Bernardo M. Villegas
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Land of Milk and Honey (Part 1)

          Their ancestors were promised by God a land of milk and honey.  After recently spending three full weeks in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, I must pay tribute to the modern day Jews for converting Israel into more than what their forebears bargained for after spending forty years in the desert under the leadership of Moses centuries ago.   Thanks to the genius, hard work and perseverance of Jews coming from all over the world, the State of Israel is today a model of agricultural development, industrialization and over-all integral human development.  It is more than a land of milk and honey.   Although I went to Jerusalem primarily as a pilgrim, I could not help putting on my hat as an economist.  What I saw traveling far and wide around Palestine gave me some hope that one day, if we learn from some of the practices of the Jews in agriculture, not to mention in industry and services, we can significantly increase the productivity with which we are using our natural and human resources.

         Israel has only 20,710 square kilometers of land, more than half of which is desert.  I was impressed, however, with how the Jews are able to utilize their very scarce resources in agriculture to produce most of their food requirements, especially high-value crops like avocados, bananas, kiwis, guavas, mangos, oranges, grapefruits, apples, cherries, plums, dates, strawberries, pomegranates, among more than 40 types of fruits.  As we traveled north from one holy site to another, we could see along the way vast plantations of fruits and vegetables, a good number of them in greenhouses or cultivated and harvested with the most advanced technologies such as drip irrigation, hydroponics, and robotics. No wonder, despite the harsh climate and limited arable areas, Israel produces most of the food consumed by its 8 million inhabitants. 

         What impressed me most from the research I did, with the help of Wikipedia, after I returned to the Philippines, is that indeed the phrase “land of milk and honey,” is not only metaphorical but a physical reality in today’s economy of Israel.  Israeli’s cows have the highest milk productivity in the world.  In 2016, the average milk yield annually per Israeli cow was 11,970 kilograms, as reported by the Dairy Board.  This is more than what cows are producing anywhere in the world.  This is despite Israel’s unfavorable condition including heat, humidity and restricted resources.  This outstanding accomplishment is the result of decades of hard work in the Israeli Dairy Board.  Careful breeding, intelligent farm management and advanced technologies have all contributed to making Israel’s dairy industry the best in the world.  Thanks to this high productivity, the dairy industry of Israel is able to supply 80% of domestic demand for milk and other by-products such as cheese, yogurt, etc.  This was obvious to us and my fellow pilgrims because at every breakfast we had there was an abundance of fresh milk, cheese, and yogurt.  That made up for the lack of rice that Filipinos always expect for their breakfast!  Even more, honey production is also quite high.  In 2013, Israel’s bees were kept very busy, producing 3,400 tons of the sweet stuff, thanks to the abundance of eucalyptus, orange, plum, za’tar, avocado, crab and thyme, among many other sources of nectar needed by the bees for honey production.

         One of our guides devoted some time to talking about the economy of Israel.  He intimated that the label “land of milk and honey” is outdated and should be replaced with the more appropriate “land of high technology.”  Indeed, technology is what defines the economy of Israel, in all the sectors whether in agriculture, industry or services.  It is undoubtedly a technologically advanced country by global standards.  As of 2015, according to Wikipedia, Israel ranks in the top 20 nations in the world on the UN’s Human Development Index which places it in the category of “Very Highly Developed” conferring on its citizens a high standard of living even compared to such Western countries as Austria, Germany, France and Finland.  Its per capita income in 2017 was $44,019, one of the highest in the world.  Its high GDP allows it to have a sophisticated welfare state; a powerful modern military already possessing nuclear weapon’s capacity; ultra-modern infrastructure that can surpass those of some Western countries and a high-technology sector that is often compared to Silicon Valley of the U.S.

         In addition to high-technology and industrial manufacturing, as already mentioned above, Israel produces high-value agricultural products such as tropical fruits and vegetables, despite having very little arable land.  Israel’s diamond industry is one of the world’s centers for diamond cutting and polishing.  Of course, it has to import the uncut diamonds, together with other vital raw materials such as petroleum, wheat, motor vehicles, and other inputs for its industries.  In the medium term, however, Israel’s almost total reliance on energy imports could change because there have been recent discoveries of large natural gas reserves off its coast.  Another very positive development is that solar energy is expanding rapidly. 

         Israel was able to convert the constant threat of military attacks from enemy nations into the opportunity of being one of the world’s biggest exporters of military equipment, accounting for 10% of the world total in 2007.  Israeli’s defense equipment exports reached $7 billion in 2012, a 20 % increase from 2011.  Much of the exports are sold to the U.S. and Europe.  The Defense Industry of Israel is a strategically important sector and a large employer within the country.  It is also a major player in the global arms market and is the 11th largest arms exporter in the world as of 2012.  According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Isreali defense companies were behind 41% of all drones exported during the period 2001 to 2011.  (To be continued).