Because of the crisis in Israeli agriculture since the outbreak of the Swords of Iron war, loans and financial guidance NGO Ogen, the Jewish Agency, and agricultural volunteering organization Hashomer Hachadash have entered on a joint progarm of loans to small farmers of up to NIS 100,000.
The project is being carried out through an emergency fund launched by Hashomer Hachadash and interest-free small business loans organization SparkIL (headed by CEO Na'ama Ore), and is based on donations from Jews in the Diaspora. Most of the loans are to farmers in the Gaza Strip border area and in the north of Israel.
"They have sustained a very severe blow. There’s a shortage or workers, cash flow is problematic, some have not managed to harvest produce, and the vast majority have not received any compensation so far," says Yoel Zilberman, founder and CEO of Hashomer Hachadash.
"We have therefore embarked on a program of interest-free loans spread over five years. There are several criteria for obtaining a loan, such as an annual turnover of up to NIS 2 million, and proof of losses caused by the war," Zilberman adds.
The organization helps farmers in several additional ways. "We have a team that helps farmers complete applications for compensation, because many of them do not know how to submit one," Zilberman says. "We also help with manpower. 150,000 volunteers have gone through us in the four months of the war.
"Another form of assistance is a direct connection to investors. This happens mainly in technological farming, but in classic farming too, for example on the Golan Heights and at Nitzana. Our goal is dramatic expansion in technological developments.
"It may not be a high-tech company where you see the return on investment within three to five years; we’re talking about six to eight years, but these are infrastructures for the next twenty-five years. It’s about the long term."
Hashomer Hachadash brings together some 2,500 farms, about a quarter of all the farms in Israel. Its activities cover a network of schools, a youth movement, a placement company, a Nachal settlement group, agricultural tourism, and more.
Learning from Qatar
Zilberman relates that he himself is about to plant a vineyard "right on the Syrian border fence, 100 meters from it," adding, "I’m not afraid, on the contrary, This is precisely the time. Israel is on the brink of a period in which it is liable to experience a real shortfall in its ability to produce food. Building agricultural infrastructure will ensure nutritional independence, and that’s critical. Today, we are dependent on countries like Russia and Turkey, with which our relations are shaky.
"It’s sufficient to see the strategic change made by Qatar in 2017. After the moderate Sunni countries imposed an embargo on it, Qatar started to engage in agriculture, and it now produces over 70% of the food it consumes. We need to do that here too. If farmers go bankrupt, we’ll lose assets. It’s in our own hands to prevent this."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 1, 2024.
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