economic growth. Taking steps towards modernising farming in at least few districts could be great starting point. Despite the fluid political situation Nepal has achieved a lot in terms of increasing literacy rate and the country in now in the middle of an educational revolution preparing skilled human resource in various fields. Now it is up to Nepal to ensure that it is able to retain the new generation of skilled workforce for the development of the country.

Read also:

Nepal learns from the Negev

Rural revolution