‘My Saudi posting was a blessing from God’

Updated 16 April 2014

‘My Saudi posting was a blessing from God’

Outgoing Indian Consul General Faiz Ahmed Kidwai, who is leaving after serving here for three years, says it was a “blessing from God” to have had a posting in Saudi Arabia.
In a wide-ranging interview, Kidwai praised the Saudi government for providing free Haj services for millions of Muslims every year. He also outlined the various achievements of the mission under his watch, including helping thousands of Indian workers rectify their status under the Kingdom’s Saudization program.
“Some people talk about the occasional fires and stampedes that occur during the Haj, but often ignore the Saudi government’s massive operations and arrangements to make this huge annual gathering a big success. We should appreciate that all these services are provided free of charge.”
He stressed the need to establish community schools for the children of Indian workers living in Makkah and Madinah outside the two cities. This is because the Saudi government does not allow embassies to open community schools in the holy cities.
Kidwai said the past three years had seen him focus on the Haj, the Nitaqat system and amnesty period, and improving the consulate’s services.
“We have improved the quality of pilgrim accommodation in Makkah and Madinah. We hired bigger and newer buildings with better amenities. We previously had 620 buildings but this huge number created many logistical problems, so we decided to reduce it to 420 last year.”
“Ideally one flight of pilgrims could be accommodated in one building and it was much easier for us to handle. We also worked to achieve uniformity in amenities at buildings. Over the last two years we purchased 250,000 bed sheets for pilgrims.”
Kidwai said the consulate also provided SIM cards to pilgrims in India, and a baggage check-in service with the support of a cargo agent. “We get the baggage from the residences of pilgrims in Makkah and Madinah 24 hours before their flights and deliver them to the airport. This reduced flight delays considerably. In the first year, we faced tremendous resistance from pilgrims because they were not ready to hand their baggage to the agent. Now they are very happy with it.”
He said the Kingdom’s General Authority of Civil Aviation encouraged other countries to do the same. “Now many countries are providing a city check-in service for their pilgrims. We are happy to say that India introduced this service first.”
Kidwai said the consulate has also introduced measures to make life more comfortable and private for pilgrims, especially families. “To address this issue we set up a computer program that enabled us to provide separate rooms for a maximum number of families.”
“We have also introduced a successful system to accommodate elderly pilgrims in buildings closer to the Grand Mosque. We have 21 embarkation points for pilgrims in India and we asked the local Haj committee to send all the elderly pilgrims on the first flight.”
Kidwai said that one of his greatest challenges was helping workers during the amnesty period. “We had no idea of the size of the problem. The Labor Ministry has reported that 1.4 million Indians benefited from its services during the amnesty including changing sponsors and professions, and having iqamas issued to them. About 200,000 Indians left the Kingdom during the amnesty period. They represent less than 10 percent of Indians (2.8 million) in the country.”
During the amnesty period, the Indian Consulate also set up 18 counters to help workers, including determining their status as runaways, and finding them jobs. “We helped more than 5,000 people find employment by holding two job fairs. We asked companies to open their stalls at the consulate to recruit people,” he said.
“Our staff members worked 24 hours a day at the deportation center to provide assistance, with the support of community organizations. Every Tuesday we distributed at least 2,000 food packets. We provided about 200 air tickets to people who could not afford it. The consulate has received about 5,000 passports of Indians who had run away from their sponsors and has set up a database for them.”
Kidwai said measures are in place to help prisoners in Saudi jails. “Many of them have been released with the support of community funds. We are not informed when an Indian is jailed but learn about it during regular visits to jails. We have set up a database of prisoners. We make sure prisoners are released after completing their sentences,” he said.
“We have worked out a plan to provide legal assistance to Indians in trouble. Newly recruited drivers should not drive vehicles here before getting driver’s licenses, and make sure their vehicles are insured. If they are involved in an accident without these documents they would have to pay blood money of up to SR500,000 to the accident victims.”
He believes that Allah Almighty planned for him to serve in the Kingdom. “I was selected for the position from a shortlist of five candidates, which took into consideration my performance as a collector in Hoshangabad on the bank of Narmada where I managed three annual religious festivals for about 800,000 people.”
“My wife Kausar, daughter Aliya and I had apprehensions before coming here but having worked here I realized that it was the best posting I have ever had, professionally, personally, spiritually and even financially. It was a great blessing from God. I will be returning to Madhya Pradesh after seven years of service outside the state,” he said.


Experimental cocoa bean harvest: A sweet opportunity for Saudi Arabia

Gebran Al-Maliki, owner of a cocoa plantation, says introducing cocoa will help reshape the agriculture sector. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 01 December 2020

Experimental cocoa bean harvest: A sweet opportunity for Saudi Arabia

  • Saudi Arabia provides an environment conducive to the shrub’s growth, says expert

MAKKAH: In an unprecedented experience for the Kingdom, a harvest season of more than 200 cocoa shrubs began this year in Jazan following several years of planting the Filipino seedlings.

The foreign plant is a new experiment for the Kingdom as it plans on testing out the long-term success of planting the favored sweet treat.

Specialists in the region pointed out that the cocoa shrub resembles the famous coffee shrub found in the south region of the Kingdom, where a number of farmers have already begun to evaluate the experience and continue cultivating land to make room for more, while others were not so successful.

The supervisor of the Mountain Areas Development and Reconstruction Authority in Jazan, Eng. Bandar Al-Fifi, said: “The cocoa shrub is a tropical or subtropical shrub and is native to South America and East Asia. It was presented to the Mountain Regions Development and Reconstruction Authority a few years back, specifically to the agricultural research station.”

FASTFACTS

• The Jazan region is known for its lush, green lands and fertile soil that possesses the necessary ingredients to ensure the development of other crops.

• Rainfall is abundant, seasonal fluctuations in rainfall are scarce and humidity is high, ensuring that soil continues to retain the moisture it requires for harvests.

He added: “The cultivation process was carried out six years ago by bringing seeds and seedlings from the Philippines. The seeds were cultivated and seedlings were distributed to some interested farmers in the region.

“We in the station’s field have cocoa, banana, mango and guava trees, as well as many tropical and subtropical trees. The field is being used as a guarantor of seeds, in addition to conducting tests and real experiments in an area of 200 meters, in particular on 15 cocoa plants and the first cocoa shrub in Saudi Arabia.”

He told Arab News that it was difficult at first to encourage farmers to invest in the plant, as many were hesitant to introduce a plant not indigenous to the region in order to facilitate the establishment of manufacturing factories and grow a local market.

Al-Fifi said that in Ethiopia, companies buy crops from farmers and then start an integrated industrial process of sorting, cleaning, drying and roasting, because to complete the whole process is not economically viable for farmers alone.

“If every farmer owns 30 cocoa shrubs, this will be an additional source of income for their future,” he added.

The Jazan region is known for its lush, green lands and fertile soil that possesses the necessary ingredients to ensure the development of other crops that guarantee continuity and different harvest times for each type of plant harvested in the area. Rainfall is abundant, seasonal fluctuations in rainfall are scarce and humidity is high, ensuring that soil continues to retain the moisture it requires for harvests.

“In addition to the fact that the temperature gap between small and mature shrubs is not big, due to our proximity to the equator, Saudi Arabia is located below the tropical line, which creates environmental conditions that help the shrub grow,” said Al-Fifi.

Gebran Al-Maliki, one of the owners of a cocoa plantation in Jazan, told Arab News: “Adding cocoa to the Kingdom’s agricultural field is one of the innovative things in Saudi Arabia and it began to give good results that would broadly stimulate the development process, provide an agricultural model that can be trusted and improve experience in a country that supports its farmers and provides them with all the required capabilities.”

He received seeds and seedlings by the end of 2016 as an experiment in which everyone was granted support. “Some wanted to give this new experience a try, because it is similar to the coffee plant. It is an ordinary shrub, just like fruit and citrus trees, but it is a drought-tolerant shrub that is watered once a week.”

To successfully cultivate the fruit, Al-Maliki said that shrubs need shade when first planted in the ground as they are “quite finicky,” but that with the proper care and attention, a tree will flower at about three to four years of age and can grow up to two meters in height.

With up to 400 seeds, the product testing began on his farm after just four years.

“You can find 30 to 50 seeds inside a pod, which are later dried under the sun and ground to become a ready-to-use powder. Cocoa powder can be found in chocolate, oils and cosmetics, in addition to several other uses,” Al-Maliki said.

He said that the seed is very bitter and explained that the more bitter, the better the quality. He added that he has four shrubs, and what hindered the spreading process was waiting for the product quality test results, indicating that the fruit was tried and was found very successful.

The agricultural research station for the Development and Reconstruction of Agricultural Areas aim to reach 50 shrubs in the region to provide enough fruit to produce seeds and seedlings for farmers. Al-Fifi said that they aim to reach 400 seedlings per year that will be distributed, on top of seedlings grown by the region’s farmers themselves.