Bumper melon harvest sweetens Uzbekistan’s pandemic woes

Bumper melon harvest sweetens Uzbekistan’s pandemic woes
A woman prepares melons to be hanged for storage in the village of Vazir in the northwest of Uzbekistan. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 28 October 2020

Bumper melon harvest sweetens Uzbekistan’s pandemic woes

Bumper melon harvest sweetens Uzbekistan’s pandemic woes
  • The coronavirus pandemic hit Uzbekistan hard, just when it was on an economic upswing

VAZIR, Uzbekistan: In the giant shed of Uzbek farmer Sanat Kalandarov, a bountiful melon harvest hangs suspended from wooden beams, promising profits through a difficult winter ahead.

Kalandarov is practicing a type of storage that is centuries-old — the shed has been in his own family for three generations — and he is dismissive of younger farmers who are turning to refrigerators.

“Melons need fresh air to breathe,” 35-year-old Kalandarov said, indicating narrow slits for ventilation in the shed walls, which are thick enough to shield the fruits from the cold of winter and the early spring heat.

“When the days are frosty, we insulate the room. Plus, this method requires no electricity. It is very economical.”

These thick-skinned varieties of Uzbekistan’s favorite fruit — some shaped like torpedoes, others more spherical — are planted in May, two months after the melons that ripen in summer.

They are then stored and sold during the winter, when their value can grow 15-fold on the domestic market and even more abroad.

This year, the melon growing season has been especially good, and it is just as well.

The coronavirus pandemic hit Uzbekistan hard, just when it was on an economic upswing.

Remittances sent by migrants working abroad fell by half, according to a report by the United Nations Development Program published in July, straining hundreds of thousands of family budgets that depended on them.

Strict lockdowns triggered massive layoffs around the landlocked country of 33 million, with small businesses especially affected.

Kalandarov, by contrast, has been able to hire 12 people who would have otherwise been unemployed from his village of Vazir in the arid northwest of the country.

He is also planning to send his first batch of melons for export to neighboring Kazakhstan by the end of October.

“With COVID-19 and all the unemployment (it has caused), these winter melons are a lifeline,” he said, noting that he had 50 tons of the crop to sell in the off season.

According to the ministry of agriculture, an average of 700,000 tons of melons are grown annually in Uzbekistan on 35,000 hectares of land.

Shohruh Tolibov, an expert from the ministry, said that exports represent less than 10 percent of that total — some of the sweetest varieties do not travel well. But they will more than double this year and have grown five-fold over the last three years.

Such growth has been triggered by the agricultural reforms of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who broke up monopoly interests that dominated the export of fruit and vegetables and allowed smallholders the chance to determine their own clients.

Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia and Ukraine are the top destinations for Uzbek melons, said Tolibov.

This month, the locally-based Jahon Exim Group claimed it had overseen the first exports of Uzbek melons to Britain.

“We hope that Uzbek melons, known for their taste and health benefits, will be appreciated by local consumers,” said the company’s director Jahongir Giyasov in comments to local media.

Uzbekistan grows more than 50 types of melons.

Khorezm, a region in the lower reaches of the Amu Darya river that benefits from temperate winters, grows at least 12 and they all share a common characteristic — deliciousness.

While other crops fail in this area, “melons grow sweeter on saline land,” said Kalandarov, whose employees feasted hungrily on some of his produce, slicing up the green-skinned bounty like sticky birthday cakes at the end of a long, warm, autumn day.

Kalandarov grew up on the melon fields, and has been growing his own fruit since he was a teenager.

But he is no longer satisfied with this work alone. Instead, his dream is the same as the avowed policy of the national government — to move from selling raw produce to products with value added.

“I have a business plan. I want to create new products — melon jam, melon conserve, dried melon. There is a big demand for these products on foreign markets,” he said.


UAE’s Emaar Entertainment in $270m plan to expand cinema brand in KSA

UAE’s Emaar Entertainment in $270m plan to expand cinema brand in KSA
Updated 19 April 2021

UAE’s Emaar Entertainment in $270m plan to expand cinema brand in KSA

UAE’s Emaar Entertainment in $270m plan to expand cinema brand in KSA
  • The partners plan to invest about SR1 billion ($270 million) launching Reel Cinemas in Saudi Arabia over the next five years
  • The first outlet will be launched in Riyadh in December

RIYADH: UAE-based Emaar Entertainment, a unit of the developer behind Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa, has entered into a partnership with Saudi Arabia’s GOSI Investment Ventures to expand its Reel Cinemas chain into the Kingdom.

“The partnership plans an aggressive expansion into the Kingdom’s entertainment market, which means reaching cinema fans no matter where they are in Saudi Arabia,” the companies said in a statement on Monday.

“Within the next five years, audiences can look forward to twenty new venues which will include both cinemas and family entertainment centres across the Kingdom.”

The partners plan to invest about SR1 billion ($270 million) launching Reel Cinemas in Saudi Arabia over the next five years. The first outlet will be launched in Riyadh in December.

The announcement comes just days after the third anniversary of the reopening of cinemas in the Kingdom.

The first cinema was opened in Riyadh on April 18, 2018, and the most recent opened last week in Hail with 10 screens and 1,309 seats, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

During the past three years, 34 cinemas were opened in 12 Saudi cities. Eleven companies have opened 342 screens with more than 35,000 seats, with another 70 cinema outlets expected to open in the short term.

The SPA said around 12 million cinema tickets were sold in those three years, and the sector has created around 2,500 direct jobs.

Saudi Arabia’s first home-grown cinema chain, MUVI Cinemas, earlier this month announced a SR820 million expansion plan.

It intends to grow to 307 screens nationwide over the next 12 months, launching 23 new sites and adding 204 screens.

The expansion will initially see nine new sites in Riyadh, seven in Jeddah, and two each in Taif, Alkhobar, Khamis Mushait and Al-Kharj. Buraidah and Uniazah will soon welcome their first-ever MUVI locations.

MUVI CEO Sultan Alhokair said the company’s plan for 2021 “far exceeds” its original goals for the year.

“After seeing the potential opportunities across the Kingdom, and in light of the strong box office growth and market share obtained, we’re now confidently in a position to inaugurate 23 new locations — all of which will feature the world’s most cutting-edge cinema technologies,” he added.


Abu Dhabi’s G42 forms big data JV with Israeli defense company Rafael

Abu Dhabi’s G42 forms big data JV with Israeli defense company Rafael
Updated 19 April 2021

Abu Dhabi’s G42 forms big data JV with Israeli defense company Rafael

Abu Dhabi’s G42 forms big data JV with Israeli defense company Rafael
  • The joint venture will have a research and development site in Israel and will develop products for sectors including banking, health care and public safety

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi-based technology company Group 42 (G42) has formed a joint venture with Israel’s state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems to commercialize artificial intelligence and big data technologies, the companies said on Monday.
The joint venture, called Presight.AI, will have a research and development site in Israel and will develop products for sectors including banking, health care and public safety, to be sold in Israel, the United Arab Emirates and internationally.
Israel and the UAE agreed to normalize relations in August, triggering a number of announcements from businesses stating their intention to cooperate across the two countries.
UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohamad Al-KHajja said the joint venture strengthened the relationship between Israel and the UAE and opportunities for bilateral economic growth.
G42 is an Abu Dhabi-based artificial intelligence and cloud computing company set up in 2018 which works with government and private clients. In September it became the first UAE company to open an international office in Israel.
UAE national security adviser Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan is its chairman and a shareholder. Abu Dhabi’s sovereign fund Mubadala in November invested in G42 and last week US private-equity firm Silver Lake invested to help the company expand.
G42 rose to prominence last year as it led Phase III clinical trials of a vaccine developed by Sinopharm’s China National Biotec Group (CNBG) in the UAE and regional countries, as well as offering medical diagnostic services.
The joint venture agreement is subject to regulatory approvals by Israeli and UAE authorities.


More than 1,000 Saudi businesses benefit from $586.5m in Monshaat funding

More than 1,000 Saudi businesses benefit from $586.5m in Monshaat funding
Updated 19 April 2021

More than 1,000 Saudi businesses benefit from $586.5m in Monshaat funding

More than 1,000 Saudi businesses benefit from $586.5m in Monshaat funding
  • Overall, the ‘Kafalah’ program has provided more than SR14.407 billion in 8,718 guarantees

RIYADH: The General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises (Monshaat) has financed 1,130 SMEs with about SR2.2 billion ($586.5 million) over 15 months through the end of March 2021.
Overall, the ‘Kafalah’ program has provided more than SR14.407 billion in 8,718 guarantees, Monshaat told the Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper.
The Kafalah program was founded in 2006 as a joint initiative between the Kingdom’s ministry of finance and Saudi commercial banks to help overcome SME financing constraints.
Monshaat said that financing could reach a maximum of SR7.5 million and there is no minimal range for applicants.
Enterprise Support Centers also offer a package of programs to develop small and medium enterprises and entrepreneurs, the Authority added.
Support is also offered in the form of training and networking with other companies operating in a similar field.

 


PIF-backed Noon signs deal with UAE emirate to support small businesses

PIF-backed Noon signs deal with UAE emirate to support small businesses
Updated 19 April 2021

PIF-backed Noon signs deal with UAE emirate to support small businesses

PIF-backed Noon signs deal with UAE emirate to support small businesses
  • SMEs in Ajman will be able to promote and sell their products through the e-commerce’s company’s “Noon Mahali” platform

DUBAI: The UAE emirate of Ajman has struck a deal with online retailer Noon to support the growth of small businesses.
It will help members of the emirate’s Tazz program for small and medium-sized enterprises, as well companies that are signed up to the Riyada program for small business owners and e-commerce license holders.
“Through this cooperation, we aim to inspire innovation, encourage local entrepreneurs and assist in the SMEs’ digital transformation in the emirate,” Abdulla Bin Nassir Al-Nuaimi, Ajman DED’s director of planning and development, said.
SMEs in Ajman will be able to promote and sell their products through the e-commerce’s company’s “Noon Mahali” platform, which is specifically designed for them.
There will also be training sessions and other activities to guide sellers in making the most of Noon’s platform.
Al-Nuaimi said the private sector “has become a major partner and supporter of the government sector” in strengthening local businesses.
The move follows the UAE’s wider push to revitalize its SME scene as the country diversifies its income sources and encourage more economic activity amid a pandemic-induced slowdown.


Revenue management systems key to success of Saudi health reforms says KPMG

Revenue management systems key to success of Saudi health reforms says KPMG
Updated 19 April 2021

Revenue management systems key to success of Saudi health reforms says KPMG

Revenue management systems key to success of Saudi health reforms says KPMG
  • The Kingdom’s Ministry of Health (MoH) is transitioning from being an all-in-one payer, provider and regulator of health services to becoming a regulator

RIYADH: Robust revenue cycle management systems will be essential for Saudi Arabia’s new health care model, KPMG said in a report.
The Kingdom’s Ministry of Health (MoH) is transitioning from being an all-in-one payer, provider and regulator of health services to becoming a regulator, governing corporate payers and providers.
A key aspect of this transformation is the separation of the payer and the provider functions in the public health care sector, KPMG said. To facilitate future reimbursement to public health care providers, the Ministry of Health has set up the Program for Health Assurance and Purchasing (PHAP).
In addition, the Council of Cooperative Health Insurance (CCHI) has also firmed up regulations for private insurers.
With the introduction of mandatory health insurance underway in the public sector in the Kingdom and the wish to standardize across the public and private sector, Saudi health care providers will need to develop new capabilities to be able to generate revenue under the new reimbursement system, KPMG reported.  
“One of the key implications for health care providers of this introduction is the transformation of how health care service providers are reimbursed. Providers will primarily be paid on a per-patient basis, rather than via allocated budgets from the government,” said Emmeline Roodenburg, head of health care at KPMG in Saudi Arabia.
Patient acceptance and registration; billing and claims management; patient treatment and documentation; and coding and grouping are the four key operational elements of the Revenue Cycle Management (RCM) under the new mechanism.
While the risks that come with having a poor RCM function can be managed and mitigated, if they are left unchecked then the consequences could include revenue losses and fines for inaccurate invoicing, KPMG said.