How Saudi Arabia is charting a path toward food security

Saudis buy dates at a shop in Jeddah ahead of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. (AFP/File Photo)
Saudis buy dates at a shop in Jeddah ahead of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 04 June 2021

How Saudi Arabia is charting a path toward food security

Saudis buy dates at a shop in Jeddah ahead of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Vision 2030 defines agriculture as one of five main strategic sectors, including aerospace and automotive
  • In 2019, aquifers supplied no less than 10 billion cubic meters of irrigation water to local farms

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is a waterless and barren land, covered by vast deserts and rugged mountains and therefore unsuited to anything but growing dates. Right? Actually, wrong.

The Saudi environment is dry, no doubt. But surprisingly, the Kingdom is an agricultural powerhouse, on the path to achieving a considerable measure of food security, while becoming a major exporter of agricultural products.

This trend has been given further urgency with the implementation of Vision 2030, which defines agriculture as one of five main strategic sectors, alongside aerospace/defense, automotive, transport/logistics, and construction.

So, how is this possible?

First off, Saudi Arabia is more water-rich than it may appear at first glance. While the Kingdom has no permanent rivers, and one of the lowest rainfall rates in the world at only four inches per annum, it possesses huge underground water reserves.

Just as lakes of oil exist deep beneath its parched surface, there are vast subterranean aquifers. In 2019, these supplied no less than 10 billion cubic meters of irrigation water to local farms.

Moreover, the government has constructed a network of dams in wadis throughout the country to capture floodwater from the occasional heavy rains. And of course, Saudi Arabia leads the world in the desalination of seawater, with no less than 27 desalination plants feeding both cities and farms.




View of Wadi Murwani dam, located in Al-Khulais, Saudi Arabia. (Shutterstock)

This access to considerable volumes of water has allowed the nation to supply its domestic market with wheat, dairy products, eggs, fish, poultry, vegetables, and flowers — and to export all of these items around the world. And believe it or not, Saudi Arabia is, thanks to some help from the Irish, one of the most efficient dairy producers on Earth, with an extraordinarily high annual output of 1,800 gallons per cow.

That said, the Kingdom faces challenges in terms of its 1.7 percent annual population growth, along with the demands of an ever-more sophisticated consumer market. A simple diet of dates, camel milk, and the occasional piece of meat might have sufficed a century ago. But today’s consumers, in line with the rest of the world, have come to expect an almost infinite array of choice.

No doubt, Saudi Arabia will not stop importing some foods. After all, authentic Japanese wasabi can only be imported from Japan and genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano is only made in Parma, Italy. But agriculture in the Kingdom is projected to grow by 5 percent annually over the next five years.

Saudi Arabia’s two new “Green” initiatives will be partly driven by the Strategy for Sustainable Development of Agriculture, a component of Vision 2030. This overall strategy has four main targets: Efficient and sustainable use of agricultural and natural resources, especially water; comprehensive and sustainable food security; improvement in agricultural efficiency and productivity; and sustainable rural development.

INNUMBERS

* 1st - Saudi Arabia’s rank as Middle East’s food importer.

* 80% - Consumed food that comes from abroad.

* 16m - Tonnes of food consumed annually at present.

* 4.6% - Expected annual food-consumption growth rate.

These policies are being implemented in the face of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, an unforeseen and ongoing crisis that has highlighted the danger of any country relying too heavily on global supply chains for essential commodities such as food.

Smart agriculture in Saudi Arabia means shifting the focus toward crops that require relatively less water and finding alternatives to water-intensive farming. Thus, farming of thirsty grains such as wheat has been largely transferred to water-rich Sudan, while local farmers are encouraged to concentrate on water-conserving approaches such as the greenhouse production of fruits and vegetables.

Further value is being added via the processing of raw materials. For instance, farmers are canning and juicing fruit, as opposed to merely supplying fresh produce. Fruit canning is the Kingdom’s largest food-production segment, and fruit juice is the No. 2 revenue source for Saudi food producers. And Saudis know well that 1,001 products can be made from the humble date!

The future success of agriculture in the Kingdom will largely depend on efficiency of production. Vision 2030 recognizes modern farming as an “industry,” comparable to construction and logistics, and just as dependent on innovation and new technology.




Irrigation system for farming in pivots, located in the desert Area in Al-Sarar, Saudi Arabia. (Shutterstock)

A recent academic paper in the Journal of the Saudi Society of Agricultural Sciences, said: “There is a gap between demand and production of agricultural products (in the Kingdom) which must be filled through the adoption of modern technologies, that is land and water-saving approaches, greenhouse farming and seawater harvesting.”

One example of smart farming is hydroponic agriculture — that is, growing plants with only water and nutrients instead of soil. Hydroponic farming can be incorporated as an aspect of urban growth. There is no reason why large indoor spaces cannot be built or converted to produce hydroponically-grown fruit, salad products, and vegetables — providing food to a city without the need for long-distance transport and logistics.

Hydroponic agriculture can also harness semi-treated grey water produced by sewage and industry, thereby recycling valuable natural resources.

Another bright idea is “aquaponic” farming, whereby aquatic creatures such as prawns feed from naturally growing bacteria and produce nutrient-rich wastewater that can be used to cultivate edible plants. This kind of low-maintenance virtuous cycle is highly suited to a water-scarce country such as Saudi Arabia.

Of course, attention must also be given to more traditional agricultural resources — but with the application of modern techniques. The science of genetics can have a dramatic effect on the output of local breeds. Goats, for instance, are indigenous to the Kingdom and are a traditional source of both milk and meat.




The continued expansion of Saudi Arabia’s agricultural sector requires ongoing cooperation between the public and private sectors. (Shutterstock)

Genetic crossbreeding of local goats with foreign breeds has the potential to significantly improve significantly both size and output of livestock. All of this indicates that many of the answers to Saudi Arabia’s food security issues can, with some imagination and experimentation, be found on its own doorstep.

These biotechnologies also provide exciting new commercial openings in the quest to diversify the Saudi economy and free the country from dependence on oil and its various derivatives.

The continued expansion of Saudi Arabia’s agricultural sector requires ongoing cooperation between the public and private sectors and depends on four key elements: Education, technology transfer, advisory services, and investment in new facilities.

The government is leading the way in terms of investment and infrastructure, and Saudi farmers are accepting that innovation and change are facts of life. What remains is for entrepreneurs to take advantage of the fact that agribusiness and biotechnology are set to play a vital part in the future and will be major revenue sources.

The issue of food security poses a challenge for the people of Saudi Arabia — and a major opportunity.


Saudi air defense intercepts Houthi drones headed towards kingdom

Saudi air defense intercepts Houthi drones headed towards kingdom
Updated 25 September 2021

Saudi air defense intercepts Houthi drones headed towards kingdom

Saudi air defense intercepts Houthi drones headed towards kingdom

RIYADH: The Saudi air defenses intercept two bomb-laden drones that were launched by the Houthi militants in Yemen towards the kingdom on Saturday, the Arab Coalition said. 

The coalition said Houthis continue to deliberately attack civilians and civilian objects. 


Ithra launches cultural and heritage programs

Ithra launches cultural and heritage programs
Updated 25 September 2021

Ithra launches cultural and heritage programs

Ithra launches cultural and heritage programs

DHAHRAN: In celebration of the 91st Saudi National Day, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture has launched programs and activities to highlight diversity across the Kingdom.

Ithra will engage visitors through a cultural journey that embodies the unity of the Saudi people and their interdependence, from north to south and from east to west, through the Tafaseel exhibition.

The exhibition will express the diversity of fashion as part of Saudi Arabia’s cultural heritage across regions, as well as telling stories about the civilizations that inhabited them.

The national day activities aim to present a collection of interactive art, performances, traditional local crafts, cultural activities, workshops, and knowledge-based games for all age groups.

The activities continue until Saturday.

 


Two Holy Mosques management trains 600 female employees

Two Holy Mosques management trains 600 female employees
Updated 25 September 2021

Two Holy Mosques management trains 600 female employees

Two Holy Mosques management trains 600 female employees

MAKKAH: The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques announced on Friday that it has so far trained around 600 female employees of its agencies or assisting agencies.

The Women’s Development Affairs Agency, led by Al-Anoud Al-Aboud, deputy president for women’s development affairs, employs 310 of those women.

Around 200 women work for the Agency for Women’s Scientific, Intellectual and Guidance Affairs, led by Noura Al-Thuwaibi.

The rest of the trained women work at the Agency for Women’s Administrative and Service Affairs, under the leadership of Kamelia Al-Daadi, the general presidency said in a statement.

 

 


Saudi Arabia joins global community to celebrate World Sign Day

Saudi Arabia joins global community to celebrate World Sign Day
Updated 25 September 2021

Saudi Arabia joins global community to celebrate World Sign Day

Saudi Arabia joins global community to celebrate World Sign Day

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia joined the international community by participating in World Sign Day, celebrated on Sept. 23.

The Ministry of Health implemented the “We Are with You” initiative to support deaf people, raising staff awareness about the deaf community. The MOH trained its staff to work with individuals who are deaf, teaching them sign language rules and basics, and helping them find ways to support deaf patients overcome challenges.

Sign language includes 35 manual symbols, each representing a letter of the alphabet, and five other symbols representing diacritics.

The Arabic language also includes numbers in its sign language system; Arabic sign language includes 53 manual symbols representing number, in single or multiple digits.

The MOH also launched the Awlawiya (Priority) Card, one of the Patient Experience Center’s initiatives to facilitate and accelerate procedures and services provided to some groups (including the deaf) inside health facilities.

 

 

Other electronic services include the Queries on Treatment Abroad Orders Service and the Mawid (Appointment) Service.

Moreover, it launched the Online Registration initiative for people with disabilities, including the deaf, through its E-Health system. The platform enables MOH officials to follow up on registration and classification electronically, as well as oversee the issuance of Transportation Discount Cards and Traffic Facilitation Cards.

The MOH linked the E-Health platform with other authorities, such as the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development and the Ministry of Education, by automating all procedures to ensure speed and uniformity of service provision. Furthermore, the ministry launched the Eshara app, which provides direct services to the deaf and hearing-impaired, and which allows them to benefit from the services offered by the 937 Service Center.

The app allows visual communication between deaf people and the remote sign interpretation communication center; the interpreter translates the signs as a third party through the digital platform by converting the sign language to spoken Arabic (and vice versa), serving as a mediator between the employee and the deaf person.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development launched a series of training programs about sign language basics in its branches in the Kingdom, trained its members and employees in all sectors to understand sign language, and raised their awareness on how to communicate with deaf people to ensure access of all services with ease.

Decoder

'We Are with You' campaign

It is the Saudi Ministry of Health initiative to support deaf people, raising staff awareness about the deaf community, teaching them sign language rules and basics, and helping them find ways to support deaf patients overcome challenges.


ThePlace: Dawqara, in KSA’s Northern Borders region, yield signs of early civilization

ThePlace: Dawqara, in KSA’s Northern Borders region, yield signs of early civilization
Updated 25 September 2021

ThePlace: Dawqara, in KSA’s Northern Borders region, yield signs of early civilization

ThePlace: Dawqara, in KSA’s Northern Borders region, yield signs of early civilization

ThePlace: Dawqara,  in KSA's Northern Borders region, shows signs of civilization during late late Roman period 

Dawqara is located 40 kilometers west of At-Turaif, near a mountain known as Aqrun or Dawqara. The site is registered in a comprehensive archeological survey program.

Rainwater accumulates on the northern side of the site and forms a large lake. The southern side is made up of volcanic rocks with many stone circles. Some stone tools have also been found.

One of the site’s most important artifacts is a square palace that was built from large volcanic stones. Its construction takes into consideration the straightness and solidity of pillars, linked by clay.

The palace’s door is located in the middle of the eastern wall and is 2.85 meters long. The palace comprises two parts. The first is a yard that constitutes the largest part of the building. The second has seven rooms on the western wall, each 4.5 meters wide.

The history of the palace is not clear, as an archeological excavation is required to extract, study and compare artifacts. 

But, according to preliminary studies, the palace was built in the pre-Islamic era and there is other evidence indicating that it was used until the Umayyad era.