Innovations in Chinese, Indian, and Israeli Agriculture

Innovations in India, China and Israel

India and China comprised 37 percent of the world’s population in 2015, and even by 2050, the projections are that they will constitute about 32 percent of the global population. Today China is the most populous (1.38 billion) nation followed by India (1.3 billion), but UN projections of the population show that by 2022, the ranking may reverse with India being most populous (1.4 billion).  Israel, on the other hand, is a tiny nation of less than 10 million population, almost half the population of say Mumbai in India or Shanghai in China. But Israel is known as the “land of innovations”, and thus of great interest to China and India who have to feed more than one-third the population of this planet.  And the experience of all three is of intense interest to Africa, where most farmers are still poor smallholders eager to improve their farming practices and businesses, and curious about the opportunities for “leap-frogging”. Given this backdrop, the only way those countries can feed their respective populations satisfactorily is through innovations all along their agri-value chains, from production to marketing, from technologies and institutions to policies that create incentives and promote investments to produce more output with fewer inputs, especially land and water.


For the last decade or even more, China and India both have been registering high rates of growth in their respective GDPs (above 7 percent per annum), resulting in rising demand for food, feed, and fiber (3Fs). China has already experienced this pressure of rising demand, and India is going to face that increasingly in the coming decades. The task becomes even more challenging when one puts it against the backdrop of climate change, and the fact that agriculture in both countries is dominated by smallholders. The average holding size in China was just 0.66 ha and in India 1.15 ha in 2010-11.  In the context of water particularly, which is going to be a major constraint on Chinese and Indian agriculture’s future growth, there is no better country to look at than Israel for at least water use efficiency in agriculture, which has almost 99 percent of its irrigation under micro-irrigation cover, primarily drip and sprinklers.

All water in Israel is a common property resource and the government does accounting for every drop of water, ensuring good water governance. As a result, in 2013, of the total water available in Israel almost 16 percent came from desalination of seas, and another 22 percent from the recycling of wastewater. And interestingly, almost 62 percent of the irrigation water used in Israel came from recycled and brackish water, thus saving potable water for domestic use. It is this recycling of wastewater for irrigation, of course with proper treatment to make it safe, that needs urgent attention in countries like India and China.  China has already built several cities with fast urbanization, and India has the ambition to build 100 smart cities, where recycling of wastewater for use in peri-urban agriculture can be made an integral part. 

Innovative technologies for desalination of sea-water can benefit India and China, both of which have a long coastal line. Nemmeli desalination plant in Tamil Nadu state of India and the Jamnagar desalination plant in Gujarat set up by the Reliance industries are some of the existing Indo-Israeli partnerships in desalination of sea waters. The level of adoption of these technologies is still at a nascent stage in India, which needs more testing and scaling up with an effort to cut down costs to make it affordable at large scale.

It is important to note that what China and India can do in their agriculture will have a lot of relevance for several countries in Africa, which are also dominated by smallholder agriculture and where the population is growing fast.

So far, much of the demand for 3Fs (food, feed, and fiber) in both the countries, China and India, has been met from limited sources of domestic land and water. Although China has become a net importer of agri-produce from somewhere around 2002 onwards, India so far (till 2016-17) has remained a net exporter. Will India also become a net importer of agri-produce by 2030 is an open question that needs to be researched. It is in this context that it would be worth looking at the transformation in agriculture that the two countries have been undergoing, especially from 2000 onwards and likely to continue till say 2030. In particular, we would like to explore three topics for comparative study of Innovations in Indian and Chinese agriculture, and an overarching study of Innovations in Agri-technologies in Israel. 

We would like to explore 4 types of innovations: 

1 - Innovations in agri-production technologies in China and India

China produces (588 MMT) more than double of grain production than India (276 MMT in 2016-17); more than 4-times India’s production of fruits and vegetables (China: 1092 MMT; India: 258 MMT), and over 8-times India’s production of meat and fish (China: 153 MMT; India: 18 MMT). India, however, does better in milk (India: 156 MMT; China: 39 MMT) and sugarcane (India: 348 MMT; China: 117 MMT), and the two are roughly comparable in the production of cotton and oilseeds.
The focus of this first component of research will be assessing the relative impacts of and influences on innovations in supply-side technologies including: seeds (including hybrids and GM) by major crop type, micro-irrigation (drip and sprinklers), fertilizers (soluble or fertigation), soil health cards, farming practices like high density cultivation, or farming practices to adapt to climate change; farm machinery.

2 - Innovations in incentives structures of Chinese and Indian peasants

It is difficult to raise productivity in any agri-system. This component of the research will look at the incentive structures for farmers, their pricing of major products, and input pricing (subsidies), as well as incentives that support investment in the adoption of improved technologies. What sort of innovations are done in agri-markets that facilitate farmers to get better prices for their outputs and lower prices for inputs Initial search shows that the incentives structures for farmers in China are smarter than in India. This needs to be researched properly and evaluated whether those incentives structures are appropriate to what they are trying to incentivize in terms of technologies and behaviors, as well as whether they are sustainable in the backdrop of an open economy framework, or whether they are distorting efficiency levels.

3 - Innovations in institutional frameworks

In 1951, India’s milk production was a meager 17 MMT while USA had milk production of 53 MMT. To solve this problem, India started off “Operation Flood” through a cooperative movement along the lines of an AMUL model. It collected surpluses from even smallest farmer, created collection centers with chillers, logistics to take milk from hinterlands to processing plants, and then linking them to massive retail networks. It led to a “white revolution” in the country where the smallest farmer participated and where the producer got almost 70-80 percent of what the consumer paid for milk in cities. India’s milk revolution offers a good example of how institutional arrangements with smallholders can turn around a nation from a big deficit of milk in the 1970s to the largest producer of milk in the world by 2016. USA’s milk production in 2016 was around 95 MMT against India’s 155 MMT. In China, institutional innovation is reflected in land use rights and reform policy. The 2002 Rural Land Contracting Law and the 2007 Property Law expanded and strengthened the scope of farmers’ land rights. Under the new policy, the government will establish markets where farmers can “subcontract, lease, exchange or swap” land-use rights or join cooperatives. In this study, innovations in the use of land (land lease markets), forming farmer producer organizations (FPOs), crop insurance for smallholders, credit institutions for smallholders including Self Help groups (SHGs), etc. need to be studied and best models need to be scaled up across countries with due adaptation to local conditions.

4 - Innovations in Agri-technologies in Israel

Israel is known as the “land of innovations” in various sectors. From Chinese and Indian perspectives, and from the perspective of this study on innovations in agriculture, it would be interesting to study what innovations have been brought in Israeli agriculture and how they have been incentivized and supported by players across the public and private sectors, with focus on agri-technologies, especially seeds, water (drips and sprinklers; desalinization of sea waters, recycling of urban water supplies for peri-urban agriculture), protected cultivation, and use of modern farm machinery in precision agriculture. Israel is considered as a leader in micro-irrigation as almost 99 percent of its irrigated area is under micro-irrigation. We are also eager to understand which Israeli technologies have been exported successfully, how it has been accomplished, lessons from that experience and what could be done to support more tech transfer out of Israel.  A focus will again be from the year 2000 onwards so that a comparative picture of China, India, and Israel can be portrayed and analyzed for the benefit of these countries as well as the world.

Further information