Technology is key to improving women’s lives post COVID-19

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Updated 06 July 2020

Technology is key to improving women’s lives post COVID-19

  • Women’s digital forum discusses empowerment in the Kingdom

JEDDAH: Technology is an important tool to support the empowerment of women and is the key to improving their lives — this was the focus of a Saudi roundtable discussion spawned by Women20 (W20), an official engagement group of the G20.

Organized to coincide with Al-Nahda Foundation becoming president of Saudi Arabia 2020 Women (W20), the third forum of the National Dialogues on Saudi Women was opened by W20 chair Dr. Thoraya Obaid.

Dr. Obaid said: “We managed to consolidate important relations and friendships with representatives of the G20 countries, but the most important thing for us is national dialogue, as we will complete our mission at the group by the end of this year and the only thing will remain is the national work.”

The virtual meeting discussed Saudi Arabia’s strategic plan to empower women and the current challenges and opportunities in the light of COVID-19. Panelists discussed the current situation of Saudi women in the light of the W20’s areas of interest for this year.

These included women’s financial inclusion, technical inclusion, entrepreneurship empowerment, and women’s participation in decision making.

The role of technology, especially its significantly enhanced role during the COVID-19 crisis, was a major focus, looking at women’s use of technology and their contribution to the production of technical programs.

“Only 48 percent of women are adapted to technology,” said Deema Al-Yahya, innovation and e-commerce consultant and founder of Women Spark initiative.

“Women are users of technology rather than producers; 60 percent of Saudi women are using social media platforms without producing any digital content,” Al-Yahaya said. “We need to shift women’s role from a user to a producer. It is something several governmental entities are working on to give women productive opportunities, such as Monshaat.”

Al-Yahya said that even skilled women with the right talent and technical experience do not always have equal opportunities, especially those who reside in remote areas or in cities where there is a lack of suitable opportunities to their qualifications.

“Established companies are outsourcing their services to other Arab countries while there are many talented women in the Kingdom,” she said. “However, with this crisis, and as many services shift online, these women can find better opportunities and they have to invest in them.”

The various discussions included the empowerment of women who are disadvantaged, who do not have a formal job, or who are owners of small and medium businesses.

Moreover, entrepreneurship opportunities, inclusion in work, including positive discrimination in favor of women, labor rights, vacations, and other issues related to women such unpaid caring roles by women were also discussed.

“The COVID-19 crisis has brought with it huge potential entrepreneurship ideas which are mainly technological, you only need to find a problem that hasn’t been properly solved,” said Amal Dokhan, CEO Global Entrepreneurship Network GEN Saudi. “Women have an attention to details by intuition and this is exactly what is needed today.”

“We do not want women to limit their aspirations in entrepreneurship to specific sectors. There are many great opportunities available today for women, they only need to think out of the box,” she said. “There are endless untouched digital opportunities, especially the services that are targeting women.”


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.