Saudi Arabia’s green oil: Ancient meets modern as the ‘smart farmers’ of Jouf reap a rich olive harvest

Saudi Arabia’s green oil: Ancient meets modern as the ‘smart farmers’ of Jouf reap a rich olive harvest
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Saudi Arabia’s green oil: Ancient meets modern as the ‘smart farmers’ of Jouf reap a rich olive harvest
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Saudi Arabia’s green oil: Ancient meets modern as the ‘smart farmers’ of Jouf reap a rich olive harvest
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Nasser Al-Hamad at his Busita Farm in Al Jouf. (AN photo)
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Nasser Al-Hamad at his Busita Farm in Al Jouf. (AN photo)
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Updated 28 October 2021

Saudi Arabia’s green oil: Ancient meets modern as the ‘smart farmers’ of Jouf reap a rich olive harvest

Saudi Arabia’s green oil: Ancient meets modern as the ‘smart farmers’ of Jouf reap a rich olive harvest
  • Arab News visited the “Million Tree Farm” in Jouf, a land of fertile soil and moderate climate ideal for cultivating this popular drupe

JOUF: Olive oil, the green elixir and a staple in Saudi households, is getting a production boost  as farmers in the northern Jouf region — the “food basket of the Kingdom” — adopt high-tech methods to get the most out of their traditional olive groves.

Olive trees have their roots in the cradle of civilization. Cultivated even before the invention of written language, distinctive tree varieties spread to Iran, Syria and Palestine, and throughout the Mediterranean basin.

With its fertile soil and moderate climate, the Jouf region in the north of the Kingdom has become Saudi Arabia’s biggest producer of olive oil, and is home to vast orchards holding millions of trees.

Throughout history, the humble olive has been associated with prosperity. But olive oil has always been much more than just a delicious part of the daily diet, and is a valuable and intrinsic part of Arab culture and heritage.

 

Arab News traveled north and visited the Busita farm, also known as the “Million Tree Farm,” whose owner, Nasser Al-Hamad, shared his story of swapping a career as an Islamic studies teacher in Riyadh for life in the world of agriculture.

Al-Hamad researched and planned his farming project for years before planting 160,000 olive trees imported from Spain through the Agromillora company.

His efforts have borne fruit and he is now regarded as one of the best farmers in the region.

Throughout history, the humble olive has been associated with prosperity. But olive oil has always been much more than just a delicious part of the daily diet, and is a valuable and intrinsic part of Arab culture and heritage.

“I grew up between farms and in a family full of farmers, so I was already familiar with planting methods for many crops,” he told Arab News.

Al-Hamad decided to grow Spanish olive trees in high-density groves, a more economical and productive model that also delivered high-quality crops and flavor.

“When my family started their farming business in Jouf city, the quality of olive oil caught my attention. We did not depend on the Spanish olive oil for daily use, and it was only used for medical prescriptions. However, I found out that it has a nuttier and richer fruity flavor and a sweeter taste than other types,” he said.

“When you eat it in the early morning, it gives the body a kick-start for the day.”

The journey that led to the Million Tree Farm began with a single step.




Nasser Al-Hamad at his Busita Farm in Al Jouf. (AN photo)

“I started with a small orchard of the available olive trees, then I started my research, including visiting international farms and agricultural experts all over Europe,” Al-Hamad said.

In 2018, 160,000 trees, all of the Arbequina variety, were planted as the first stage of the “Million Tree” project.

“The trees are watered through pressure-regulated irrigation networks for four years, resulting in significant growth, heavy branches to support the fruit and excellent productivity,” he said.

“I have been to China, different countries in Europe, and I have met some of the biggest dealers in the field. It turned out that Busita is the best, in terms of quality, production and cost, thanks to different factors, such as the weather.”

INNUMBERS

160,000 - the number of trees planted in the first stage of the “Million Tree” project

10 kg - every 10 kg of olives yields one liter of high-quality olive oil

He added: “In other countries, rainfall in the harvest season can cause crop damage or increase in moisture level for the fruits, but not here.”

Al-Hamad said that every 10 kg of olives yields one liter of high-quality olive oil.

“This whole orchard is managed by one irrigation pump, and requires only one worker due to the use of modern technology,” he said.




The farm uses a smart irrigation system that distributes water in equal amounts to reduce wastage. (AN photo)

Al-Hamad’s success has prompted him to launch another project, with plans to plant 700,000 trees in the next six months. Three types of Spanish olive tree — Arbequina, or “Queen of Arabia”; Arbosana, which translates as “Arabs of Sinai”; and Olea europaea, the European olive — will be used in the planting.

With a long-term goal in mind, the “smart farmer” is focusing on ways to conserve water, lower costs, and transform the way olive oil is produced in the Kingdom in line with modern business principles.

“As I made a career in the farming industry, I found out that the farming process is easier now. My trip to Spain taught me that farming can also adopt technology that is more feasible than standard methods used in other countries.”

Al-Hamad’s methods result in lower costs, reduced water consumption and minimal use of labor, but the result is a consistent high-quality olive oil.

Olive trees thrive on little water, unlike palm trees, which require intensive watering.




Al-Hamad’s methods result in lower costs, reduced water consumption and minimal use of labor. (AN photo)

Differences in trees sizes can be seen in some orchards due to variations in watering or uneven land.

However, Al-Hamad said: “I use a smart irrigation system that distributes water in equal amounts to reduce wastage. This system allows only two liters of water to be consumed in one hour, no matter the pressure level is. Hence, every tree has a single watering unit to guarantee all trees grow evenly.”

Harvesting olives usually requires a large workforce and is labor intensive. Crop quality can also be affected if olives are left in the sun before being collected.

Harnessing modern techniques, Al-Hamad relies on a mechanical olive harvester — or as he calls it, the “one-man mission machine” — to fulfil his vision.

“Instead of 500 workers harvesting the crop, I bought a high-density olive harvester that ensures gentle handling and seamless transport of the olive to the container and then to the olive press station.”




A high-density olive harvester ensures gentle handling and seamless transport of the olive to the container and then to the olive press station. (AN photo)

The olive harvest starts at the end of September and runs till early January. The harvester combs the olive trees and collects 50 tons of the crop every day.

To allow the harvesting machine to operate between each row, olive trees are trimmed to a standard three-meter width and 1.5-meter height. The crop is then transported through a belt conveyor while dusting and washing are carried out.

Olives are then “cold-pressed” at room temperature to extract the juice, resulting in the so-called olive paste, which is kneaded for 30 minutes until the oil is secreted. The liquid is then separated from the olive mixture, and the extracted juice separated into water and oil.

Pure fresh oil is filtered and stored immediately in cans and bottles ranging from one to 16 liters in volume.

“With persistence, planning and work, nothing is difficult,” Al-Hamad said. “In this project, I made sure to benefit from the climate, land and farming methods, all of which are studied and well planned.”

In 2021, Al-Hamad won the best farmer award in the Jouf region. His “Million Tree” brand, created to highlight the success of his project, also claimed the silver award in the Dubai olive oil competition.

“I pride myself, my family, and my country with this huge accomplishment in producing the finest olive oil in the world,” he said.

“The government’s appreciation for the success of my project encouraged me to think about transforming agriculture into an industry and becoming the most advanced olive oil manufacturer in the world.”


‘Close, complementary’ Saudi-UAE relations benefit wider region, UAE minister of state tells Arab News

‘Close, complementary’ Saudi-UAE relations benefit wider region, UAE minister of state tells Arab News
Updated 29 min 2 sec ago

‘Close, complementary’ Saudi-UAE relations benefit wider region, UAE minister of state tells Arab News

‘Close, complementary’ Saudi-UAE relations benefit wider region, UAE minister of state tells Arab News
  • Khalifa Shaheen Al-Marar, UAE minister of state, commends Saudi Arabia’s “remarkable” development journey
  • Similarities in economic development unite both countries and stimulate prosperity, Al-Marar tells Arab News

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and the UAE, two Gulf Arab countries bound by strong familial, religious, cultural and commercial ties, have enjoyed a fraternal relationship for most of their modern existence. The depth of the relationship owes much to a tradition of regular official exchanges, reciprocal visits by royals and high-level summits. In an interview with Arab News, Khalifa Shaheen Al-Marar, UAE minister of state, described how the two countries have adopted policies that benefit the Arab region and contribute to better outcomes for global peace and human welfare.

Q. Saudi-UAE relations have come a long way since the start of the unification of the seven emirates into a federation 50 years ago this month. How would you describe the current state of the bilateral relationship?

A. The UAE and Saudi Arabia maintain a strategic partnership based on the same objectives and vision for regional prosperity, security and stability. The UAE believes that the developmental journey of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, led by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud and His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, Crown Prince, is remarkable and contributes to the overall progress and growth of the region.

Q. What is the significance of the visit by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the UAE?

A. The visit comes as part of enduring efforts to deepen strategic cooperation and coordination between our two countries on local, regional and international issues, reflecting the shared visions and policies of our two countries’ leaderships.

Saudi Arabia’s vision under the leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and His Highness the Crown Prince is embodied in its efforts and tireless work for progress, especially on the economic front, as Saudi Arabia has championed many achievements to advance the entire region’s prospects for prosperity and development.
 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets UAE Vice President and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid. (DXBMediaOffice)

Q. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have historically held similar views on economic, security and geopolitical issues. Do you foresee a similarly high degree of commonality going forward?

A. Absolutely. On all fronts, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have worked to bolster bilateral cooperation in service of our peoples and the wider region. Similarities in economic development between the UAE and Saudi Arabia have united our two nations and allowed us to stimulate prosperity.

Having already convened two meetings of the Saudi-UAE Coordination Council in recent years, our two countries are keen to develop new partnerships in all sectors, including tourism, infrastructure, transport, shipping and logistics. Bilateral discussions continue to address efforts to develop the national economy in non-oil sectors, as well as ways to improve the business climate and empower the private sector in our countries.

Politically, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have upheld common objectives to ensure that the region’s peoples can achieve their aspirations for security, stability, peace and development. In Yemen in particular, the UAE remains steadfast in its calls for a political solution to end the conflict and maintains full confidence in Saudi Arabia’s leadership on this.

Furthermore, our two countries have also made great strides in providing aid and development assistance to those beyond our region, to contribute to better outcomes for global peace and human welfare. Going forward, the UAE and Saudi Arabia will continue to use our partnership to advocate for the world’s most vulnerable and join the international community in mobilizing greater support for developmental and humanitarian causes around the world.

Q. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are both diversifying their economies, offering incentives to attract capital and talent, encouraging small businesses and start-ups, and trying to give their young citizens exciting new career paths in the private sector. In what ways can this be a win-win situation for the two countries?

A. The UAE and Saudi Arabia maintain a close and complementary relationship that benefits the two countries and the wider region, which includes economic and developmental integration. We believe that healthy economic competition in the region is important, and the UAE always views it as an opportunity to generate new prospects and adopt policies that benefit the region as a whole.

Moreover, our two countries’ economic partnership is one based on open exchange and cooperation. The Saudi-Emirati Coordination Council, a high-level bilateral mechanism established to harmonize Saudi Vision 2030 and UAE Vision 2021, continues to play an important role in inking additional economic agreements and streamlining trade between our two countries.

 

Khalifa Shaheen Al-Marar, UAE minister of state. (Supplied)

Q. Where do you see the two countries moving together in the future?

A. As the UAE celebrates 50 years since its founding as a nation, we will continue working to strengthen our regional and international partnerships. Together, with Saudi Arabia, we are in pursuit of a region where prosperity and security flourish, thereby unlocking human potential and ensuring lasting peace.

We share common objectives in preventing extremism and terrorism, and our two countries agree that maintaining maritime security is a priority and strategic necessity for the stability of our neighborhood. Moving into the future, our two nations are committed to working together to address a number of contemporary global issues, including public health, counterextremism, women’s empowerment and climate change.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia, as the largest economies in the Gulf, recognize that we must play a leading role in adopting clean energy technologies and promoting a sustainable future for generations to come. Through economic diversification and green innovation, our two countries are determined to promote climate resilience and conservation, particularly in developing countries.


International philosophy experts brainstorm at historic Riyadh conclave

International philosophy experts brainstorm at historic Riyadh conclave
Updated 09 December 2021

International philosophy experts brainstorm at historic Riyadh conclave

International philosophy experts brainstorm at historic Riyadh conclave
  • 3-day event discusses latest developments in philosophy and its applications

RIYADH: Under the theme “Unpredictability,” the Riyadh International Philosophy Conference will ponder important topics related to modern reality such as ethics and morality, scientific advancement, and the rapid acceleration of technology.

The three-day event, which began on Dec. 8, is organized by the Ministry of Culture’s Saudi Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission. During his opening remarks, the commission’s CEO, Dr. Mohammed Hasan Alwan, said that he was honored to welcome delegates and guests to the first conference of its kind in the Kingdom.

They are at the event for the same reason philosophers have gathered throughout the ages, he said, which is to help develop “a world that is clearer, and when it is clearer, our power to change it is greater. And when these positive changes take their effective form, we all get out of the blame that Karl Marx once (applied) to philosophers when he said: ‘They have interpreted the world in different ways only, while the goal is to change it.’”

The attendees include experts in philosophy and its theories and those with an interest in its modern-day applications worldwide. The event targets an audience with diverse interests, experiences, and academic and professional backgrounds.

FASTFACT

During his opening remarks, the commission’s CEO Dr. Mohammed Alwan said that he was honored to welcome delegates and guests to the first conference of its kind in the Kingdom.

The aims of the conference, which is planned to be an annual event, include discussions of the latest developments in philosophy and its contemporary applications. Organizers say it will also support multidimensional philosophical dialogue and build bridges of cooperation among institutions active in the field of philosophy globally, and help to advance scientific and academic research.

The commission described the conference as a historic moment in the ongoing transformation of the Kingdom, attracting youthful, ambitious and talented people who are keen to develop a mindset that will enable them to shape their future. It aims to help provide Saudis with the intellectual tools to embrace rapid change and an unprecedented future.

Joseph Cohen, a professor of philosophy at University College Dublin in Ireland, told the audience that he strongly believes in philosophy and the responsibilities of all philosophers to gather and meet each other despite their differences.

“I believe this is precisely what will materialize itself this evening and the next few days of the International Philosophy Conference,” he added.

“The great philosopher Jacques Derrida once told me never to settle for what is just possible, and to expect to demand, to strive for the impossible. His phrase resonates with me today. It resonates because by striving toward what is unpredictable, toward what seems impossible for us today, we can together stretch the boundaries of possibility and care for our world.”


Saudi Arabia forms new working group within UN tourism body

Saudi Arabia forms new working group within UN tourism body
Updated 09 December 2021

Saudi Arabia forms new working group within UN tourism body

Saudi Arabia forms new working group within UN tourism body
  • It was the first global tourism meeting since the virus outbreak

MADRID: A Saudi Ministry of Tourism delegation recently took part in the UN World Tourism Organization general assembly meeting held in Spain.

The UNWTO gathering, which takes place every two years, aimed to show the sector’s determination to lead tourism’s recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, through innovation, education, and investment.

The organization, a specialized UN agency responsible for promoting the development of the tourism sector globally, staged its 24th general assembly session at the UNWTO’s headquarters in Madrid.

It was the first global tourism meeting since the virus outbreak, and delegates from more than 100 countries shared their achievements over the past two years in helping the sector get through the health crisis.

Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb, who headed the Kingdom’s delegation, said: “Despite its relatively recent presence in the international tourism arena, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia plays a major global role in this field.”

He noted that the country had great tourism ambitions and sought to make the sector one of the largest contributors to the economic transformation taking place in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

One of the main achievements of the Saudi delegation during the meeting was the formation of a new working group to support the agency in increasing the transparency and effectiveness of its current and future work. The group will also assist in developing initiatives to help respond to the needs of member states, revitalizing the UNTWO for a better future for tourism.

Among Saudi Arabia’s recent achievements in the tourism sector was the opening of a UNWTO regional office in Riyadh, which will serve as a hub for the agency to coordinate policy and initiatives across its 13 member states in the region.


Saudi Arabia records 2 COVID-19 deaths, 46 new infections

Saudi Arabia records 2 COVID-19 deaths, 46 new infections
Updated 08 December 2021

Saudi Arabia records 2 COVID-19 deaths, 46 new infections

Saudi Arabia records 2 COVID-19 deaths, 46 new infections
  • The health ministry says 64 patients have recovered from the virus in the last 24 hours
  • Municipalities close several businesses and issue fines to a number of others for breaching coronavirus protocols

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia confirmed two new COVID-19 related deaths on Wednesday, raising the total number of fatalities to 8,849.
The Ministry of Health confirmed 46 new cases reported in the Kingdom in the previous 24 hours, meaning 550,043 people have now contracted the disease. Of the total number of cases, 29 remain in critical condition.
According to the ministry, the highest number of cases were recorded in the capital Riyadh with 16, followed by Jeddah with 10, while Tabuk, Makkah and Dhahran confirmed two cases each.
The health ministry also announced that 64 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 539,205.
Over 47.8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered since the Kingdom’s immunization campaign started. More than 22.7 million people have been fully vaccinated.


Saudi municipalities have also ramped up efforts to monitor compliance with health and safety measures.
The municipality of Eastern Province carried out 3,687 inspection tours of commercial centers and facilities during the last three days. Authorities recorded 211 violations and closed three businesses for not adhering to the precautionary measures.
Jeddah Municipality carried out 6,081 tours in the past two days and field teams issued fines to 32 commercial outlets and closed 10 others for breaching protocols.
Officials have also called on the public to report any suspected health breaches by phoning the 940 call center number or contacting authorities through the Balady app.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected over 267 million people globally and the death toll has reached around 5.29 million.


Saudi hands turn Al-Khuzama Park into the paradise of the Groves

Saudi hands turn Al-Khuzama Park into the paradise of the Groves
Updated 08 December 2021

Saudi hands turn Al-Khuzama Park into the paradise of the Groves

Saudi hands turn Al-Khuzama Park into the paradise of the Groves
  • The Groves, in the Diplomatic Quarter, is set in Al-Khuzama Park, one of the famous green spaces in Riyadh at Wadi Hanifah

RIYADH: The woman behind the success of the Groves, one of the 14 zones in this year’s Riyadh Season, revealed to Arab News how she realized the project in only 45 days.

“The planning ran from January till September. We had only 45 days to put it together,” said Siham Hassanain, general manager of the Groves.

“All of the designs have been done by Saudi hands. All of the restaurants are local brands Everything you see, from lighting to construction to organizers, is Saudi. The zone was built by a local company called Zivix International Holding,” she added.

The Groves, in the Diplomatic Quarter, is set in Al-Khuzama Park, one of the famous green spaces in Riyadh at Wadi Hanifah.

“It all started in 2019, I had some work to do in the diplomatic quarter, and I entered the park and fell in love with its beauty,” she said.

Hassanain said she researched the place and found out that the park was built 38 years ago when the diplomatic quarter was established. 

The zone was built around nature so that no trees were destroyed. (Supplied)

Turki Al-Shaikh, CEO of the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) and chairman of the Season, had tweeted that anyone with a new idea for Riyadh Season should present it to the authority.

“The first thing that came to my mind was Al-Khuzama Park. I didn’t expect at all, not even 1 percent, that this zone would become a reality. But I told myself I should put all of my energy in this place,” Hassanain said.

After Hassanain pitched her idea to the GEA, she was selected as one of the 20 winning initiatives for the Riyadh Season, and her concept won first place.

“When the announcement came out, I was happy and excited for the first five minutes, then the sense of responsibility kicked in,” she said.

Hassanain says the Groves is filled with trees and fields: “You can hear fountains, water, and birds. The place also has a special scent.” 

The zone contains several open spaces, including an area surrounded by palm trees where visitors can discover various activities. (Supplied)

The Groves’ logo has the four elements of life: water, air, fire, and earth, which Hassanain included in the zone as water resembles relaxation, fire action and attractions, earth food, and air resembles memories.

She faced many challenges while executing the project as everything was done by hand to make sure no plants or trees were destroyed.

She said she had a fantastic Saudi team who helped her and believed and loved the concept even more than she did. “I was anxious they were passionate, I was nervous they were enjoying it … so these feelings created a balance.”

Hassanain noted that in the past Saudi females faced some obstacles in being part of building the country. “Had it not been for the support and vision of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman this wouldn’t exist,” she said.

“If we compare the Boulevard Riyadh City zone in 2019 to the zone in 2021, you can see the big jump. We will amaze the whole world and become the first in the entertainment sector.”