Israeli agri-technology is surpassing that of other countries, according to the banking group KPMG, which has published a report entitled Dial up the Chutzpah! According to Ben van Delden, head of agtech for the bank, “Chutzpah means the audacity to give something a go.” He says Israel has managed to harness technology like no other country by “greening the desert, because that's the space where Israel produces 80 per cent of their milk, and 80 per cent of their food product is exported from.”
Van Elden cites numerous examples of leading Israeli developments, like EdenShield, a “biologically-friendly” alternative to conventional pesticides. This company researches ways of deterring pests rather than killing them. “It tricks the pest through aromatics. It creates an aromatic shield at the greenhouse and also applies a foliage spray over the leaves and prevents the insect from wanting to go anywhere near your crop.” According to van Elden, the “global pesticide market is [worth] $14 billion and the biological pesticide market is growing at 19 per cent per annum.”
Collplant is another innovative Israeli company producing the structural protein collagen, used for healing wounds by stimulating regeneration of skin tissue. Collogen is grown on tobacco plants using genetic engineering. This is a cheaper alternative to traditional sources for medicinal purposes where it is harvested from animals and cadavers (dead bodies of people). It was designed by a professor of plant biology at the Hebrew University, Oded Shoseyov. Once harvested, the human collogen sells for up to US$1m/kg.
Van Elden says that a partnership structure between the Israeli government and private enterprise is integral to these successes. Businesses provide space for researchers with good ideas, while the government supports 85% of the required funding. He added, “the chief scientist told us they get a five-times return on investment in the incubators, and that's before it's commercialised.”
As a result Israel has the highest number of successful startups of any country per capita worldwide. This unique structural support for innovation has yielded tremendous results. As the Economist put it in 2010, within a few decades Israel has "transformed itself from a semisocialist backwater into a high-tech superpower".