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Memories of Jewish India in Israel’s cassava crops

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Image source: www.haartez.com

Meir Eliahu opens the gates leading to the numerous hothouses in the fields of Moshav Shahar. To the right of the path is a field of turmeric plants with big shiny leaves; to the left, young ginger is growing; Indian okra and Thai black-eyed peas wind around poles between the furrows. Hanging from the green vines covering the hothouse ceiling beams are bitter gourds, resembling large cucumbers covered in tiny lumps, like a flock of exotic yellow-and-green birds. The plants have all been neatly set out by the diligent farmer, but as tropical plants are wont to do, they insist on transcending their boundaries, lending the place a somewhat wild and most beautiful air.
We keep going until we reach one of the cassava plots. Eliahu, who is not very tall, nearly disappears amid the high shrubs. The cassava roots will shortly reach their peak – the brown outer peel, covered with clumps of dirt, conceals another, delicate pink peel – and will be pulled from the earth. “It was a common food back in India,” says Eliahu, recalling his childhood there. “Even rice was too expensive sometimes, so we ate cassava twice a day – usually boiled into a mush with coconut milk and bananas.”
The tropical plant (also known as manioc or yuca) originated in South America, and the starch-rich root has been consumed by humans since prehistoric times. For thousands of years, it was a key dietary component in South and Central America, and by the 17th century, after European explorers came to the New World, it also found its way to Southeast Asia and India. Tapioca is about the only cassava root product that made its way into Western cuisines (tapioca beads are made from the liquid starch that remains after the cassava root is rinsed before being pounded and ground into flour), but in Asia and South America, it is used in many other ways as well.
Meir’s wife Esther, who was also born in India, is eager to demonstrate to visitors nearly all the ways in which cassava root can be adapted and cooked. The breakfast table in the couple’s modest home is soon piled with heaping platters of cassava chips, made from paper-thin slices of cassava deep-fried to perfection (these are totally addictive); fried cassava and vegetable patties; cassava with curry and mustard leaves; delectable cassava-flour crepes with various vegetarian fillings; and sautéed slivered cassava served with coconut milk and a variety of sweet fruits. As we dine, the couple speaks of fond memories of the Jewish community of Cochin. We drink 
delicious turmeric tea – Meir’s fingertips are stained yellow from the fresh root – and talk about the culinary culture of the old country.

The last optimist

 

Meir Eliahu was born in 1943 in Parur, a small town north of Cochin in southern India. His parents and their ancestors before them were farmers who cultivated rice, coconuts and bananas. Eliahu, the second of six children, came to Israel on his own in the mid-1950s. At first he lived in a school run by the Youth Aliya program, and when his family later made aliya, he joined them on Kibbutz Na’an. The family later moved to Moshav Shahar in the Lachish region.

“In the beginning, my parents worked at menial jobs 
offered by the Jewish Agency,” says Eliahu. “Later, they and other families from Cochin who came to the moshav were able to purchase, with the Jewish Agency’s assistance, 20-dunam plots. They grew cucumbers, tomatoes and green beans. There wasn’t such a big variety as there is today. Then they said there was a crop we could grow – gladioli. The moshav saw it was profitable, and almost all the families switched to growing flowers for the local market. When the price of gladioli fell, they said there was another new thing that would be profitable – growing roses for export. We had a month-long training course and then we started growing roses. That lasted for nine or 10 years, and when that business collapsed we switched to growing house plants.”
In the old days, farming know-how was passed down from father to son. In the modern world of sharp fluctuations in local and global markets, farmers in Israel and around the world have to change their specialty every few years. Eliahu: “The house plants lasted for almost 14 years, and then the Ministry of Agriculture came to us with a new proposal – go back to roses. Ten families on the moshav built big hothouses at a huge investment, and it was a tremendous disaster. Everybody else stopped doing it when the big crisis hit, and I was the last one left, until I finally gave in too.”
Michal chimes in: “My 
father was always the last optimist.” She is one of the Eliahu’s four daughters, and is now trying to help her parents sell their produce directly to restaurants and home consumers.
In one of the big hothouses that were built for growing 
roses, one of the other local farmers now grows edible orchids. Meir Eliahu has switched to growing ornamental plants. “It was going well until about two years ago, but then it fell apart due to the worldwide currency crisis and the entry of farmers from Africa into the field. I had to find something else in order to survive.”

Like many families of Indian background, the Eliahu family had always grown some of the herbs and vegetables from the old country in their home garden. Now they’re trying to make Asian vegetables – which have become more commonly known in Israel over the last few years – into their main source of income. “Five years ago, I started growing cassava, which I knew from India, on a small scale, along with other Asian vegetables and herbs. I prepare the saplings myself and acclimate the crops. It’s not always easy, because some of the tropical plants need a lot of water and aren’t originally suited to growing in Israel.” (“He’s a farmer in his soul,” says Michal, gazing lovingly at her father, who is no longer a young man but still goes out to work in the fields every morning).
The eight-dunam cassava plot will very soon yield its first commercial-scale crop. “South Americans and Indians know this plant, but the general public isn’t so familiar with it and doesn’t know what to do with it. I hope they’ll learn,” says Meir. When cassava season is over, the finger-like ginger and turmeric roots will come up out of the earth. Most of the ginger and turmeric sold in Israel is imported. Regulations require that these imported plants be dipped in chlorine to speed the preservation process, but over time, the roots naturally shrivel and lose some of their initial juiciness. There are some local growers, but on a tiny scale, and Eliahu also has just a couple of dunams for now – but if you are ever fortunate enough to taste the fresh roots, you’ll be on cloud nine. Eliahu has planted a few rows of other experimental crops, including colorful Asian and Indian black-eyed-peas, Thai eggplants, melons, soy broad beans and various herbs.

Credits: haaretz.com

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India Needs to Improve its Educational Outcomes to Catch up with China

To catch up with China, India needs to lay emphasis on improving its educational outcomes

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The Article 30 of the Constitution gives religious and linguistic minorities “the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.”
India needs to improve its educational outcomes to catch up with China. Pixabay

By Amit Kapoor

Both China and India started building their national education systems under comparable conditions in the late 1940s. Different policies and historical circumstances have, however, led them to different educational outcomes, with China outperforming India not just in terms of its percentage of literate population and enrollment rates at all levels of education, but also in terms of number of world-class institutions in higher education, and greater research output.

The roots of China’s successful education system date back to the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), which unintentionally expanded access to the primary education through democratising the schooling system, which was previously elitist in character, thus addressing the problem of mass illiteracy.

In contrast, India continued to focus on its higher education system since independence and only realised the importance of basic education in 1986, keeping it behind China and many other countries in Asia in educational development. In terms of enrollment, China reached a 100 percent gross enrollment rate (GER) in its primary education in 1985, whereas, India attained that level only in 2000.

In terms of secondary school enrollment, India and China both started at the similar rates in 1985, with about 40 percent of their population enrolled in secondary schools. However, due to a wider base of primary school students, the rate of increase in China has been much faster than in India, with 99 percent secondary enrollment rate in China and 79 percent in India in 2017.

India is closing in on the Chinese rate in terms of access to education, but on the literacy level front, there is a huge gap in the percentage of literate populations in the two countries. In the age group of 15-24 years, India scores 104th rank on literacy and numeracy indicator, compared to China’s 40th rank.

The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which assesses after every three years the domain knowledge of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics, science and finance, revealed that students in China performed above the OECD average in 2015. Moreover, one in four students in China are top performers in mathematics, having an ability to formulate complex situations mathematically. Further, China outperforms all the other participating countries in financial literacy, by having a high ability to analyse complex finance products. For India, the comparable data is not available as it was not a participating country in PISA 2015.

abroad, study
Representational image.

However, in India, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2017 provides data for rural youth, aged 14-18, with respect to their abilities to lead productive lives as adults. According to this survey, only about half of the 14-year-old children in the sample could read English sentences, and more than half of the students surveyed could not do basic arithmetic operations, like division. For basic financial calculations, such as managing a budget or making a purchase decision, less than two-thirds could do the correct calculations.

With regard to the higher education system, both India and China dominate the number of tertiary degree holders because of their large population size, but when it comes to the percentage of the population holding tertiary degrees, only about 10 per cent and 8 per cent of the population possess university degrees in China and India, respectively. By contrast, in Japan, almost 50 per cent of the population holds a tertiary degree, and in the United States, 31 per cent of the population hold a tertiary degree.

In terms of the international recognition of universities, the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Ranking for 2019 places seven of the China’s universities in the top 200, compared to none for India. The global university rankings, which are based on various performance metrices, pertaining to teaching, research, citations, international outlook and industrial income, shows progress for several of China’s low-ranked universities, largely driven by improvements in its citations.

In fact, the Tsinghua University has overtaken the National University of Singapore (NUS) to become the best university in Asia due to improvements in its citations, institutional income and increased share of international staff, students and co-authored publications.

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While India has progressed in terms of massification of education, there is still a lot which needs to be done when it comes to catching up with the China’s educational outcomes. China’s early start in strengthening its primary and secondary education systems has given it an edge over India in terms of higher education. Moreover, Chinese government strategies are designed in line with the criterion used in major world university rankings, especially emphasis is on the two factors which weigh heavily in the rankings — publications and international students.

The relentless publications drive, which is very evident in China, is weak in India and has led to a growing gap in the number of publications contributed by the two countries. Further, China enrolled about 292,611 foreign students in 2011 from 194 countries, while India currently only has 46,144 foreign students enrolled in its higher education institutions, coming from 166 countries. The large number of international enrollments in China is a reflection of its state policies granting high scholarships to foreign students.

To catch up with China, India needs to lay emphasis on improving its educational outcomes. Massification drive for education has helped India raise its student enrollments, but a lot needs to be done when it comes to global recognition for its universities. Further, it needs to focus on building the foundation skills which are acquired by students at the school age, poor fundamental skills flow through the student life, affecting adversely the quality of education system. (IANS)