February 7, Kathmandu: The diplomatic relation between Nepal and Israel was established on June 1, 1960. The year 2021 marks the completion of 61 years of the establishment of the bilateral ties. Nepal was the first South Asian country to recognize the State of Israel and the two countries have since shared a cordial relationship marked by mutual respect. Kaushal Ghimire talked to Israeli Ambassador to Nepal Hanan Goder regarding the multifaceted relationship between the two countries.
Nepal has highly prioritized its relationship with Israel, not only at the government to government level, but also at the people to people level. How do Israel and the Israeli people view their friendship with Nepal?
Let me tell you something very interesting about the relationship between Nepal and Israel. For many Israelis, Nepal is a dream, an aspiration, and a lovely destination. And every year, we have thousands of Israelis that visit and come to Nepal. At the same time, these views are also shared by the Nepali people. Thousands of Nepalese dream about Israel. And this is a very interesting phenomenon that happens both for the Israelis and the Nepalese. We dream of coming to Nepal, and the Nepali people dream of going to Israel. Now, the reasons for that are various. People in Nepal do not always appreciate the beautiful things that you have here. I am not talking only about nature and culture. But I am also talking about people. It is a very pleasant place to meet, to encounter, and to have friends. And it is the same, by the way for the Nepalese. Many Nepalese go to Israel, some of them go for tourism, but the majority of them go to Israel for employment opportunities. Many of them share the good memories and experiences they had in Israel. Just this last weekend, I met a group of Nepalese in Dhulikhel who had worked in Israel. They were glad to share their experiences. Nepali workers spend anywhere from one to ten years in Israel and they come back with wonderful memories. And this is a wonderful base upon which the bilateral relations between Nepal and Israel stand. Talking about government to government ties, we have an excellent bilateral relationship. A lot of agreements have been signed between Israel and Nepal that are leading our relation to a new height.
Agriculture is the main source of income for many Nepali households. But Nepal is struggling to be self-sufficient in agriculture, with food security being one of the biggest concerns of the country. Israel, despite having an arid landscape has produced great results in agriculture. How has Israel been helping Nepal to modernize its agriculture sector and what are the prospects?
It is a very interesting topic. But let me first start with basic information about Israel. Israel is half the size of Bhutan. We are a very small country and half of our country is a very harsh desert. In Nepal, you have one desert in Mustang, where you have approximately 200-250 millimetres of rain. The rest of the country you have a lot of water and is very lush. Half of Israel is desert. We have 50 just millimetres of rain per year. It is very dry, we only have maybe one or two or three days of rain per year. And in this environment, we have managed to do our agriculture. It was not like this 70 years ago when the country was just established. We had a shortage of food, and the government used to give ration coupons to the citizens. You were allowed to buy one kg of flour, one kg of pasta, one kg of sugar and that was what you had for one week. There was a real hunger in the country. But we managed to change it, to develop it, and to make Israel modern and successful in agriculture
In Nepal, around 50 to 60 per cent of the population work in the agriculture sector. In Israel, the percentage is much low. It is only 2 per cent of the population that work in agriculture, but that 2 per cent make food to the remaining 98 per cent. And this is not a miracle. It is hard work. And this is the cooperation that you are talking between Nepal and Israel. We have established a program titled “learn and earn”, where the students from Nepal go to Israel for one year, they learn and earn via the on-the-job-training. They go to college one day a week, and they work for the remaining five working days. In college, they get theoretical knowledge and learn to do research. And they work in an Israeli farm for five days a week. They come back with three important assets. The first two are knowledge and money. But the third one is even more important. The third asset is the culture of work. And the culture of work in Israel is something that has helped us progress in agriculture. The farmers work together with the students. The students realize what it means to wake up at five o’clock in the morning, do the work and to go back and start all over tomorrow. They also learn to overcome different problems.
In Israel our major problem is water. In Nepal, you have other challenges in agriculture like topography, road connection, and to send your goods to the market. We already have three thousand graduates of the program and these graduates are doing agriculture in Panauti, Dhading, Lamjung and Gorkha, all these farms are flourishing and they are using Israeli technology.
Israel is technologically a very advanced country. How can Nepali workers who are working in Israel bring back the technology? How can technology transfer happen?
When I talk about Israeli technology, normally Nepali people get afraid. They think that Israeli technology is high tech and it is not suitable for Nepal. But it works here as well. You can see how the number of tunnels is increasing every year after Nepali people started working on farms abroad. Not only that, but you also see the irrigation. When I talk to Nepali people about irrigation, they tell me ‘we don’t need to irrigate as we have rainwater’. Well, I say to them that is not enough. In Israel, we use the drip irrigation system, which is a modern scientific way to irrigate the farms. Another such example is how we fertilize our fields. It is a new concept. It is a combination of irrigation and fertilizer. The word is “fertigation”, made up of irrigation and fertilizer. The farmer puts the fertilizer in the water, and the plant will get it. You do not need sophisticated software for it. You put one kg of fertilizer inside the tank of water, and it automatically fertilizes all the plants. These kinds of technologies are being used in Nepali farms helped by Israel. And you can see how a farmer instead of having two kg per bush of tomato or four kg of tomatoes per bush are growing 20 kg from one bush. It is not a miracle but it is solely achieved through hard work and investment. What we have to understand about agriculture is that agriculture is not a hobby, agriculture is a profession. It is a way of life. And this is what we are trying to teach the Nepali students.
The Nepalese, besides agriculture, are also working in advanced Israeli software companies. Nepal has excellent youth who are very skilled, very talented, and they learn after working in these software companies. Israeli companies have started outsourcing manufacturing facilities. And they employ the Nepalese here with handsome salaries. And you can see the level of technology in Nepal is booming.
Israel has been providing a variety of academic scholarships to Nepali students. An increasing number of Nepali students have been applying for admission to different Israeli universities. In this context, how can the two countries work together to uplift Nepal’s education sector?
When somebody studies in Israel and gains an Israeli degree, of course, he is going to be coming back with very sophisticated and advanced skills. Not only that but we also give training and scholarships for mid-career professionals. These professionals attend different workshops in Israel under MASHAV – which is Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation. We also have a club of more than two thousand professionals called the Shalom Club. These professionals went to Israel and have come back here. They have done a lot of community works here in Nepal and this has advanced the bilateral issues.
Lastly, Nepal and Israel share many similarities. Both the countries are small in size but are part of age-old civilizations. Though Israel is a developed country, Nepal has also helped it by providing much needed human resources. How can the two countries work together in the days ahead to create a win-win situation?
I think we should continue this cooperation. We have signed a few bilateral agreements to further develop the relations. And it is true what you said, we are both small countries. And we know that nobody will help us or protect us or develop the country except ourselves. And when you are a small country and are standing between two large countries, you have to be careful. It is like standing amongst the elephants. You know, the elephant is a very friendly animal, but sometimes they do not notice and they can step on you. We are located in the Middle East with neighbours that are not always friendly.
I am happy that nowadays these neighbours understand us more. We have recently achieved peace with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. We are in constant dialogue with countries like Sudan, Morocco, and many other countries in the Middle East. Israel and the Arab counties have a common challenge, which is development. The Middle East can become a paradise for all. Yes, we differ in many things be it religion or lifestyle. But the differences should not prevent us from moving forward together. And this is what we are concerned about at the moment. We want to build strong bridges with the Arab world. And after 70 years, I am very happy that it is finally happening. The borders are now open and the trade is flowing. The exchange of both people and culture is ongoing. And this is what we have always wanted.