Storm in a fruit bowl?

by Maskil on 16 Aug 2007

I am astounded that – in a country where agriculture was once sacrosanct – we have a situation where fruit farmers are denied access to labour and markets because of their protest against what appears to be an unfair tax (according to the article, “The annual tax is equal to roughly 20 to 30 percent of a farmer’s yearly income and is paid directly to the Plant Growers Council in monthly installments from May to September.”). Worse still, this is being done by the Agriculture Ministry, the very body that should be assisting the beleaguered agricultural sector, not placing obstacles in its path.

While I understand that farming is no longer the mainstay of Israel’s economy and of her national ethos, we cannot afford to simply scrap the agricultural sector. In the era of global Climate Change, each country will increasingly have to become self-sufficient and rely on local sources of food (what every one of us needs to eat every day in order to survive), rather than on food flown half-way around the globe. At the same time, farmers will need to adapt to producing more for local markets and less for the overseas ones. We must preserve our farming communities and infrastructure for that day. High-tech may well be the wave of the future, but it does not need to happen at the expense of another sector.

Every nation-state needs to nurture its rural and agricultural sectors in order to remain centered. This imperative is doubly important for Israel, where increasing international isolation may result in markets and imports being denied to us by external factors.

From a Zionist perspective, it would be a good thing to reduce (even if we can’t do away with) our reliance on foreign labour. What are some of the ways this might be achieved?

  • Encourage volunteers. While we may never see the golden age of Kibbutz volunteers again, it may still be worth the while to encourage both Jewish and non-Jewish volunteers from abroad to spend time on a Kibbutz or Moshav.
  • MASA. Many of the MASA programs might benefit from exposing participants to a stint of fruit picking and packing as part of their overall Israeli experience.
  • Youth groups, Israel Scouts, schools, family outings. Trips to the countryside don’t have to just be about hiking, camping and sightseeing. During peak picking times, organised groups could play an important role in bringing in the harvests. In some countries there is even still a culture of “city folk” pitching in to help out with this seasonal work.
  • Encourage those who still wish to enter farming. Not all of us were cut out to be high-tech gurus or entrepreneurs. The country also needs jobs for the rest of us, and agriculture should be on the menu of choices. The apprenticeship for this calling should include helping established growers at these critical times
  • Mechanisation? Sadly, the demand for labour in the agricultural sector will probably always outstrip the supply. We therefore need to leverage what labour is available to us by continuing to mechanise and automate, hopefully without damaging the product, the workers’ experience or the way of life.

License dispute may harm fruit growers manpower | Jerusalem Post

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