Ag tech and resource management offer opportunities for Hawaii-Israel collaboration

  • Eitan Weiss, deputy chief of mission at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, spoke this week with Gov. David Ige about opportunities for Hawaii-Israel collaboration on issues like agricultural technology and resource management. (Cameron Miculka/West Hawaii Today)

KOHALA COAST — When it comes to agricultural technology and resource management, Hawaii is finding a partner in collaboration nearly halfway around the world.

“There’s so much good that can come out of a collaboration between Israel and Hawaii,” said Eitan Weiss, deputy chief of mission at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.

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Weiss was on Hawaii Island for the Western Governors’ Association Winter Meeting at the Fairmont Orchid. In an interview with West Hawaii Today, Weiss said he also used the opportunity to talk with Gov. David Ige about opportunities for Israel and Hawaii to work together on making the most of limited resources.

Among those is the availability of and access to freshwater along with solutions like desalination and water recycling.

Israel, Weiss said, leads the world in water recycling, for example.

A 2016 article published in Scientific American said Israel’s water treatment systems recapture 86 percent of the country’s water to be reused for irrigation.

The second-most-efficient country when it comes to water recycling, the article said, is Spain, which recycles 19 percent of its water.

According to state data, Hawaii reused 17.2 million gallons of water a day in 2016, a rate of about 12.8 percent of the total wastewater treated. The Wai Maoli: Hawaii Fresh Water Initiative, which the Hawaii Community Foundation created in 2013, is targeting the state to reuse 30-plus million gallons per day by 2030.

“We have a lot to offer on those technologies,” Weiss said. “Not just the desalination process but also the reclamation of the water, because we understand that you don’t have to invest a lot of money and efforts in order to make the water drinkable again.”

And there’s a lot of interest from Israeli companies, he said, in coming to Hawaii and looking for opportunities for collaboration.

“Because, as we see it, there’s a lot of correlations between Hawaii and Israel on the resource management issue,” he said.

Ige, in an interview between sessions at the Western Governors’ Association meeting, referenced one Hawaii project making an investment in local agriculture through the use of greenhouse technology that has its roots in Israel.

The venture, Lanai Farms, comes from billionaire Larry Ellison, and involves automated hydroponic cultivation in large greenhouses, according to a report published by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. The chief operating officer of Pulama Lanai, Ellison’s company that manages operations on the island, is referenced in the article saying crops grown at Lanai Farms are likely to include tomatoes, leafy greens as well as cucumbers and herbs, but could potentially expand in the future.

Among Ellison’s partners in that venture is Growponics, an Israel-based hydroponic system producer, the newspaper reported.

“Clearly, Israel has found a way to grow anything and everything in the middle of the desert,” Ige said on Wednesday. “And, so, we are excited about that opportunity.”

Ige said he believes agricultural tech is going to play an important role in the state’s future, helping to conserve resources like water and combating pests while reducing the use of pesticides.

And, Weiss and Ige said, a partnership can offer something for the people of both places.

“I think that both of our countries can share from this mutually beneficial relationship,” said Weiss. “Hawaii can teach us a lot about tourism and management of those systems and ecosystems.”

Hawaii’s ability to protect its natural resources, he added, is something he believes Israel can look to for its own environment.

Between population growth there and the impacts of a drought that has affected the country for half a decade, Weiss said the country could potentially learn from Hawaii when it comes to conserving its own natural resources and preserving native wildlife.

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Ige said the ability for both Hawaii and Israel to share its experiences and know-how with one another is what makes collaboration so powerful. The governor referenced the state’s use of traditional and customary practices in ocean management and fishpond restoration, saying it could be a potential model to share.

“It’s about sharing the successes and challenges that we both share as communities,” he said, “and looking for opportunities where we can learn from them and they can learn from us.”