Gov't mulls privatizing Volcani Inst

Volcani Institute Photo: Moshe Lichtman

A tender for selling 50% of the agricultural research institute's IP to the Chinese, Indian or Russian governments has been proposed.

While the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is preparing for a hearing in the coming weeks on a petition to the High Court of Justice by researchers at the Agricultural Research Organization Volcani Center against the actions of a team appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to consider moving the Volcani Center to northern Israel, Shlomo Ben Eliyahu, the director general of the ministry, with the support of Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Uri Ariel, is considering an initiative to privatize agricultural research by selling the rights to the intellectual property and output of the Volcani Center's research to a foreign government company.

Ben Eliyahu has presented the initiative to parties in the ministry. The initiative will first be presented to Prime Minister's Office director general Eli Groner and Accountant General Rony Hizkiyahu. Ben Eliyahu said that during his visit to China two months ago, he had seen that there was great demand for the results of the Volani Center's basic and applied research, which was internationally renowned, but this demand was not reflected in the proceeds received by the Volcani Institute.

Under Ben Eliyahu's proposal, the government will sell 50% of the rights to the Volcani Center's output to a foreign government company, for example China. Other possibilities mentioned were a sale to government agencies in India or Russia. Ben Eliyahu is proposing a plan for an international tender to sell the existing intellectual property rights still possessed by the Volcani Center, and the rights for the coming 10 years.

In his initiative, Ben Eliyahu mentioned the estimate that the proceeds from such privatization would reach NIS 100 million in each of the next 10 years, subject to the tender results. Under the proposal, some of the proceeds will be used to upgrade the Volcani Center and hire additional researchers, and some will be given to the Ministry of Finance.

The initial proposal is to foster a brainstorming discussion about the idea of selling the intellectual property, with the participation of Groner, Hizkiyahu, representatives of the Ministry of Finance budget department, the Israel Innovation Authority chairman, the Attorney General, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development agricultural research department manager.

"Minimal returns compared with the potential"

In response to the initiative by Ariel and Ben Eliyahu, Volcani Institute researchers said, "The Minister of Agriculture's idea of selling control of the Volcani Institute for a mess of pottage, including the results of its research, to Chinese companies in order to recoup some of the cost of his unacceptable plan to move the Volcani Institute to the north once again highlights his obsession. Privatizing an inalienable asset of Israel for a minimal return, compared with its potential, is primarily an example of short-term thinking.

"Instead of implementing the long-term plan devised by former National Economic Council chairman Prof. Eugene Kandel, which has already proved itself by quadrupling the state's revenue from the Volcani Institute's inventions, Ariel has chosen to promote a shortsighted plan with a single purpose: to create sources of revenue, to cover some, if not all, of the cost of moving the Volcani Institute northward. This move, according to all the experts asked to express an opinion on the matter, is liable to destroy agricultural research in Israel, about which Ariel often boasts, and which he now wishes to sell.

"This is one more chapter in Ariel's unfortunate term as Minister of Agriculture: after giving the Prime Minister of Russia a research drone as a gift, he now wants to give the fruits of the Volcani Center's research as a gift to the Chinese. This proposal is twisted and faulty in almost every possible aspect. It will give no added value to the agricultural industry in Israel, and is especially a tragic error concerning the value of the Volcani Institute's inventions.

"The Volcani Institute's great contribution to the Israeli economy is reflected in its research assistance to Israeli agriculture, whose exports total billions of shekels every year. According to a study by the Volcani Institute's Public Relations Unit, annual sales of products developed at the Volcani Institute or with its cooperation, in addition to the crops based on its inventions, amount to NIS 8 billion yearly."

Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on May 7, 2017

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2017

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Volcani Institute Photo: Moshe Lichtman
Volcani Institute Photo: Moshe Lichtman
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