In 2016, undergraduate business student Harshit Godha ran across an article that inspired a dream: establishing one of India’s first commercial avocado orchards.
Wanting to learn from Israeli experts how to do this in his hometown of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, whose climate is similar to Israel’s, Godha contacted Benny Wisse at Kibbutz Ma’agan on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
“I emailed Benny [to ask] if he could teach me about avocado farming. He was kind enough to invite me to visit his farm in Kibbutz Ma’agan and learn from him. I was thrilled and excited,” said Godha, now 26.
“I saw Benny for the first time at the Ben-Gurion Airport when I arrived in Israel. I don’t know why, but I had a gut feeling that it would work out just fine. Had I told my family that I never even had a face-to-face video call with Benny before going to Israel, they would have never approved,” he added.
Wisse took Godha to the fields and taught him about different avocado varieties. He introduced him to industry experts including Oren Wallach of Oren Nursery.
“I was aware that Israel was a technologically advanced country, especially in the field of agriculture. Israelis question traditional knowledge and innovate without compromising quality,” said Godha.
“Greenhouse technology, drip irrigation, high-density orchards and optimal pruning techniques all came from Israel. Witnessing it firsthand changed my views about agriculture,” he added.
“It was an inspiration, and I wish to have similar practices in my avocado business. Israel also has a high-trust culture — people set expectations that they can meet,” said Godha.
After returning to India, he read research papers, books and websites about avocados. He often called Wisse and Wallach with questions.
“I consider Benny and Oren as my mentors, and this project is my apprenticeship,” he said.
Although Godha launched Indo Israel Avocado at the end of 2019, he didn’t get his hands on the plants until this summer.
The project was beset with delays. First, building the greenhouse (with drip-irrigation technology from Israel’s Netafim) took longer than expected.
Then it took half a year to secure the necessary permits to import hundreds of heat-resistant avocado plants from Oren Nursery in Israel. By that time the season for planting was passing by.
Reluctantly, Godha canceled his initial order and waited until the following growing season. The new order was due to arrive in April 2020.
Of course, by April 2020 the entire world was mired in a pandemic, and that consignment couldn’t be shipped either.
Finally, the long-awaited 1,800 avocado plants arrived in Bhopal via temperature-controlled cargo container this summer.
Godha shared this video showing how each plant was removed from the shipping boxes, unwrapped and transplanted tenderly in the greenhouse he and his crew had prepared long ago.
Godha has documented his experience through his website, Instagram, and a vlog. He also offers a free e-book to help other Indian farmers learn the Israeli way of avocado farming.
“The next phase of my learning involved taking care of the grafted avocado plants inside my greenhouse,” said Godha.
“When the plants arrived, I could envision my dream taking shape. But there are new challenges every day,” he added.
“As soon as I face a problem, I ask Oren about it, and he guides me on how to solve it. Sometimes I consult with local agriculture consultants too, inform Oren and then decide on the best course of action using my judgment. I learned more in the last two months than I did in two years of Internet research because I got hands-on experience with my own plants.”
He will need ongoing guidance and patience; it takes three years after planting for the trees to bear fruit.
“My journey so far hasn’t been an easy one. I was losing years of my precious time each time my consignment got delayed. My friends and some family members suggested I should give up,” he admitted.
“Benny always advised to have patience, that in the long run, it wouldn’t matter. Oren said that the field I have chosen is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Their words helped me during the tougher days,” he said.
Note: This article was first published by Israel21c.