“Nepalis learn and earn from Israel”

Hanan Goden is serving his second tenure as Israel’s ambassador to Nepal, and is passionate about agriculture. Nepali Times interviewed Goder this week at a dairy farm in Gokarna started by a returnee from Israel. Excerpts:

Nepali Times: What is so special about the Learn and Earn scheme?

Ambassador Hanan Goder: The idea is to send young people to Israel for 11 months during which they spend five days a week on the job training in Israeli farms and one day in college for theoretical knowledge. When they come back, they bring earnings, knowledge, but most of all the culture of work.

Some 60% of Nepalis are involved in farming. Israel on the other hand has only 2% workforce in agriculture, but it produces for the rest 98% and even exports. There is no magic involved, we are proud to share our knowledge and ideas with Nepal. Agriculture is not a hobby, it's a business, a profession and a way of life. You have to invest before you can reap benefits. Traditional subsistence agriculture has no future. Farming has to be modern and more productive.

What did you mean by Nepalis also learning the work culture in Israel?

They learn to start their day early and end it late, in contrast to villages here in Nepal where men are hardworking but not as productive, they are often busy playing board games while womenfolk toil away. What the farmers learn in Israel is a combination of things, not just the need for investment and innovation but farming as the way of life.

One of the biggest challenges here in Nepal is land fragmentation because a father divides his property among his children, he shouldn't have to do that, it is his private property. But then the younger generation, the children do not want to continue farming. Traditional farming is scenic to look at, but ineffective. Also, people do not invest enough in agriculture here, and expect returns prematurely.

There are now about 3,000 Nepali farmers who have gone to Israel and are now back all over Nepal. How are they doing?

I'm in constant touch with the returnees. Not all of them are doing agriculture, maybe just a third. But these 1,000 are quality farmers. They are doing vegetables, livestock, fish, poultry, fruits and everything in between. But each one of them is specialising in something. You can’t be a farmer that is doing mangoes, poultry, vegetables, and bananas at the same time, you have to specialise if you want to do it on an industrial scale.

Why has farming become a priority in Nepal-Israel relations more than the other sectors?

Agriculture is a priority, but it is not the only thing that we are doing here. People are not aware that there are a lot of Israeli companies located in Kathmandu working in high tech, hiring Nepali youth who get to work remotely but make salaries that Israelis do. And that is because Nepal has talented software developers, among others.

Also last year we sent about 1,000 Nepali caregivers to Israel. A lesser-known fact is that Israeli tourists are now starting to come in thousands and they often stay for longer periods.

Our agriculture program is better known because it has become a model. Many farmers have come back and become almost ambassadors of sorts for Israel.

We are in the dairy farm run by Ang Phurba Sherpa who seems to have good managerial skills and knows about doing sustainable farming.

What Nepalis like Ang Phurba learn is that Israel is a young nation with farmers only in their first and second generation, still learning and trying to improve the ways to do it. Israel used to be a desert, a nation of immigrants but we cultivated the land. When Nepalis see that and how we overcome the challenges, they realise that they can too.

You have had the second tenure as an ambassador, is there a chance that you'll come back a third time as an ambassador?

Sure, why not. The former Israeli ambassador Benny Omar is still here and has opened a restaurant in Patan. Much like you have the highest point in the world, we have the Dead Sea, the lowest. Ten years ago we took two stones from the Dead Sea to Everest and vice versa. At the time, we also issued a stamp that is common to Israel and Nepal, with the highest and the lowest points at 8,448m and -432m. But there are thousands of beautiful places just one hour from Kathmandu. I encourage everybody to enjoy the country and preserve it.

Nepal-Israel stamp

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