Communal Enterprise

Israel’s kibbutzim effort is sending water technology throughout the world

Situated in one of the world’s most arid regions, Israel has been overcoming water shortages and desertification since its inception in 1948. Its diverse topography, which includes plains, mountains, deserts, and coastlines, makes for many water challenges. A small country at 8,019 square miles (about the size of New Jersey), Israel sustains a population of 6.35 million people.

Israel is resilient, constantly looking for new solutions to water problems and looking toward the future of water management. In the water business, its people have made great advances in technology. It is a country with big ideas.

Within Israel, innovation has happened in small communities called kibbutzim.

In Hebrew, kibbutz means “gathering” or “together.” It is an Israeli collective community. The kibbutz movement dates back to the early 20th century. As Jews immigrated into the Middle East, limited natural resources made independent farming impractical. Jewish communities were threatened by opposing forces in Palestine. The movement combines socialism and Zionism in a form of practical Labor Zionism— all philosophies that support communal living. The communities first created to till the fields have become so much more.

Community values
The kibbutz is based on common contribution, joint production, and mutual support of all its members, according to the Kibbutz Industries Association (KIA). Recent years have seen many adjustments to the kibbutzim as they adapt to modern Israel and the social and financial processes in the country today. Still, the kibbutz keeps the principle of a co-operative partnership.

This type of communal living affects less than 2 percent of the population residing in kibbutzim, but kibbutz industries greatly affect the economy.

“While the kibbutz constitutes only 1.7 percent of Israel’s population, the kibbutz industry contributes 9.2 percent of Israel’s countrywide sales, 7.2 percent of exports, 5.2 percent in investments, and 9.2 percent in industrial employment,” according to KIA. “The kibbutz industries produce metal and electronics, plastic and rubber, processed foods, optics and glass, textile and leather, medicine and chemicals, office supplies, quarries and building materials, toys, jewelry and musical instruments.”

Sales from the kibbutzim totaled $4.44 billion, including $1.33 billion worth of exports in 2003.

KIA, founded in 1962, represents more than 300 industrial enterprises from all of the 270 kibbutz settlements. The association serves as a liaison office to government agencies as well as public and private companies. KIA also acts as a broker bringing together investors and enterprises. Working to protect this unique sense of community, KIA is ensuring the future of thriving kibbutzim. For those living and working in the communities, preserving their way of life is paramount.

Water technology is well represented at Ma’agan Michael and Amiad. Ma’agan Michael develops plastic piping for agricultural uses. Amiad develops self-cleaning water filtration systems. Both communities are proving that life and enterprise can share the same space.

Ma’agan Michael
“A kibbutz is a place where reality and ideology are bound together. A kibbutz is about equality,” said Oren Linder, a member of Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael and regional marketing and sales manager for Eastern Europe and Russia at Plasson Ltd.

Ma’agan Michael is a co-operative located by the Mediterranean Sea. The kibbutz was founded in 1949, and more than 1,500 people reside there. Plasson was developed by the community.

In 1964, a group of agriculturalists decided that farming was becoming dependent on technology and that they needed to modernize and enhance their labor methods. They used their knowledge to produce advanced agricultural equipment by injection molding, and Plasson was born.

Today, Plasson is an international company with annual sales of more than $180 million (U.S., in 2006) and a workforce of 800.

The company’s first products were transportation cages and drinkers for poultry. Later, Plasson developed a range of plastic fittings for plastic pipes. Today Plasson’s products are used for municipal water systems, industry, gas conveyance, mining, telecommunications, agriculture, and landscape applications.

For the water industry, Plasson specializes in pipe-fitting solutions. The company features electrofusion, compression PP (PP is the name of a common thermoplastic polymer) and polyvinyl chloride fittings. One new product is designed to connect electrofusion fittings with PEX, the common name for cross-linked high-density polyethylene pipes, for high-temperature applications.

Plasson is 75 percent owned by the kibbutz. The company has been traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) since 1997 allowing the public to own 25 percent. Seventy percent of Plasson’s expenses are covered by Ma’agan Michael. Linder said that this unique structure fosters equality. Company employees take home salaries based on the size of their families rather than job titles and responsibilities.

“The founders’ commitment to quality, fair dealing, and respect for their customers’ views is the secret of Plasson’s success today,” Linder said.

Plasson has offices in Australia, Italy, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The company also has a network of worldwide distributors.

Plasson is just one way Ma’agan Michael earns its money. Agricultural and animal resources, including poultry and cattle farms and a fish hatchery, also support the community.

Kibbutz Amiad, established in 1946, is located in the upper Galilee region. The kibbutz’s population is only 345. For more than 40 years, Kibbutz Amiad has developed technology to help meet the need for clean water. The kibbutz’s company Amiad, founded in 1962, has grown into a large producer of water filtration products and filtration solutions.

Amiad Filtration Systems’ headquarters today covers more than 43,000 square feet and includes an injection molding plant, production and assembly halls, warehouses and office space, an international filtration training center, and research laboratories. Its automatic, selfcleaning filters and manual filters are used for industry, municipal, and irrigation applications. Amiad Filtration Systems also is traded on the London Stock Exchange AIM Market.

Throughout the company’s history, Amiad stayed true to its position that “the need for clean water concerns everyone involved in sustaining our quality of life. Society and economy cannot exist without water.” This vision has led to the design and manufacture of high-quality water equipment. As a close-knit community, Amiad has been able to ensure manufactured parts meet standards, deliveries are timely, and there is a constant supply of needed parts.

Amiad’s technology was designed to deliver high-impact filtration systems. Fine textile fibers in its product filtration media allow water to be cleaned without the use of chemicals. Its suction-scanning technology allows for fast, efficient self-cleaning for the continuous flow of filtered water, according to Yossi Katzman, former CEO of Amiad Filtration Systems.

Branching out
Amiad’s water technology is spread throughout the world—with offices in Australia, Singapore, China, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Uruguay, and the United States.

Amiad has been on U.S. soil for the past 23 years. Today, the company features six sales representatives that sell across the United States and throughout Canada. Amiad USA sells about 50 percent irrigation products and 50 percent municipal and industrial products. The current staff may need to increase as Amiad’s presence in the United States continues to grow, said Judith Herschell, vice president of sales and marketing for Amiad USA.

Sales this year to date are up 60 percent over last year.

“We’re growing by leaps and bounds,” Herschell said.

While Amiad USA continues to grow, most of its customers will hear little about the kibbutz. Some customers know about the kibbutz, but Herschell said the company does not really publicize its kibbutz.

“The term kibbutz is not as accurate as it used to be,” Herschell said. Many kibbutzim are not the communities they once were. Several kibbutzim have gone public—even Amiad is a public company.

The kibbutz is changing as people re-examine how profitable its companies can be and where it stands in the marketplace.

One kibbutz has decided to sell. In June, Kibbutz Gvat announced it is negotiating to sell its controlling interest in Plastro Irrigation Systems to John Deere, the American agricultural machinery company. At press time, Kibbutz Gvat owned 75 percent of Plastro, which makes drip irrigation systems. The remainder of the company was publicly held.

National perspective
Water is a challenge for the entire country and technology development is represented at the national and international levels. Israel wants to use its knowledge to become the leader in the water technology market.

Water professionals may want to be prepared for the influence Israel could have over the market. After all, this is a country that overcame its own topographical challenges. And it’s not a coincidence that chutzpah is a Hebrew word. Israelis are always poised for the next challenge.

“Never say you have a problem, always talk about a problem as a challenge,” said Booky Oren, chairman of Mekorot Water Co. Ltd, Israel’s national water company. Mekorot supplies 1.3 billion cubic meters of water per year, which accounts for 90 percent of Israel’s drinking water and 70 percent of all the water supply in the country.

The National Water Carrier is Mekorot’s crowning achievement. The total amount of water supplied by the National Water Carrier since its establishment 40 years ago is 12.4 billion cubic meters. It carries water from the north to the center and south of the country. Its total pumping capacity is 72,000 cubic meters per hour, and the total lift is approximately 400 meters, according to Oren.

A strong central water system is just one of the water management technologies Israel has developed. Now, the country is ready to share its technologies with the world.

In October, WATEC 2007 (Water Technologies and Environmental Control Exhibition and Conference), hosted by the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor, will feature water technologies developed in Israel, including its low-pressure and drip irrigation systems. Israel entered the international water scene in the 1960s with these systems because farmers in southern Israel were trying to reduce water use. They based drip irrigation on the concept of dripping water on strategic points through plastic piping.

Israel also has developed innovative automatic valves and controllers, filtration systems, low-discharge sprayers, and mini sprinklers. More than 80 percent of its irrigation products are exported, according to the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor.

The unique drip irrigation systems allowed Israel to achieve 70 percent to 80 percent water efficiency in agriculture, according to Oren, who is the WATEC event chairman. The irrigation systems allow for more water conservation than other irrigation techniques.

Today, Israeli firms control about 50 percent of the global market in drip irrigation, according to the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor.

To continue success in agricultural water technologies, the Israeli government launched a national program in the early 1990s to boost the country’s water industry cluster. A cluster is a geographical concentration of industries that gain performance advantages through colocation. Israeli’s national program promotes research and development and encourages water-dedicated incubators and technology transfer within the cluster. Incubators are organizations that support the entrepreneurial process. They help to increase survival rates for innovative startup companies. Israel’s venture capital community also helps to reinforce the water technology cluster through the establishment of a water-technology fund. The Israeli venture capital market is second in the world for venture capital availability, according to the “World Economic Forum World Competitiveness Yearbook 2006-2007.”

Israel also has developed technologies in the field of desalination, wastewater treatment, and water management.

Global exports
“It is estimated that over the next 15 years, there will be a 35 percent shortage in consumable water, due to the growing world population and a decrease in the water supply. Water is the next energy crisis. Israel sees that as a strategic business opportunity,” Oren said.

Israel is focusing on exporting its technology. In 2006, Israel’s water industry exports totaled $900 million, according to the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor. The majority of those exports were in irrigation and agricultural projects (45 percent), while water valves and meters accounted for 27 percent, and engineering and projects were 13 percent.

“Israel’s proven track record for dealing with water shortage and developing efficient solutions to meet growing water demand uniquely positions it to share its knowledge and become a central player in the water technology market,” said Oded Distel, WATEC water technology director.

And Israel should be in good shape, because like Plato said, “necessity is the mother of invention.”

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

About the Author

Katie McCarthy is the managing editor of Environmental Protection News and Waste Management News. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Arizona. She can be contacted at (972) 687-6715.

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