VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Villar makes two wrong claims on Israel agriculture, trade performance

In justifying the conversion of farmlands to residential areas and factories, Sen. Cynthia Villar falsely claimed that Israel had no agricultural lands and is a net exporter of vegetables in the Middle East.

STATEMENT

In a Sept. 1 Senate inquiry on the state of the dairy industry, Villar, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Food and Agrarian Reform, said:

Sa Israel, wala silang lupa, disyerto sila...kaya ihina-hang nila ‘yung kanilang mga plant sa air...Wala silang tubig, kasi ang tubig lang nila nanggagaling sa ocean, salty, dini-desalinate nila (In Israel, they don’t have [farm]lands, only deserts, which is why they hang their plants on the air. They don’t have water because their supply comes from the ocean. It’s salty so they [still] have to desalinate it)...[Y]et they are net exporter (sic) of vegetable in the Middle East.

She added:

[I]to ‘yung sinasabi natin na hindi kailangan ng lupa, hindi kailangan ng tubig. Kailangan natin ay technology to be successful in farming (This is what we’re saying -- we don’t need land, we don’t need water. What we need is technology to be successful in farming).”

Source: Senate of the Philippines official Youtube account, Committee on Agriculture, Food and Agrarian, Sept.1, 2020, watch from 9:24 to 10:07

For this reason, Villar said those who oppose the conversion of farmlands for the construction of houses and factories are “wrong.”

FACT

Contrary to the senator’s claim, there are, in fact, plantations, field crops, forests and woodlands in Israel -- not just deserts -- as shown in its 2013 land use map.

In 2016, the country registered 5,320 square kilometers of agricultural lands, which comprise about 24.58 percent of its total land area of 21,640 square kilometers, according to the latest available records of the World Bank.

Agricultural lands refer to the share of land area that is “arable, under permanent crops, and under permanent pastures,” based on the definition of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. These include land under temporary crops, temporary meadows for mowing or pasture, land under market and kitchen gardens, and farmlands that have been uncultivated for less than five years.

The Israel Central Bureau of Statistics published a detailed map of agricultural crop areas in the country’s natural regions that same year.

Villar on Israel: 2016 Agricultural Crop Areas (Map from Israel Central Bureau of Statistics)

Source: Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, 2016 Agricultural Crop Areas, by Natural Region, Jan.1, 2017

Israel is also not a net exporter of vegetables in the Middle East, based on the latest available data from the World Integrated Trade Solution (WITS), the World Bank’s online repository of trade and tariffs information.

The WITS database groups together countries of the Middle East and North Africa in one region, and tallies figures based only on reported data for each year starting 1995.

In 2018, Israel’s vegetable exports to the Middle East and North African region were valued at about US$3.35 million while its vegetable imports were at about US$17.42 million.

A country or territory is considered a net exporter only when the value of its export is greater than the value of its import, as defined by the Cambridge dictionary.

This puts Israel at a negative balance, or a trade deficit, in the vegetable trade in the Middle East and North African region by about US$14.07 million.

The country was a net exporter in the region only for 10 non-consecutive years: from 1996 to 1998; 2000; and from 2008 to 2013.

A trade deficit occurs when the value of a country’s exports is lower than the value of its imports, according to the National Economic and Development Authority’s (NEDA) primer on imports. Its effect, however, is “always conditional to the nature of [a country’s] economy,” the primer added.

In the 19th edition of their book “Economics,” modern economists Paul Samuelson and William Norhaus said trade deficits are “not necessarily harmful” and are better indicated by other factors such as the balance between domestic investment and domestic saving.

VERA Files has requested updated records from the Israel Embassy in Manila but has yet to receive a response.


Sources

Senate of the Philippines Official Youtube Account, Committee on Agriculture, Food and Agrarian, Aug. 31, 2020

Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel in Figures Selected Data From the Statistical Abstract of Israel 2019, 2020

Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, 2013 Land Use Map, Accessed Sept. 10, 2020

World Bank, 2016 Agricultural land (sq. km) - Israel, Accessed Sept. 15, 2020

World Bank, 2016 Agricultural Land (% of land area) - Israel, Accessed Sept. 4, 2020

World Bank, 2016 Land Area (sq. km) - Israel, Accessed Sept. 4, 2020

World Bank, Glossary | DataBank, n.d.

United Nations, ARABLE AND PERMANENT CROPLAND AREA, June 15, 2017

World Integrated Trade Solution, Country Profile: Data Availability, n.d.

Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, 2016 Agricultural Crop Areas, by Natural Region, Jan.1, 2017

World Integrated Trade Solution, Israel Vegetable Exports By Region 2018, Accessed Sept. 4, 2020

World Integrated Trade Solution, Israel Vegetable Imports By Region 2018, Accessed Sept. 4, 2020

Cambridge Dictionary, Net Exporter, Accessed Sept. 10, 2020

World Integrated Trade Solution, Israel Vegetable Exports and Imports By Country and Region 2018, Accessed Sept. 4, 2020

National Economic Development Authority, Understanding Imports, Accessed Sept. 10, 2020

McGraw-Hill, Economics 19th Edition, page 546



(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)

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