How does his garden grow? Sustainably, in the desert

How does his garden grow? Sustainably, in the desert
Updated 04 June 2018

How does his garden grow? Sustainably, in the desert

How does his garden grow? Sustainably, in the desert
  • Saudi farmer Omar Al-Jundi has built the region’s first vertical farm in Dubai with plans for Jeddah in 2020
  • The team of Badia Farms, which he founded in Al Quoz in December last year, consists of 12 people, all of whom have experience in farming.

DUBAI: Omar Al-Jundi is not your average Saudi Arabian farmer. In fact, he is not even related to farming by degree. But that is exactly where the industrial engineer found his calling, when he built the region’s first vertical farm in the heart of Dubai.
Born in Egypt to Saudi parents, Al-Jundi spent his early years in Alkhobar due to his father’s engineering firm.
The family moved to Jeddah when he was 12 years old. His last two years of schooling were spent at Bahrain School in Manama. “I wanted to graduate with an American high school diploma,” Al-Jundi said. “At the time, as a Saudi, you couldn’t attend private foreign schools.”
Upon graduation, he left the region to study industrial engineering, followed by an MBA at the University of Miami in Florida. Although his father is an engineer and his mother an architect, Al Jundi delved into the world of banking for two and a half years when he moved back to Jeddah upon graduating.
“I then shifted to the hospitality industry, opened the first lounge in Jeddah along with other restaurants with my friends, and ended up selling my share and joining my father’s company,” he said. “You learn that you’re better off doing something on your own than having partners because you end up changing directions.”
After 10 years of “paying his dues” in the family business, he felt compelled to change directions. “As an Arab, you’re always closely tied to the family,” he said. “We’re blessed my father started a business and there’s a place for us in that business, but luckily, my younger brother was a lot more interested in it — I always felt my calling was somewhere else.”
In search of his true passion, he started his journey as an entrepreneur. The field he specialized in had yet to be determined. “I felt that there was a meaning for something else,” Al-Jundi said. “I was free and my family was very supportive.”
Countless research and books later, he became intrigued by the tech space, admitting he believed he would start the next Amazon. “That didn’t follow through,” he said. “Then I thought it would be in mining, but I always looked for something that was away from my comfort zone such as engineering, contracting, real estate and consulting. Just something different. It was a process.”
The young Saudi had reached a point in his life where he felt the need to do something impactful, something which added true value to the region. Eventually, two of his friends introduced him to the concept of modern farming. “I visited some orange farms in Egypt and I was in exploration research mode,” he said. “I enjoyed seeing nature — you’re a lot more relaxed. Here, when you go in and see the plants growing every day, there’s definitely a connection, because you’re seeing the end product, you’re feeling it, and I connect to them.”
The more research he immersed himself in, the more driven his interest became. At the time, the Saudi Government was focused on addressing food security and self-sufficiency. “It’s always been a big topic,” he said. “When you fly out of Riyadh, you find these big circular green spots as they’re trying to green and farm the desert, which was successful, but on the other hand, it depleted our water resources.”
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, agriculture represents around 70 per cent of water consumption in most of the GCC countries. But Al-Jundi did not give up on the thought.
After moving to Dubai in 2014, he learned about King Abdullah’s Initiative for Saudi Agricultural Investment Abroad. Half the capital needed for agricultural projects was offered to Saudis who invested in a list of 31 countries abroad to purchase land, set up a project and export the food back to the Kingdom. It gave him an idea to start his own vertical farm. “I knew it was a big topic,” he said. “I’d never heard we could grow food with no soil. I thought it was intriguing and fascinating. It was enough for me to know there was something there to explore it further.”
With more than 90 per cent of the region’s land unsuitable for agriculture, Al-Jundi set out to find a solution. He spent the following 12 weeks taking courses in aquaponics, aquaculture, hydroponics and horticulture in California and the Netherlands. He even spent time working in a cucumber greenhouse at the Delphy facility in Holland, where he acquired valuable experience in the field. “It was really professional and a great learning experience,” he said. “That’s when I knew what I wanted to do. And I knew I had to completely immerse myself in it.”
The team of Badia Farms, which he founded in Al Quoz in December last year, consists of 12 people, all of whom have experience in farming. “It took 18 months to get it up and running because we didn’t work with any technical partner,” Al-Jundi said. “I knew I was in it for the long haul, so I worked with different growers and learned.”
The 850-square-meter facility includes a “fertigation” room, which fertilizes and irrigates the 18 varieties of crops he currently grows. Gourmet seeds, some of them hybrids, such as lemon basil, cinnamon kale, wasabi, green radish, mustard, micro kale, edible flowers and cinnamon basil, are flown in from the United Kingdom and the United States every three months — from 50 to 300 kilograms at a time. The farm plans on introducing as many as 26 varieties, including sunflowers.
The seeds are placed on a type of mat made of recycled carpet that is food-certified. LED lights flood the room in a pink atmosphere, with each UV light containing a certain spectrum that is beneficial for the plants.
In the tank room, feed and water is scheduled through a computer based on the crop, with a unique nutrient recipe for each type, including potassium, calcium, magnesium and ammonium. UV and concentrated oxygen are also able to kill any potential bacteria or pathogens in the recycled water.
Once the seeds sprout, they are moved to the five stacks in the vertical farm. Four dehumidifiers regulate the humidity in the air, providing each on average with 70 litres of water a day. The eco-system created by Badia Farms uses 90 per cent less water than open field farming and recycles its water up to nine times.
“We’re using hydroponics,” Al- Jundi said. “The biggest advantage is that we do not spray pesticides, which are messing up our health. In fact, we extensively use stickers to attract insects away from the crops.”
Different levels of lighting are provided for each stage of the plants, before they are sent out as they were grown. “They’re intense in flavor and it’s the freshest you can get that way,” he said. “My personal favourite is chocolate mint.”
With 60 clients so far, serving hotels, restaurants and cafes, the model is a first for the region, which made it challenging to set up. “All the ones abroad are designed for different climatic conditions so none of them are applicable here, where there is extreme humidity and high temperatures,” he said. “And to convince a chef to give you his time, when you don’t have the track record, was a big challenge. I wasn’t a known farmer yet.”
The system’s structure was manufactured in Riyadh, with a plan to set up the next facility by 2020 in Jeddah. Until then, the plan is to cater to Saudi as well as the UAE. “Dubai is a good testing ground and Saudi’s vision now is to support our type of sustainable growing and ecological farms, so it’s perfectly in line with what we want to do,” Al-Jundi said. “The government is now delegated to move into sustainable growing and find viable solutions to address self-sufficiency, so it’s not a slogan anymore: it’s the real deal.”
He hopes to develop similar projects across the Kingdom in the future. “My aim is to make sure we truly become self-sufficient,” he said. “Vertical farming is one solution but it’s not the full one — the ideal solution lies in all models of modern farming. What’s close to my heart is giving people healthy food while preserving our resources, and I believe the new generations of Saudis are ambitious and want to evolve our country. We were just waiting for the opportunity and it has finally come.”


Riyadh metro, under construction

Riyadh metro, under construction
Updated 15 April 2021

Riyadh metro, under construction

Riyadh metro, under construction

Riyadh’s metro system is expected to partially operate by end of this year.

When fully operational it will comprise six lines with a total length of 176 kilometers, plus 85 stations.


Saudi Arabia announces 10 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 10 more COVID-19 deaths
Updated 15 April 2021

Saudi Arabia announces 10 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 10 more COVID-19 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 386,102
  • A total of 6,791 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced 10 deaths from COVID-19 and 985 new infections on Thursday.
Of the new cases, 463 were recorded in Riyadh, 164 in Makkah, 140 in the the Eastern Province, 34 in Asir, 33 in Hail, 30 in Madinah, 21 in Jazan, 20 in Tabuk, 16 in Najran, 11 in the Northern Borders region, and six in Al-Jouf.
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 386,102 after 661 more patients recovered from the virus.
A total of 6,791 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.
Over 6.6 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Saudi Arabia to date.
The health ministry earlier called on people to attend their vaccine appointments and said that those who miss their appointment will be required to book another one.


Coalition takes out 5 ballistic missiles, 4 drones in Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia

Coalition takes out 5 ballistic missiles, 4 drones in Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia
Updated 15 April 2021

Coalition takes out 5 ballistic missiles, 4 drones in Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia

Coalition takes out 5 ballistic missiles, 4 drones in Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: The Arab coalition destroyed five ballistic missiles and four explosive-laden drones launched by Houthis toward Saudi Arabia, Al-Ekhbariya reported on Thursday.
The attacks targeting Jazan are the latest in a long line of hostile actions against the Kingdom by the Iran-back Houthi militia. 
Jazan University was one of the targets as well as other civilian sites protected under international humanitarian law, coalition spokesman Turki Al-Malki said in a statement on the Saudi Press Agency, adding that the actions amount to war crimes.
The attacks originated from Sa’dah governorate in Yemen, Al-Malki added.
The coalition said the attack is a continuation of the Houthis’ systematic and intentional hostile attempts to target civilians. 
The Houthis, who took over the capital of Yemen, Sanaa, in 2014, have been condemned for their actions against the Kingdom. 
The Saudi government has said the Houthi attacks are not only against the  Kingdom and its economic facilities, but rather the center of the global economy, the security of its exports and its oil supplies, while also affecting maritime navigation.

Saudi Arabia has consistently backed efforts to resolved the war in Yemen peacefully.
Last week, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman held talks with Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, and reiterated that the Kingdom supports “all efforts to end the conflict, implement a cease-fire, alleviate the humanitarian crisis, and reach a political resolution that guarantees peace and prosperity for the brotherly people of Yemen.”
In March, Saudi Arabia announce a peace initiative to help end a war that has ravaged Yemen for the last six years. The initiative, which has received wide support, includes a cease-fire supervised by the UN, the reopening of Sanaa airport, and new talks to reach a political resolution to the conflict. Restrictions on the Red Sea port of Hodeidah would also be eased, allowing access for ships and cargo.
The UN’s chief, Antonio Guterres, backed the deal and urged all sides to take this opportunity to pursue peace and work with his special envoy, Martin Griffiths, on ways to proceed “in good faith and without preconditions.”


Yemen’s information minister, Moammar Al-Eryani, said members of the international community with open channels to the Houthis must use their leverage to encourage it to sever ties with Iran and commit to the Saudi-led peace initiative.
“These countries must put pressure on the Houthis to stop their daily crimes and violations against civilians in their areas of control, which are considered war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Al-Eryani told Arab News in an interview last week.
A Yemeni news agency reported last month that the Houthis had “provisionally” accepted the Saudi initiative to end the war in Yemen, but were demanding unchecked flights from Sanaa airport to unlimited destinations before giving the peace plan their final approval.
Soleimani’s shadow
Qassem Soleimani left a trail of death and destruction in his wake as head of Iran’s Quds Force … until his assassination on Jan. 3, 2020. Yet still, his legacy of murderous interference continues to haunt the region
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Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief opens prosthetic limbs clinic in Aden

Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief opens prosthetic limbs clinic in Aden
Updated 15 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief opens prosthetic limbs clinic in Aden

Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief opens prosthetic limbs clinic in Aden
  • In addition to providing artificial limbs, the facility will also offer maintenance of prosthetics, rehabilitation services and physiotherapy

LONDON: The Saudi-based King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) has officially opened an artificial limbs clinic in the Yemeni city of Aden, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.

Qasim Buhaibeh, the Yemeni minister of public health and population, thanked KSrelief for its work to help the Yemeni people. He also praised the achievement of establishing the prosthetic limb facility, which he said “will contribute to providing medical services and alleviating the suffering of those who are injured and the victims of mines.”

Saleh Al-Dibani, the director of KSrelief in Aden, said the organization has provided the prosthetic limb center with the resources it needs to help 1,434 beneficiaries, including 300 new prosthetic limbs.

A KSrelief worker is seen with young patients at the new prosthetic limb center in Aden. (SPA)

He added that KSrelief is also providing resources for maintenance of prosthetics, rehabilitation services, physiotherapy, and to hire medical staff in coordination with the Yemeni Ministry of Health.

“The project of equipping and preparing artificial limbs is one of the most important projects funded by KSrelief in the governorates of Aden, Taiz, Seiyun and Marib, with the aim of supporting the Yemeni health sector,” said Al-Dibani.

The center is part of the framework of humanitarian and relief efforts being provided by Saudi Arabia, through KSrelief, to the Yemeni people.


Saudi scientific organization launches first observatory to monitor and anticipate future development in Kingdom

Saudi scientific organization launches first observatory to monitor and anticipate future development in Kingdom
Updated 15 April 2021

Saudi scientific organization launches first observatory to monitor and anticipate future development in Kingdom

Saudi scientific organization launches first observatory to monitor and anticipate future development in Kingdom

RIYADH: The Asbar Center for Studies, Research and Communications announced the launch of the Asbar Observatory on Development, the first of its kind in monitoring and anticipating future development in the Kingdom.
Established in 1994, the Asbar Center is a scientific organization dedicated to conducting studies and research on development and policies.
Dr. Fahad Al-Orabi Al-Harthi, president of the Asbar Center, said the new observatory is one of the center’s initiatives. 
“The idea of launching the observatory comes within the framework of the center’s efforts to keep pace with developments witnessed in various fields in the Kingdom, in order to achieve its ambitious Vision 2030,” he said.
Through the observatory, Al-Harthi noted, the Asbar Center seeks to build a national system that contributes, in cooperation with the responsible authorities, to monitoring development needs and providing information to authorities.
Al-Harthi also said the observatory will assist decision-makers in shaping life in Saudi Arabia and anticipating its future through foresight tools. In preparation for a pioneering developmental journey that supports changes, the observatory will also anticipate future opportunities and challenges by analyzing their effects and developing innovative solutions to them.
“The mechanism of the Asbar Observatory project relies on the work of local and international development indicators,” Al-Harthi said.
“The observatory will focus on monitoring development and issuing reports to the competent authorities on progress, social innovation, sustainable development and social responsibility. It will also issue future forward-looking studies.”
Al-Harthi said he hopes the Asbar Observatory will enhance the Kingdom’s presence in various global fields while maintaining its distinguished international position.