Why is an Indian millennial planning to use specially bred Israeli cultivars and Israeli agricultural technologies to establish India’s first commercial avocado orchard? The roots of his unique enterprise, Indo Israel Avocado, can be traced to an ISRAEL21c article in October 2016.
“I did not know that Israel could grow avocado. It was your article — and I still remember the title, ‘Europe to Israel: More avocado, please!’ — that informed me that it is possible to grow avocado in Israel,” says Harshit Godha, now 24.
In January 2017, Godha wrote to us explaining that he was an undergraduate business student at the University of Bath in the UK and hoped to launch a career in commercial agriculture in his hometown of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.
He was especially keen on avocados, a “superfood” he discovered during college when searching online for nutritious smoothie and salad ideas. At home in Bhopal, avocados were scarce, expensive and not at all like the fruit he’d grown to love in the UK.
India’s climate isn’t suitable for growing avocados, he was told. ISRAEL21c’s article about Israeli success with the crop, despite its similar climate, gave him hope.
In addition to writing to us, Godha also emailed Westfalia, a South African multinational supplier of avocados, to ask if they had contacts in Israel. They put him in touch with Benny Wisse at Kibbutz Ma’agan on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Despite knowing nothing about Israel’s history or culture, he enthusiastically accepted Wisse’s invitation to spend a month the following summer on the kibbutz.
He could not work there because he was traveling on a tourist visa, but he could observe, take notes and ask questions.
Godha spent mornings in the fields, and in the afternoons Wisse introduced him to avocado and irrigation experts, Agriculture Ministry officials and packing house managers.
“During the evenings, I socialized with the people from the kibbutz and joined them for barbecues. Often, I was invited to the Ma’gan Holiday Village Hotel’s breakfast with their employees. I got to learn a lot about Israel by speaking with them.”
Godha convinced his father and uncle, who run a family business in real-estate development and construction, that avocado production could be a viable business opportunity in India. They agreed to help him build a nursery consisting of a greenhouse and fields half an hour’s drive from his home.
In October 2018, Godha welcomed Wisse to India along with Oren Wallach from Oren Nursery near Hadera.
“I trust Oren’s expertise, as he is one of the leading experts of avocado cultivation in Israel,” Godha says.
“My family hosted Oren and Benny and showed them our fields. Oren suggested we should try a small-scale pilot project of multiple varieties to understand which are best suitable for Bhopal’s climatic conditions, which are similar to the Jordan Valley in Israel. So we are treating the Jordan Valley as our model of avocado farming and trying to replicate that in Bhopal,” Godha explains.
The nursery (watered with drip-irrigation technology from Israel’s Netafim) took longer to complete than expected, and then another six months went by as he sorted out the permits to import 750 heat-resistant rootstocks from Oren Nursery.
“The procedure was not easy, but some officials of the Indian government were very helpful when they saw a young guy trying to set up an agriculture business using Israeli technology. They helped me in whatever capacity they could.”
However, the delays forced him to cancel his initial order of Israeli cultivars and wait until the following growing season. The new order is due to arrive in April 2020.
Godha is documenting his experience through his website, Instagram, a free e-book, a newsletter and a vlog so that other farmers can learn “the technical knowhow of the Israeli way of doing avocado farming,” he says.
“I am getting inquiries, surprisingly from urban professionals and businessmen looking to invest in their own avocado orchard. They want to buy plants and consultation from me. Avocado is a premium crop and affluent people are interested in it.”
Though Godha still has one more semester to complete his degree at the University of Bath, the avocados are his main focus. He was the subject of articles on Fresh Plaza, a website covering the global fresh produce industry; and on the Israeli Agriculture International Portal.
There are many challenges ahead, but Godha hopes his efforts will put India on the avocado-growing map.
He is still in close touch with his Israeli friends. “When we talk on the phone, Benny often compliments Indian food he had when he visited. I hope we will have a long-lasting business as well as personal relationship,” Godha tells ISRAEL21c.
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