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New Israeli innovation hub seeks foodtech 'revolutions'
Kiryat Shmona, Israel (AFP) Sept 2, 2021

An innovation centre seeking to foster "revolutions" in sustainable food was opened in northern Israel on Thursday by one of the country's leading entrepreneurs, spurred by a "meteoric" investment surge in the sector.

Companies at the Margalit Startup City Galil in Kiryat Shmona included Kinoko-Tech, which grows mushrooms on a platform of lentils to create an unprocessed, zero-waste hybrid food.

Also featured was Witi, which uses electro-optic monitoring to detect grapevine disease, allowing growers to reduce pesticide use by giving them real-time data from the field on when pesticides are actually needed.

Erel Margalit, chair of venture capital firm JVP, told AFP he was motivated in part to open the centre because "the planet cannot hold."

"Foodtech needs to be the big answer to change food and agriculture, because right now we're feeding animals, and we're slaughtering five billion cows a year," he said, voicing concern over unsustainable resource consumption.

The centre in Kiryat Shmona, a stone's throw from Lebanon, aims to be a nexus of "two revolutions", food and technology, that are crucial to the world's future, Margalit said.

- 'Meteoric investment leap' -

About 400 agri-tech and food-tech enterprises are currently registered in Israel.

Foodtech in particular has seen a "meteoric leap in investments," said Ido Yosovzon, an agri-food technology analyst with Start-Up Nation Central, which promotes Israeli innovation.

"Investments in Israeli food-tech companies in 2020 reached $148 million, compared to $300 million as of September 1, 2021," he told AFP.

This doubling in less than a year marks the highest investment rise in the entire technology sector, Yosovzon said, listing alternative proteins as the main engine of growth.

"We're just in the beginning, both in terms of the amount of money invested in companies, and the number of companies."

Kinoko-Tech co-founder and chief executive Jasmin Ravid said growing mushrooms on a lentil platform was made possible through "ground-breaking technology."

The company, she told AFP, was producing "protein in a super-ecological and super-tasty way."

"It's food that's healthy for us and the planet."

Separately, a device developed by Witi co-founders Yonatan Elimelech De-Wolff and Ran Nakash resembles night-vision goggles.

It gives farmers "the ability to have instant lab analysis from the field" and "detect grape-vine diseases and grape quality" said Elimelech De-Wolff.

Allowing farmers to asses grape quality in the field, instead of a lab, saves time, money and could "dramatically reduce the use of pesticides."

He cited data from France, where grape vines take up three percent of agricultural land but account for 30 percent of pesticide and fungicide use.

The innovation centre's home of Kiryat Shmona typically makes headlines through conflict with Lebanon, but Margalit said its Galilee region offered ideal conditions for food innovation.

"It has the highest mountains, the lowest valleys -- you can grow everything," he said.

Thirty-five companies are currently based at the centre, but Margalit said interest was growing.

"We have people coming from around the country, from around the world, they want to be a part of it."

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