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.”


French culture minister visits historic Jeddah

French culture minister visits historic Jeddah
Updated 04 December 2021

French culture minister visits historic Jeddah

French culture minister visits historic Jeddah
  • Bachelot toured various old parts of Jeddah, known locally as Al-Balad
  • The minister also visited Beit Nassif and Al-Shafei Mosque

JEDDAH: French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot visited Jeddah on Saturday during her visit to Saudi Arabia.  

Bachelot toured various old parts of the city, known locally as Al-Balad, visiting its historic houses and viewing authentic building patterns reflecting the identity and heritage of the region.  

The minister also visited Beit Nassif and Al-Shafei Mosque, where she was briefed on the various facilities, neighborhoods and landmarks that still exist today, and listened to an explanation about the excavation of antiquities carried out across Jeddah. 

Al-Balad, downtown Jeddah and the Gate to Makkah, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Last month, Saudi Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan praised the strong relations between the Kingdom and France, including their respective cultural heritages, during his meeting with Bachelot in Paris.

The prince discussed ways to strengthen cultural cooperation between the two countries, including through exchange programs and the Historic Jeddah Revival Project, in addition to research and capabilities development.


Saudi crown prince, French president, and Lebanese PM hold telephone call

Saudi crown prince, French president, and Lebanese PM  hold telephone call
Updated 52 min 38 sec ago

Saudi crown prince, French president, and Lebanese PM hold telephone call

Saudi crown prince, French president, and Lebanese PM  hold telephone call
  • PM expressed Lebanon's appreciation for efforts made by Kingdom and France to stand by Lebanese people
  • Mikati: Government committed to taking all action that would strengthen relations with Kingdom and GCC

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia's crown prince and France's president held a telephone call with Lebanon's prime minister on Saturday.

During the phone call, Najib Mikati expressed Lebanon's appreciation for the great efforts made by the Kingdom and France to stand by the Lebanese people.

He added that his government was committed to taking all action that would strengthen relations with Saudi Arabia and Gulf Cooperation Council countries and rejects everything that would harm their security and stability.

The three countries agreed to work together to support comprehensive reforms necessary in Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia and France emphasized their keenness on the establishment of security and stability in Lebanon.

French President Emmanuel Macron met Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Al-Salam palace in Jeddah on Saturday during the final leg of his two-day Gulf tour.


Saudi Arabia announces two more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces two more COVID-19 deaths
Updated 04 December 2021

Saudi Arabia announces two more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces two more COVID-19 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 539,011
  • A total of 8,842 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced two deaths from COVID-19 and 29 new infections on Saturday.

Of the new cases, nine were recorded in Riyadh, seven in  Jeddah, three in Makkah, two in Taif, and two in Dhahran. Several other cities recorded one new case each.

The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 539,011 after 21 more patients recovered from the virus.

A total of 8,842 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.

Over 47.6 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.


French President Macron meets Saudi crown prince in final Gulf stop

French President Macron meets Saudi crown prince in final Gulf stop
Updated 04 December 2021

French President Macron meets Saudi crown prince in final Gulf stop

French President Macron meets Saudi crown prince in final Gulf stop

RIYADH: French President Emmanuel Macron was received by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Al-Salam palace in Jeddah on Saturday .

The two leaders dicussed bilateral cooperation and issues of interest in the region, and the crown prince hosted a working lunch for the president.

The lunch was also attended by the Crown Prince of Bahrain Prince Salman bin Hamad.

Macron arrived in Jeddah earlier and was received at the airport by Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, governor of Makkah and royal advisor. 

The visit is part of Macron’s Gulf tour, during which he is visiting Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar between Dec. 3 and 4. 

Saudi and French firms are expected to discuss cooperation in several fields including energy, finance and tourism.  

Speaking to the press in Dubai, Macron said Saudi Arabia, the most populated and most powerful country in the Gulf, held the key to preserving peace and stability in the Middle East, and also in the French endeavor to assist Lebanon.


Saudi aid agency discusses education efforts at UN conference

Dr. Hana Salem highlighted the efforts made by Saudi Arabia  to support education. (SPA)
Dr. Hana Salem highlighted the efforts made by Saudi Arabia to support education. (SPA)
Updated 04 December 2021

Saudi aid agency discusses education efforts at UN conference

Dr. Hana Salem highlighted the efforts made by Saudi Arabia  to support education. (SPA)
  • The conference tackled the importance of improving the quality of education, spreading knowledge, exchanging experiences and innovation in times of crisis

RIYADH: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center recently participated virtually in the “Leaving No One Behind: Benefiting from Innovation to Access Quality Education and Information” conference.

This comes within the framework of the annual program “Innovate Now … Live Tomorrow” and the Regional Digital Inclusion Week for Arab States organized by the International Telecommunication Union and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Speakers from the regional offices of UNESCO and concerned authorities participated in the two-day conference.

During the conference, KSrelief was represented by the director of the community support department, Dr. Hana Salem, who highlighted the efforts made by the Kingdom to support education — 89 educational projects were presented in more than 14 countries, at a budget amounting to nearly $200 million.

She touched on the educational projects provided during the coronavirus disease pandemic, indicating that the center works closely with local and international organizations to meet people’s needs and search for appropriate and sustainable solutions to ensure access to education.

She also stressed the center’s keenness to support innovation in educational projects.

For his part, the head of initiatives at the International Telecommunication Union, Alex Wong, discussed the Giga initiative, which aims to connect every school to the internet and ensure access to education for every child.

The conference tackled the importance of improving the quality of education, spreading knowledge, exchanging experiences and innovation in times of crisis, especially in light of the challenges the world is witnessing during the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on education.

It also touched on the use of artificial intelligence systems in education and intellectual property rights and the importance of developing educational cadres to keep pace with the need in digital education.