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 Arabia’s Tawakkalna app operating in 75 countries worldwide

Saudi Arabia’s Tawakkalna app operating in 75 countries worldwide
A man displays his details on his mobile phone using the Tawakkalna app as he enters a mall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (REUTERS)
Updated 13 June 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Tawakkalna app operating in 75 countries worldwide

Saudi Arabia’s Tawakkalna app operating in 75 countries worldwide
  • An app launched last year by Saudi authorities to help track coronavirus infections is available in 75 countries worldwide
  • The Tawakkalna app was recently updated to show someone’s COVID-19 health status, showing them to be vaccinated or infected, and now functions as a “passport”

JEDDAH: Countries in the first phase of the app’s international availability include: Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Algeria, Sudan, Somalia, Morocco, Tunisia, Djibouti, Libya, Egypt, Mauritania, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, South Africa, Lebanon, Nigeria, India, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Bangladesh, Portugal, Czech Republic, Denmark, Sweden, the UK, Norway, Austria, the US, Japan, Greece, Spain, Estonia, Italy, Ireland, Iceland, Brunei, Belgium, Poland, Germany, Singapore, Switzerland, France, Finland, Cyprus, Kazakhstan, Croatia, Canada, Latvia, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Malta, Malaysia, Monaco, New Zealand, Netherlands, Maldives, and Azerbaijan.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs office in Jazan temporarily closed the Budaiya Mosque in Abu Arish governorate after it was confirmed that the imam had COVID-19.

Field teams undertook preventive and precautionary measures, including sterilization operations and comprehensive maintenance, in preparation for reopening the mosque and receiving worshippers at a later date.

The ministry noted the keenness of worshippers and their active role in reporting mosques that did not comply with health and safety instructions and failed to implement preventive measures.

FASTFACTS

464,780 Total cases

446,960 Recoveries

It asked everyone to report future similar incidents by calling 1933.

Saudi Arabia on Saturday reported 16 more coronavirus-related fatalities, taking the overall death toll to 7,553.

There were 1,077 new cases, bringing the total number of infections 464,780. There are 10,267 active cases, of which 1,562 are in a critical condition.

Of the newly recorded cases, 348 were in Makkah, 225 were in Riyadh, 149 were in the Eastern Province, and 69 were in Madinah.

Authorities said a further 906 patients had recovered from the disease, increasing the total number of recoveries to 446,960.

The country has so far carried out more than 20.27 million PCR tests, with 75,059 carried out in the past 24 hours.

Testing hubs and treatment centers set up throughout the country have dealt with hundreds of thousands of people since the onset of the pandemic.

Taakad centers provide COVID-19 testing for those who show no or only mild symptoms or believe they have come into contact with an infected individual.

Tetamman clinics offer treatment and advice to those with virus symptoms such as fever, loss of taste and smell, and breathing difficulties.

Appointments for both services can be made via the ministry’s Sehhaty app.

Saudi Arabia has vaccinated 15,633,787 people to date.

 


Makkah governor inaugurates prototype of new public transport system

Makkah governor inaugurates prototype of new public transport system
Updated 12 June 2021

Makkah governor inaugurates prototype of new public transport system

Makkah governor inaugurates prototype of new public transport system

 

JEDDAH: Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal on Saturday inaugurated the prototype of a public transport bus in Makkah.

This will serve citizens as well as pilgrims and visitors of the holy city by introducing an integrated service system in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

On the sidelines of the Digital Region Projects Exhibition, Prince Khaled was briefed on the operational mechanism of the new transport system, which aims to accommodate needs resulting from the expected growth in the population in Makkah and in the number of visitors to the Grand Mosque and the holy sites.

The new transport system aims to support economic development in Makkah and provide easy access to the Grand Mosque and other mosques in the city as well as educational and health facilities, commercial and recreational areas, and contribute to reducing pollution and protecting the environment by reducing dependence on small cars.

The bus network consists of two stages. The first phase will consist of 12 lines and about 83 stops in which medium-sized buses are used, while the other five lines will be express lines with dedicated tracks, a length of 172 km and about 342 stops, in which buses of greater capacity and frequency are used.

The project also includes operating more than 400 buses, including 240 regular buses that can accommodate up to 85 seats, and 160 buses with a capacity of 125 seats. This is in addition to the construction of a bus accommodation station, which includes a control building, drivers’ management building, gas station, light maintenance workshop, bus washing and maintenance station, heavy maintenance workshop, bus stops and drivers’ housing facilities.

The buses are equipped with environment protection systems that reduce Euro-4 carbon emissions, include protection systems through surveillance cameras inside and outside the bus, a collision-avoidance system, electronic screens showing the destination to be reached, as well as a hydraulic system to help people with special needs, and places for strollers and people with special needs.

The vehicles will also have Internet service (Wi-Fi) and an audio-visual system displaying trip information to passengers. Buses will operate for an average of 22 hours a day.

 


Saudi decision to allow 60,000 vaccinated residents on Hajj and bar foreigners welcomed

Saudi decision to allow 60,000 vaccinated residents on Hajj and bar foreigners welcomed
The event, scheduled to be held in July, will be limited to those who have been vaccinated and are aged 18-65 with no chronic illnesses, the statement added. (SPA)
Updated 13 June 2021

Saudi decision to allow 60,000 vaccinated residents on Hajj and bar foreigners welcomed

Saudi decision to allow 60,000 vaccinated residents on Hajj and bar foreigners welcomed
  • The Muslim World League (MWL), in a statement issued on behalf of all scholars under its umbrella, supported the measures taken by Saudi Arabia to confront new mutated variants of the virus

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s decision to only allow 60,000 residents vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to perform this year’s Hajj, and to bar Muslims from abroad for a second straight year, has been widely welcomed.

The Hajj — a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lives — packs millions of pilgrims into religious sites and could be a major source of contagion amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, the pilgrimage will be “open for nationals and residents of the Kingdom, limited to 60,000 pilgrims,” the Kingdom's Hajj Ministry said, quoted by the Saudi Press Agency.

The event, scheduled to be held in July, will be limited to those who have been vaccinated and are aged 18-65 with no chronic illnesses, it added. Those wishing to perform the pilgrimage will have to apply online.

Only around 10,000 Muslims took part in the Hajj in July last year.

Khalifa Shaheen Al-Marar, UAE minister of state, said his country “welcomes the Kingdom’s decision and supports all measures the Kingdom takes as part of its efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, contain its spread and ensure the safety and security of pilgrims and the community.”

Al-Marar added: “The scientific achievements of Saudi Arabia testify to the importance the Kingdom attaches to science as the key driver in supporting healthcare and overcoming the major challenges from the impact of the pandemic.”

Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al-Khalifa, Bahraini minister of justice, Islamic affairs and endowment, said the decision “falls in line with preserving Hajj rituals and meeting Shariah exigency.”

The Muslim World League (MWL), in a statement issued on behalf of all scholars under its umbrella, supported the measures taken by Saudi Arabia to confront new mutated variants of the virus.

Dr. Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, MWL secretary-general and chairman of the Association of Muslim Scholars, said the rules of Islamic law emphasize the inevitability of taking all safety precautions in such a pandemic.

He added that several senior scholars of the Islamic world contacted the MWL expressing support for the Kingdom’s decision.

The statement stressed the “exceptional efforts” made by the Saudi government, “which clearly demonstrates its concern for the safety of visitors and pilgrims of the Grand Mosque and visitors to the Prophet's Mosque.”

Dr. Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen, secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said the Saudi decision emanates from the Kingdom’s success in organizing last year’s Hajj season, held following all the precautionary measures, which effectively contributed to preventing the virus’s spread.

He said the Kingdom assumed responsibility toward organizing the Hajj, which required it to take strict decisions and measures based on current health data and well-established Islamic jurisprudence rules.

Egyptian Grand Mufti Shauqi Allam also hailed the decision.

Related


Saudi Arabia’s Jouf Olive Festival celebrates prosperity of ‘blessed’ tree

Saudi Arabia’s Jouf Olive Festival celebrates prosperity of ‘blessed’ tree
Saudi cities have become centers of olive oil production. (SPA)
Updated 13 June 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Jouf Olive Festival celebrates prosperity of ‘blessed’ tree

Saudi Arabia’s Jouf Olive Festival celebrates prosperity of ‘blessed’ tree
  • Over 140,000 tons of fruit produced in KSA annually, and 120,000 tons of oil
  • Farmers from nine countries invited to share industry experiences with local producers

MAKKAH: The Jouf Olive Festival celebrates the crop, and this year, in its 14th year, hosted 45 farmers representing the region all competing for the Prince Faisal bin Nawaf Award, worth SR500,000 ($133,000) and given by the prince, who is also the regional governor.

The festival also hosted, for the first time, farmers from the US, Spain, Argentina, Italy, China, Palestine, Jordan, Morocco and Egypt, to share their experiences of the industry.

Omar Al-Hamwan, director general of public relations and media and the official spokesperson for Jouf Municipality, said Saudi Arabia’s olive production amounts to 120 tons annually, and there is a specialized committee to monitor the volume of sales at the end of the festival and to crown the winners of the award.

He added that no oil could be entered into the festival unless it was certified and tested by the laboratory of Jouf Municipality, to ensure its quality, acidity and suitability for human consumption.

Other Saudi cities have also become centers of olive oil production, he said, such as Tabuk and Al-Baha, but Jouf still produces the largest volume.

HIGHLIGHT

Saudi Arabia now has over 20 million olive trees, more than 80 percent of which are in the Jouf region.

He added that Basita, an agricultural area in Jouf, has the largest olive farm in the world, owned by Al-Jouf Agricultural Development Co., which produces 10,000 tons of the finest oil annually, citing the abundance of water in the area as one of the reasons behind the success.

The CEO of Al-Jouf Agricultural Development Co., Mazen Badawood, said that this year’s festival was one of the best in terms of organization, direction and participation.

“Each year, we see a new image of the festival, and this time we witnessed an improvement as many wonderful activities were added, so as to place olive cultivation in a good light and highlight its importance in Saudi Arabia and worldwide,” said Badawood.

He added that the olive tree was a blessed tree, mentioned in the Qur’an and in the Prophet’s teachings, that provided great economic returns, whether from its fruit, leaves, or even its wood.

He pointed out that the olive tree consumes less water compared to other crops, noting that Al-Jouf Co. uses modern drip irrigation techniques for sustainability.

Olive cultivation is carried out by planting both trees for both traditional and intensive farming. Al-Jouf Co. is considered one of the pioneers in cultivating and developing olive trees in the region, especially for intensive production.

Badawood said his company is proud to be the owner of the largest modern organic olive farm in the world, with more than 5 million trees and a planting area of over 7,300 hectares.

“Saudi Arabia now has over 20 million olive trees, more than 80 percent of which are in the Jouf region, which is famous for olive cultivation thanks to its suitable environment,” he explained.

Badawood noted that the Kingdom produces over 140,000 tons of olive fruits annually, with 120,000 tons of oil being made as a result.

He pointed out that Saudi Arabia consumes about 45,000 tons of olive oil per year, 15,000 to 18,000 tons of which are locally produced while the rest is imported.

However, he noted, with the expansion of olive cultivation, there is an opportunity for self-sufficiency in the near future, which goes in line with the Kingdom’s vision of increasing sustainability and decreasing imports.

 


Who’s Who: Abdulraheem Kano, director at Saudi Post and Logistics

Who’s Who: Abdulraheem Kano, director at Saudi Post and Logistics
Updated 12 June 2021

Who’s Who: Abdulraheem Kano, director at Saudi Post and Logistics

Who’s Who: Abdulraheem Kano, director at Saudi Post and Logistics

Abdulraheem Kano has been the internal workforce mobility and outsourced services director at Saudi Post and Logistics since April 2020.

Between February 2019 and April 2020, Kano served as talent acquisition manager at Noon, one of the leading e-commerce companies in the Middle East.

From September 2016 to October 2018, Kano held the position of strategic projects manager at SAED, a Saudi company providing and managing personnel solutions in the workforce, from basic positions to the executive level.

Kano joined SAED in July 2014 and worked as talent acquisition manager until September 2016.

From January 2013 to July 2014, he held the position of senior recruitment officer at Tamer Group, a leading health, beauty care and prestige product company. Its core activities include importation, distribution, promotion, marketing and manufacturing.

From January 2012 to January 2013, Kano worked as an insurance officer, controlling all general insurance-related activities including motors, marine and properties.

Kano holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah. He received a diploma in IT from the University of South Australia.

He also completed an HRBP certification course from the Society for Human Resource Management.