TheFace: Ohoud Al-Harbi, supervisor at Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation 

Ohoud Alharbi with her brother Abdullah. ( AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj)
Updated 30 August 2019

TheFace: Ohoud Al-Harbi, supervisor at Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation 

I built myself from scratch. In a household with 10 siblings, I was a middle child, and my father’s favorite.

I’ve always been very opinionated, and my family has allowed me to be open about my stance on many things.

Growing up, I was immensely interested in art, specifically drawing throughout my adolescence. I do not draw anymore, but have taken an interest in photography, and I especially enjoy capturing people going about their daily lives.

I do not consider myself a professional, rather a semi-professional in street photography. On my Instagram account, I document stories from around the world through the cities I have visited.

When women driving was permitted last June, my life turned 180 degrees. It has allowed me to rediscover the city in which I was born. I started seeing Riyadh in a new light as a photographer. I became giddy about discovering new places that I could capture through the lens of my camera.

Before that, I used to always go out with my driver and felt like I had to accommodate him and other family members. During one of these drives, I came upon a spot that got me thinking about creating a personal project for myself.

It was right across King Saud University, targeting students and staff, where I decided to set up a high-quality coffee shop that was affordable and accessible to them.

Soho Shot opened four months ago, and my partners and I are anticipating the students’ return to school to test our brand and services. We’ve chosen the name based on New York City’s neighborhood of art, and our logo — a one-line drawing of a face sipping coffee — is artistic and minimalistic in a way that we hope will draw students in.

As a coffee lover myself, and keeping in with social trends, the idea struck me while driving past the empty spot and in a way, it felt right. Most students need their morning cup of coffee or a quick fix before exams. I made sure to design Soho Shot spaciously to provide them with a cozy place to study.

In our coffee house, we are also sponsoring artists to come in and draw and decorate coffee cups for customers.

For four years, between 2005 and 2009, I worked in Riyad Bank’s call center. I then suggested to management about monitoring call center demands and supervising service agreements, which enabled me to move to the back office to maintain quality assurance.

After that experience, I decided to continue with my studies, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration and administrative systems while simultaneously working at the National Water Co. (NWC).

At the time, the NWC had just launched, and I started in corporate relations overseeing quality assurance. I then moved up the ladder and joined performance management as a specialist, monitoring the company’s projects in Riyadh.

When I graduated from the Arab Open University, many more opportunities presented themselves to me. I started working for Tata Consultancy Services, providing service-level agreement reports for General Electric projects.

From there, I moved on to the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) where I am currently a supervisor in the project management office.

I have always been independent, even as a child and I am very lucky to have a family that has helped shape the woman I am today and is understanding of how demanding my career is.

Saudi pursuit of ‘green Kingdom’ goal gets a boost

Updated 18 November 2019

Saudi pursuit of ‘green Kingdom’ goal gets a boost

  • Agreement between agriculture ministry and Dubai's ICBA aimed at conserving natural resources
  • Kingdom's biosaline agriculture research and systems stands to benefit from ICBA's expertise

DUBAI: Agricultural development and environmental sustainability in Saudi Arabia will receive a boost in the coming years, thanks to a new agreement between the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) in Dubai and the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture.

The agreement aims to enable Saudi Arabia to achieve its goal of preservation and sustainable management of its natural resources by raising the quality of biosaline agriculture research and systems.

The ministry says that the agreement will make use of the ICBA’s expertise in capacity development besides agricultural and environmental research, especially in the fields of vegetation development, combating desertification and climate change adaptation.

“It also includes training programs for Saudi technicians and farmers,” the ministry said. “In addition, it will localize, implement and develop biosaline agriculture research and production systems for both crops and forestation, which contributes to environmental and agricultural integration.”

Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, the ICBA’s director general, told Arab News: “The agreement had been in the making for about two years. That was when we were approached by the Saudi government.”

Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, ICBA Director General, at the center's Quinoa fields in Dubai. (Supplied photo)

She said: “We put forward a proposal to demonstrate how the ICBA can help the Saudi government to implement its Green Kingdom Initiative, through which the ministry is trying to restore green coverage in the country and revive old conservation practices.”

Geographical features and climatic conditions very greatly from one part of the country to the other.

In the past, experimentation with such crops as potatoes, wheat and alfalfa proved detrimental to the Kingdom’s environment and natural resources due to faster rates of groundwater withdrawal.

“The ministry wanted to put a halt to over-abstraction of water, so they went through different policies,” Elouafi said.

“They made sure, for example, that farmers stopped producing wheat because about 2,400 liters of water is consumed to produce 1 kg of wheat. It was a huge amount,” she added.

“The new strategy is to find more appropriate crops for the farming community, which is quite large in the Kingdom.”

Saudi Arabia has been trying to grow its own food on a large scale since the 1980s. 

The objective of the Green Kingdom Initiative is to reduce the agricultural sector’s water demand by finding alternatives to thirsty crops.

The agreement will require the ICBA, over the next five years, to build for Saudi Arabia a new biosaline agriculture sector. 

As part of this shift, cultivation of a number of crops, notably quinoa, pearl millet and sorghum, will be piloted in high-salinity regions and then scaled up.

“The crops did very well in the UAE,” Elouafi said. “We’re looking at Sabkha regions, which have very high salinity and wetlands, and are on the ministry’s environmental agenda.”

Another objective is “smart” agriculture, which will involve raising water productivity, controlling irrigation water consumption and changing farming behavior.

Elouafi said that getting farmers in the Kingdom to stop cultivating wheat took some time as they had become accustomed to heavy government subsidies. In 2015, wheat production was phased out, followed by potatoes a year later and then alfalfa. 

“Farmers were provided everything to the point where they got used to a very good income and a very easy system,” she said.

“Now farmers are being asked to start producing something else, but the income won’t be the same, so it’s very important at this stage that the ministry has a plan and it’s fully understood.”

The agreement envisages preparation of proposals for ministry projects that involve plant production, drought monitoring, development of promising local crop and forestation varieties, and conservation of plant genetic resources.

“We’re also discussing capacity building because the ministry is big and has many entities. Because Saudi Arabia is a large country and has the capacity to meet some of its food requirements internally, what’s required is a better understanding of the country’s natural capabilities in terms of production of the crops it needs, like certain cereals,” Elouafi said.

“The way the authorities are going about it right now is more organized and more holistic. They’re trying to plan it properly.”

Elouafi said that having a better understanding of Saudi Arabia’s water constraints and managing the precious resource is essential.


Although almost the entire country is arid, there is rainfall in the north and along the mountain range to the west, especially in the far southwest, which receives monsoon rains in summer.


Sporadic rain may also occur elsewhere. Sometimes it is very heavy, causing serious flooding, including in Riyadh.

“They (the government) are very interested in drought management systems. The Kingdom has a long history of agriculture,” Elouafi said.

“It has large quantities of water in terms of rainfall, and certain regions have mountainous conditions, which are conducive to agriculture.”

Clearly, preservation of water resources is a priority for the Saudi government. But no less urgent is the task of conversion of green waste to improve soil quality, increase soil productivity and water retention, and reduce demand for irrigation.

The Kingdom is one of at least three Gulf Cooperation Council countries that are taking steps to develop a regulatory framework for the recycling of waste into compost.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman are respectively aiming to recycle 85 percent, 75 percent and 60 percent of their municipal solid waste over the next decade, according to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) entitled “Global Food Trends to 2030.”

Saudi Arabia and the UAE rank in the bottom quartile of the 34 countries covered by the EIU’s Food Sustainability Index, with low scores for nutrition and food loss and waste. 

The answer, according to many farmers, policymakers and food-industry experts, is a shift toward more sustainable management of each country’s natural resources.