Centuries of deforestation and neglect had rendered the land nearly untillable. On top of that, water shortage was as much a problem in those days as it is today. Despite these challenges, as well as a lack of any serious natural resources, these pioneers succeeded by applying hard work and innovation to their agricultural efforts.
The result, as we all know, was the greening of this desert wasteland, and the transformation of swamps into lush farmland. Over the past 70 years, Israel has more than doubled the total area of cultivated land (from 408,000 acres to 1,070,000 acres). In fact, the expansion of agricultural production has even outstripped Israel’s explosive population growth rate.
All of this was made possible thanks to the concentrated communal efforts fostered by the kibbutz movement. Where a loose collection of individual farmers could never have accomplished so much in such a short time, the hundreds of pioneering kibbutzim achieved nothing short of a modern miracle.
Along the way, Israel’s farms not only succeeded in feeding the young nation, but also developed new crops (including one of the more popular varieties of cherry tomato and the pomalit, a hybrid of a grapefruit and pomelo) and groundbreaking agricultural technology (like drip irrigation). Given Israel’s limited size and resources, it couldn’t afford to have a large percentage of its crops spoil before use, so local researchers also developed fruit and vegetable variations with significantly longer shelf-life. This had a global impact, as farmers everywhere can now produce much larger quantities without fear of waste.
Agriculture is a much smaller part of Israel’s modern GDP, falling from nearly 6 percent in 1979 to just 2.5 percent in 2008. But, even at those rates, Israel still produces nearly 95 percent of its own food requirements.
Hi-tech is today the jewel of the Jewish state’s economy, but the approach is much the same as that taken by the early settlers. Whereas the agricultural ingenuity of those pioneering years brought forth bounty from the land, and helped teach much of the rest of the world how to better feed themselves, the fruits of today’s hi-tech innovations are likewise changing lives around the globe.
Bio-tech and medical researchers are literally helping the lame to walk and the blind to see, as well as providing more affordable treatment for the world’s neediest populations. Who among us could today imagine our lives without real-time GPS navigation, or the ability to quickly and effortlessly save and transfer large amounts of personal data? These things, too, were made possible largely by the efforts of Israeli pioneers applying their ingenuity to solve local problems, and in the process providing global solutions.
In 70 short years, Israel has gone from a motley agrarian society striving to farm a barely-arable land to a global hi-tech powerhouse. Who knows where Israeli innovation and ingenuity will take this nation in another 70 years.