Saudis remember ‘Year of Hunger’ to curb extravagance

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Old Saudis tell heartbreaking stories about how miserable their ancestors’ lives were. They say that some 50 years ago, some families could only have meat on Eid Al-Adha.
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Eta’am volunteers collect food from a hotel for free distribution.
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Volunteers busy working at a wedding hall.
Updated 24 April 2018

Saudis remember ‘Year of Hunger’ to curb extravagance

  • With its natural resources and the wise control of its vast wealth, Saudi Arabia is now a member of the G-20, making it an important player in the management of the global financial system.
  • The Saudi leadership aims to enlighten all segments of the society about the negative practices in dealing with extra amounts of food

JEDDAH: The year 1909 is known by old Saudi people as the “Year of Hunger.” In that year, Saudis suffered to such an extent that some of them perished while searching for a mouthful of food that could keep them alive for a few days.

Old people tell heartbreaking stories about how miserable their ancestors’ lives were. 

“Some 50 years ago, a Saudi family could have meat only on the day of sacrifice, Eid Al-Adha,” Mohammed Mousa, a retired soldier in his eighties, told Arab News.

He added that wheat bread, dates and water made up the daily meals of his family of four. “The family that had a small quantity of sheep milk, ghee and tea was considered rich,” he said.

Khamees Al-Zahrani, a preacher, told an excruciating story about a group of friends who lived in the region some 100 years ago. 

“A group of men agreed to seek food wherever it would be, even if it cost them their lives. A starving woman with a 12-year-old boy approached one of them and begged him to take her only son with them; as he might die of emptiness if he stayed with her,” Al-Zahrani said.

The woman assured the man that she would forgive him if her son died. The merciful man agreed.

“Three days into their quest, they found nothing to eat. So the other men secretly told the man that they should kill the boy and eat his flesh. ‘Otherwise, we will all die’,” the preacher said.

The “trustworthy” man refused, Al-Zahrani added. “While the other men were trying to persuade him, they saw a female dog with six puppies. They rejoiced and forgot about the boy. They then slaughtered the seven animals, started a fire and had their ‘hot dogs’ that helped them complete their trip,” Al-Zahrani said.

Al-Zahrani told another painful story about a woman who asked a man to marry her. 

“He told her that he had no money. The would-be groom was shocked to hear from the woman that all she wanted from him was to assure her daily need of food, and that would be her dowry,” Al-Zahrani said.

Old people have heard heartbreaking stories about their fathers and relatives. They tell these stories to their children to remind them to thank God for all graces He has granted them.

Keeping this in mind, Eta’am Food Bank organized an event on Monday at the King Abdul Aziz Center for National Dialogue to commemorate “the Year of Hunger” to spread awareness of preserving food and making use of leftovers.

Deputy Governor of Riyadh, Prince Mohammed bin Abdurrahman, patronized the event.

Under the slogan “A 100 Years … From Hunger to Extravagance,” the event was also attended by the undersecretary of the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, Abdurrahman Al-Mutairi, and a large number of businessmen. 

Amir bin Abdurrahman Al-Barjas, executive director of Eta’am, said: “More than 100 years ago, we went through very painful events.” 

He said during those days, hunger mercilessly effected the rich and the poor alike. 

“You can’t imagine what happened that year. Because of hunger, people were found dead on the roads,” he said.

Al-Barjas said that the latest studies have found that Saudi Arabia is among the most food-wasting countries. 

“No wonder as millions of tons of food are thrown in garbage containers without any measures taken against the wrongdoers,” he added.

The event saw signings of memoranda of cooperation between Eta’am and a number of private sector companies, in which these companies assured to support and finance the programs of the Eta’am.

During the event, a documentary highlighting the tough times Saudis went through during those days was also screened.

On the other hand, Ahmed Al-Jaafari, director of administrative development at Eta’am, said the Saudi leadership aims to enlighten all segments of society about the negative practices in dealing with extra amounts of food.

“We at Eta’am introduce the best positive ways to benefit from extra food,” he said. He urged the people to learn a lesson from ‘the Year of Hunger.’

It is hoped that linking that year to the opulence in our lives today will help people change their bad habits about food consumption.

Blessing in disguise: How pandemic was a catalyst for Saudi SMEs to change

Saudi Arabia’s consumer behavior was transformed during the lockdown as soon as malls and stores were ordered to shut their doors, creating a frenzy among consumers. (SPA)
Updated 20 September 2020

Blessing in disguise: How pandemic was a catalyst for Saudi SMEs to change

  • E-platforms played a crucial role in SMEs’ survival
  • COVID-19 transformed people’s shopping habits

JEDDAH: Saudis continue to shop online despite the government easing the COVID-19 lockdown, with the surge in e-commerce prompting small and medium-sized enterprises to adapt.

E-commerce saved global retail markets from collapse and stopped consumers from having to go out during the first wave of the outbreak. However, SMEs were the most vulnerable to the pandemic’s consequences and e-platforms played a crucial role in their survival.
Saudi Arabia’s consumer behavior was transformed during the COVID-19 lockdown as soon as stores were ordered to shut their doors, creating a frenzy among consumers although they were quick to adapt. SMEs were also forced to adapt, not only to accommodate the growing demand for online shopping but to ensure they survived with minimal losses.
Marion Janson, the chief economist at the UN’s International Trade Centre, said in June that around 20 percent of SMEs globally may not survive the pandemic.
A recent report from Visa revealed increased anxiety among merchants in Saudi Arabia, with 67 percent of small businesses noticing a decrease in average consumer spending.
Many Saudi consumers started shopping online for the first time, primarily for essentials. The Visa report showed that two-thirds of the Saudi consumers surveyed said that COVID-19 led to their first online grocery purchase, while 59 percent made their first online purchase from pharmacies.
“With the confusion at the beginning, we didn’t know what was acceptable and what wasn’t,” said Dr. Suhad Zain, a government employee in Jeddah. “Can we risk going out to shop for our daily needs or not? We needed to be sure that everyone in the house was safe, including the driver, and not expose ourselves to the invisible menace that changed our lifestyles. Most of our groceries were obtained online, from produce to water bottles to even appliances and leisure items. It had to be done, even though we needed time to accept the new change.”
Fear of the virus is expected to change the way consumers behave forever. “It became more convenient even after the lockdown was lifted,” Zain added. “After a few months we got used to it and, as a family, it became our new preferred means of purchase.”
Such conditions were a catalyst for online commerce, according to the Visa report, with 38 percent of merchants in the country reporting the introduction of online offerings as a direct result of the pandemic while more than half had an e-commerce presence before the pandemic.

Two-thirds of the Saudi consumers said COVID-19 led to their first online grocery purchase, while 59% made their first online purchase from pharmacies. (GettyImages)

The report also said there was a surge in e-commerce, a preference for trusted brands, a decline in discretionary spending, and a polarization of sustainability. Consumers have a larger basket, but reduced shopping frequency, and will shift to stores closer to home. A change can easily be detected in Saudi consumer behavior.
But the shift to online commerce, with cash transactions being replaced by digital payments, has negatively influenced cash-only retailers and presents a tough challenge to these merchants, who have to understand the shift in consumer behavior and adapt accordingly and urgently.
“Saudi business owners currently face multiple challenges that they need to deal with when they want to shift to e-commerce, some of them even lack the knowledge of how technology could benefit them and what options it could offer,” Talal Abdullah, a business development and marketing consultant, told Arab News.
“Also some will need to find a technical partner to successfully transform to e-commerce and, most importantly, they need to revisit their business model canvas to determine how they want to employ this technology for the best of their businesses.”
In order to overcome these challenges, Abdullah suggested that business owners look for the right technical partner based on their new model.
“If they fail to find a suitable technical partner, then they need to set a clear budget for the application or website they need to set up. But before reaching out to any company that offers support with these technical services, you must get in touch with real clients of these companies and inquire about their business and how they deal with them.”
He added that seeking assistance from technical consultants or owners of similar projects could cut down on time and effort. Joining business accelerators and incubators, as well as entrepreneurship and technology communities, could help with expanding knowledge and relationships and contribute overall to a smoother transition.
But these changes have their costs too, imposing new financial burdens on an already weakened business due to the pandemic and the time required to build and adapt a new business model that targets a completely different group of customers. It is a serious challenge for many small retailers.
Abu Mohammed has been in the retail business for 20 years. He used to have frequent customers who came in for a specific type of clothing with a certain price range. But, with the lockdown, he could hardly sell anything.
“I began targeting a different kind of customer in the past couple of years where I was importing new clothes and selling them through Instagram and e-commerce websites,” he told Arab News. “However I still cannot completely substitute my current store with a completely virtual one. That needs time and money to build a reputation.”
He said the lockdown had been a harsh experience for him and that he recognized the need to expedite his old plans to transform his store into an actual brand, since people were gradually moving toward online shopping from well-known brands.
“This transformation is not going to be easy at all,” he added. “It will need a good marketing plan and well-spent money not only on tools but also staff. It is a completely new experience, however. I know e-commerce is here to stay and it is our only way forward. Otherwise my work for years will gradually vanish. This crisis could be a blessing in disguise, who knows.”