By Dr. Uttam Kumar Sinha
With cooperation between India and Israel gaining momentum, aspects like science and technology can become new drivers in furthering ties. The importance of cooperation between the two countries in defence and cyber security needs no reiterating. However, a need for greater joint ventures in innovation will be critical to the sustainable development model that India is pursuing. Bringing together perspectives from scientific aspects to human dimensions, and considering their applications to management and policy can have quantifiable gains. In the light of this, the field of biotechnology and nanotechnology will assume great significance as will efficient irrigation methods. Given below are a few suggestions for cooperation and joint ventures between India and Israel.
Science and technology in Israel is one of the most developed sectors with over 4 per cent of the GDP allocated for civil research and development. Not surprisingly, it is a technological powerhouse. Since its independence in 1948, much of Israel’s progress has been achieved through its innovative abilities in the applied sciences. With very limited natural resources, Israel has emphasised on scientific research both for its territorial protection and development through investment in military infrastructure and agriculture. Today, Israel has the highest concentration of start-ups in the world, which have given rise to innovations in fields as diverse as software development, artificial intelligence, irrigation, GPS navigation and cherry tomatoes. It would hence be very useful to have an Israeli Tech Park in India, which would give a large base in Asia for Israeli innovations, a platform for Indian entrepreneurs to cooperate and benefit from Israeli experience and an opportunity for joint research and development in specified areas of interest. The scope for cooperation and joint ventures with Israel is humungous. A Tech Park would be a concrete way of giving impetus to this. The Tech Park needs to be in an area where there is ready availability of local expertise. Suitable areas could include Bengaluru, Goa, Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune, and Noida.
One of the main focusses of the park could be on Israel’s expertise on Internet of Things (IOT). Internationally, by 2020, it is expected that 26 billion objects will be connected to the Internet, not including PCs, tablets and smart phones, and that 90 per cent of new vehicles will be connected to the Internet and to each other, and to public infrastructures. IOT is going to be the biggest wave of the Internet, surpassing mobile internet and cloud computing, and a major money grosser. According to Eric Schmidt, the Executive Chairman of Google, Israel is currently a global leader in this field.
There are a number of Indian enterprises/innovations which are doing a lot of R&D in the IOT sector, but they do not have the experience of the Israeli industry. It would be a great leap forward to have joint ventures with Israeli Companies innovating in IOTs in various verticals like agro-tech, infrastructure management, cargo management, manufacture processing, administrative controls, trading and e-commerce, health care, etc. The IOT cooperation would be greatly received by the Indian industry. Equally it will give an expanding market to Israel.
Of specific interest to India would be cooperation in Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality. Israel has emerged as a leader creating augmentation platforms, which have wide application in healthcare, training and entertainment. Another vertical with a lot of potential is 3D printing, which Israel has excelled in. A number of successful start-ups are now using 3D printing for infrastructure, prosthetics, fashion designing, etc.
Cooperation in IOT would open up potential cooperation in related Cyber Security issues, especially those concerning infrastructure connectivity, individual and enterprise security, security of data, etc. In this vertical too, Israel has prominence and there is tremendous scope for joint ventures with Indian public and private sector entities, which also have considerable expertise.
Israel’s pre-eminence in agricultural research has for long been widely appreciated in India. Israel is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with 60 per cent of the land classified as desert, and only 20 per cent arable land. Due to long-term holistic planning and cutting-edge technology, Israel not only produces most of its own food, but also exports $1.3 billion worth of agricultural produce annually. It has also cornered a large chunk of the floriculture market.
Israel’s innovations in water management, recycling, desalination, and cost effective ways of converting air moisture into potable water, along with development of state-of-the-art greenhouse equipment, seed and livestock propagation, fertilizers and pesticides have enabled Israeli agriculture to prosper despite limitations of space and aridity. Israel has pioneered water management ideas that can help solve the problems of waste, inefficiency and pollution of water that is being experienced in many part of the world. India’s water management policies have a lot to emulate from Israel. There is indeed great value in the “Israel model”. How else can one explain that with rainfall deficiency almost half of 1948 average, Israel’s economy has grown 70-fold. The state’s role in effectively propagating water conservation along with drip irrigation (micro-irrigation) has made the vast stretches of desert bloom.
Israel’s successful research on drought-resistant plants would be of great interest to India where large areas of arable land are frequently afflicted with drought. The engineered plants not only require only 30 per cent of the usually required water, they yield bigger harvests and stay fresh longer. In addition, Israeli R&D has developed high value-added and innovative farm products that enable them to compete in markets with lower-cost producers. One such innovation is to develop ways to make perishable foods last 3-4 weeks longer, a matter of interest for India where an estimated Rs. 50,000 crore worth of food is wasted each year. These are areas which are going to get great traction for joint ventures in a potential Tech Park.
Israel has learnt advanced techniques of cloud seeding through injecting clouds with iodine to increase the percentage of water that each cloud yields, prevention of pollution, soil conservation and drainage, landscaping to redirect floodwaters, computerised calculations to chart routes of runoff water and the strategic placement of trees and crops done with IOT. Israel is now poised to disrupt the desalination industry with a low-cost, off-grid, scalable and environmentally friendly module using only solar power. India would certainly benefit from these innovations and water conservation based Joint Ventures can be an important vector of the Tech Park.
The burgeoning cosmetic industry is another potential area for cooperation. India has ancient traditions of Ayurveda and herbal medicines, which have globally become increasingly popular, as have Israeli cosmetics. Tie-ups could be of interest.
Israel has also emerged as a global leader in Skills Development. Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, the Aharon Ofri MASHAV International Educational Training Center (METC), could be asked to set up a regional centre in India, which could contribute to getting skilled labour in various fields, which could boost the Make in India initiatives.
Cooperation with Israel would also be useful in the area of traffic management, which is a major bugbear in most cities. Israel has perfected a digitised parking and monitoring system which could be started as a pilot project in Delhi and NCR and if successful could be suitably adapted and given to other cities.
In an interconnected world increasingly at risk, the value of sharing knowledge, ideas and innovation cannot be underscored. Technology is blurring national borders and in the process claiming for a joint future, a future of possibilities, to manage the challenges of security and development. India-Israel relations can become a harbinger of the great Indian tradition of Sri-yantra – the convergence of science, policy and people.
(The writer is a Fellow at the Institute for Defence & Studies & Analysis (IDSA) Inputs from Dr. Prabha Rao, Senior Fellow at IDSA)