Saudi shrimp prove to be a hit across the globe

The Saudi government encourages investment in the aquaculture sector through different strategies and policies. AN photo
Updated 22 April 2018
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Saudi shrimp prove to be a hit across the globe

  • The National Aquaculture Group has nearly 3,000 employees from 32 countries who speak 19 languages; 500 of them are Saudi nationals (21 percent) and 149 of them are women
  • Saudi Arabia’s fish stock is considered one of the strategic pillars of economic and social development

JEDDAH: Saudi shrimp roam European and East Asian countries, traveling between the world’s finest restaurants and hotels, and are given a warm welcome in 32 countries.

The story behind the rise of Saudi shrimp started 36 years ago. In the 1970s, a Saudi engineer with a vision and an enthusiasm for marine products traveled to the Philippines to recruit workers for civil engineering projects in Saudi Arabia. During his stay, he went to a restaurant where the Red Sea shrimp was on the menu, which gave him the idea of establishing farms on the Red Sea coast to produce shrimp in his country.

His enthusiasm encouraged Filipino technicians to start working on the shrimp-farming project on the Red Sea. Then came the launch of the National Aquaculture Group. It is considered one of the largest integrated aquaculture projects on the Saharan coasts in the world and the largest in the Middle East and Africa. The group is also the leader in aquaculture in the Kingdom.

The group consists of a staff of nearly 3,000 employees from 32 countries who speak 19 languages; 500 of them are Saudi nationals (21 percent) and 149 of them are women. The group is a founding member of the Global Aquaculture Alliance and had a key role in the establishment of the Saudi Aquaculture Society.

Ahmed Al-Ballaa, the CEO of National Aquaculture Group, said: “The Kingdom launched Vision 2030 as a roadmap for economic and development work. The vision set the Kingdom’s general directions and policies in addition to their objectives and obligations.”

“Among these objectives is the development and expansion of the aquaculture field,” he said. “That’s where the vision is in harmony with the program of the National Agricultural Research and Development Fund under the supervision of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture. The ministry focused on the aquaculture sector for it to become one of the Kingdom’s development branches. This comes at a time where the Kingdom is witnessing a complete renaissance in various parts of the aquaculture sector,” he said.

“This became possible due to the support of King Salman and his crown prince and their government.”

Al-Ballaa said: “The Kingdom’s fish stock is considered one of the strategic pillars of economic and social development, self-sufficiency of marine products and food security, in addition to providing job opportunities, especially in remote rural areas.”

“This can be accomplished through the development of aquaculture rules and the diversification of outputs. These objectives can also be reached by enhancing economic and marketing efficiency, benefiting from the important comparative advantages and resources found in the Kingdom. These resources are particularly found on the maritime coastlines, the solid base of expansion of the aquaculture industry.”

“The state has encouraged investment in the aquaculture sector through different strategies and policies. The latest was the government’s decision issued in September 2015. It approved the establishment of a national program to develop the fish stock sector in the Kingdom. The program is managed by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture in collaboration with any party it sees relevant,” Al-Ballaa said.

“As a response to the growing demand for marine products due to population growth, the ministry focused on aquaculture. It pointed out its economic usefulness, profitability and necessity to provide citizens with high-quality healthy food, especially after the shift in consumption patterns.”

Al-Ballaa said that the project “is located 180 kilometers south of Jeddah in Al-Lith province. This project is one of the largest integrated marine farms in the world.”

“The group was established 35 years ago as a project that studied the possibility of shrimp farming from 1982 till 1987. It then established some private facilities to start experimenting with different kinds of shrimp. The first successful breeding was of the Indian white shrimp in 1984 followed by the breeding of Penaeus semisulcatus shrimp in 1985. The last successful breeding trial was of the Penaeus monodon shrimp in 1987.”

“To conduct more experiments, they needed private land. At the time, they had 10 hectares of land and started building 4,000-square-meter tanks. Female P. monodon shrimp were produced and completed 300 shrimp-farming cycles. The greater accomplishment came with the first shipment of farmed shrimp from Saudi Arabia to European countries in 1992,” Al-Ballaa said.

“In the light of the unprecedented success in the Saudi aquaculture sector from 1995 till 2001, the group transitioned to a new phase. It was the commercial operations phase which started with the building of a complete shrimp project.”

“The project included a nursing unit, a shrimp hatchery unit and 100 shrimp-farming tanks. It was made to have a daily shrimp production capacity of five tons. It included laboratories specialized in testing shrimp. The group then moved to the industrial phase that transformed the farm from a small operation that worked in a traditional manner to a complete industrial farm. It was built on scientific and sustainable grounds, contributed to the realization of food security and support of the national economy. The group then changed again from a shrimp-producing company to a number of companies that work to produce a complete marine-products basket. They produced shrimp, different kinds of fish such as Asian sea bass, European sea bass, Dennis fish, in addition to sea cucumber and sea algae.”

Al-Ballaa said: “In March of 2003, the late King Abdullah visited the project to inaugurate the first stage and lay the foundation stone of its second stage.”

“It is considered the main pillar of the group and its main income source. The project’s production capacity reached about 41,500 tons of shrimp in 2017, with a goal of 60,000 tons set for 2018.”

The shrimp project has 17 farms with 547 tanks. The project also includes a specialized unit for mother shrimp and larvae production units (960 larvae produced monthly equal to 32 million larvae daily). It is the largest plant in the world to process and supply shrimp with a capacity of 560 tons daily. The group is working to raise the production capacity of the plant to 700 tons daily.


90-year anniversary: How the Arab world came to know Tintin and Popeye

Updated 18 January 2019
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90-year anniversary: How the Arab world came to know Tintin and Popeye

  • Middle Eastern fans fondly look back at two comic icons who share a birthday this year, although they’re not without controversy
  • An Egyptian publisher printed Tintin in Arabic, while Popeye was broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 and Spacetoon

Popeye, the scruffy sailor who remains one of the most loveable characters of all time, has been a popular fixture in Middle Eastern pop culture since the early 1980s. In addition to mountains of merchandise, particularly stuffed toys, being available in local shops, the cartoons were broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 (in their original English) and on Spacetoon (with Arabic dubbing). 
“I remember the first time I watched Popeye,” Zainab Basrawi, a 36-year-old insurance lawyer and self-professed Popeye enthusiast, told Arab News. “I learned to love spinach just from watching him save Olive every time. I believed him. I think he was a great influence on children to subtly ease them into eating their greens.”
Just one week after Tintin first appeared in “Le Petit Vingtieme,” Popeye made his debut on Jan. 17, 1929 as a side character in the daily King Features comic strip “Thimble Theatre.”
Created by the American cartoonist Elzie Crisler Segar, the one-eyed sailor with bulging forearms quickly grew in popularity, becoming the star of his own strip, an animated TV cartoon and a 1980 movie starring
Robin Williams. The theme song from the cartoon, “I’m Popeye the Sailorman,” is one of the most recognized pieces of music in pop culture history.
Compared to boyish, clean-cut, good- natured Tintin, Popeye is his polar opposite.
The sailor is rough, gruff and extremely tough, famous for the super-strength he gets from eating canned spinach, and his never-ending love triangle with his girlfriend Olive Oyl and rival Bluto.
Like Tintin, as a relic from another era, Popeye has also been criticized for racial stereotypes. In “Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves,” he is shown beating up poorly made caricatures of Arab men. In “You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap,” the Japanese characters in the cartoon get the same treatment.
However, literary critic Sophie Cline said the comic strip is reflective of the time it was created in, almost a century ago. “I think it’s important not to ignore these pieces of our history, or hide them away, but rather to own up to our mistakes and learn from them,” she told Arab News.
She alluded to the new disclaimer that now precedes old Looney Tunes cartoons, informing viewers that their outdated “racial prejudices” no longer reflect Warner Bros. values but are “products of their time.”
“Popeye cartoons reflect the common view of the era,” she said. “A disclaimer should be enough.”

Tintin, one of the world’s most famous fictional journalists, traveled the world seeking stories and adventure, so he naturally spent a good amount of time in the Middle East.
Created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, better known by his pseudonym Herge (say his initials in reverse out loud in a French accent), Tintin travels the region in four of his books: “Cigars of the Pharaoh,” “The Crab with the Golden Claws,” “Land of Black Gold” and “The Red Sea Sharks.”
Tintin gained more of a foothold in the region when Egyptian publisher Dar Al-Maarif began printing the comics in Arabic in 1971. Renaming him “Tantan,” Dar Al-Maarif continued to publish the comics weekly
until 1980.
“Tintin has been one of my idols for as long as I can remember,” said Haytham Faisal, a journalist from Cairo. “I literally became a journalist because I wanted to be him. My dad used to take me to buy the comics from the local bookstore. I remember them being so expensive, so they were a rare treat. I’d always think twice before buying them, but I couldn’t always wait for the next comic to see what new story they have next. I still have some of them, they were that precious to me.”
Before appearing in book format, Tintin and his constant companion, the dog Snowy, were first introduced to audiences in “Le Petit Vingtieme,” or “The Little Twentieth,” a supplement to the Belgian newspaper “Le Vingtieme Siecle” (The Twentieth Century) on Jan. 4, 1929. Herge, however, maintained that Tintin was actually “born” on Jan. 10, when “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets” began its serialization in the paper.
Despite the fact that he never seems to hand in any stories, the loveable and quirky Tintin is portrayed as talented at his profession, so much so that he is shown to be in high demand, with many press agencies offering him bribes for his dispatches.
Over the years, Tintin’s face has been used to advertise quintessentially French items such as Citroen cars and La Vache Qui Rit cheese. Enthusiasts of Tintin lore, known as Tintinolo- gists, have written entire books devoted to him.
Since 1929, more than 250 million copies of the Tintin comic books have been sold. His adventures have been translated in more than 110 languages, and the books are sold in almost every country in the world.
Tintin continues to grow in popularity, even 90 years on. He was the star of a full-length feature film, directed by Steven Spielberg, in 2011 and of an animated television series. The latter was broadcast on Saudi Channel 2 between 1991 and 1992 and a dubbed version has been on MBC 3 since 2003.
However, the history of Tintin has not been without its hiccups. Over the years, critics have argued that, like many of the comics of the era, it should undergo censorship or even outright banning from bookstores and libraries. One of the more troublesome ones is his second adventure, “Tintin in the Congo.”
The natives Tintin visits are crude stereo- types of African people, who are portrayed as ignorant and uneducated, and the references to slavery, such as when the natives refer to Tintin as “master,” make the comics hard to stomach.
Similarly, “Land of Black Gold,” which takes place in a fictional Red Sea state named Khemed, is also banned in several Middle Eastern countries today for its stereotypical portrayal of Arabs.
While some argue the comics are simply byproducts of their era, they are nonetheless somewhat difficult to revisit in the modern era. Attempts have been made to soften some of the references, with edits being made to “Tintin in the Congo” in 1975, but is that enough?
Not according to the London-based human rights lawyer David Enright, who wrote in the Guardian newspaper that “Tintin in the Congo” shouldn’t be sold to children. “Books are precious, but so are the minds of young children. It is vital that our children learn and explore the grotesque history of slavery, racism and anti-Semitism, but in the proper context of the school curriculum.”