Saudi Arabia joins UNESCO marine heritage conference

Prince Badr bin Abdullah Al-Saud. (SPA)
Updated 09 September 2019

Saudi Arabia joins UNESCO marine heritage conference

  • Minister of Culture Prince Badr: We are committed to preserving our marine heritage

GLACIER BAY, ALASKA: Delegates from Saudi Arabia participated in UNESCO 4th World Heritage marine site managers conference at Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, US.
The conference coincides with the announcement of the French Austral Island Park (Kerguelen Islands, France) in the Southern Ocean as the 50th addition to the Marine World Heritage Sites list. UNESCO representatives and other participants gathered to share their experiences and improve their capacity to conserve these sites and enhance their resilience to climate change.
Saudi Arabia, a member of UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention, took part for the first time at this conference with a delegation led by the Ministry of Culture and experts and representatives from the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, Vision 2030, giga-projects (NEOM and the Red Sea Project) and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).
The Ministry of Culture said that its sponsorship of the UNESCO conference demonstrated its commitment to supporting international efforts to protect sites and safeguard the world’s natural wonders.
The Kingdom is taking steps to develop cutting-edge technology and engage world-class expertise to present the Red Sea coral reefs and adjoining ecosystem as a model to other similar environments across the world. Global attention is now focusing on the corals of the northern Red Sea as evidence of their resistance to climate change becomes clear, providing hope for coral reefs in other places around the world.
Given the importance of Red Sea coral reefs and other marine ecosystems in Saudi Arabia, the Ministry of Culture is working closely with UNESCO — the Kingdom has been a member of the World Heritage Convention since 1978 — to seek protected status for Red Sea coral reefs and other Red Sea marine heritage sites, and Marine World Heritage status to preserve them for future generations.
During the opening speech, the Ministry of Culture delivered a message from Prince Badr bin Abdullah Al-Saud, the Saudi Minister of Culture: “There is strong evidence that our coral reefs in the Red Sea will prove to be the most resilient to climate change. That makes them globally important. Our natural environment is vital for the health and viability of our planet, and also vital for the future of Saudi Arabia, which is why we are committed to working together to conserve and protect marine environment.”

 

Fanny Douvere, coordinator of the World Heritage Marine Program, welcomed the contribution of the Kingdom: “The 50 UNESCO Marine World Heritage Sites currently listed are the jewels of the ocean but face multiple challenges. The support of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is crucial in distilling solutions across these sites, learning from experiences to avoid costly mistakes, and, together, charting the course forward to accelerate the achievement of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.”
The Saudi delegation said that the Kingdom’s commitment to the preservation of global heritage was a building block as it prepares to be the center of global attention when it hosts the G20 summit in 2020.
Marine heritage is a priority for the Ministry of Culture. It sits within the “natural heritage” sector — one of 16 sectors that the ministry has prioritized, as outlined in the ministry’s “cultural vision” launched earlier this year.
The Kingdom’s presence and support in providing technical knowledge and expertise to UNESCO’s Marine World Heritage Program is consistent with the priorities of the Ministry of Culture, MEWA, and more broadly, with those of Vision 2030.

 

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The Kingdom is taking steps to develop cutting-edge technology and engage world-class expertise to present the Red Sea coral reefs and adjoining eco system as a model to other similar environments across the world.


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.