How the Saudi Green Initiative seeks to turn the desert green

Special Thee Ain, top left, in the Kingdom’s south features native flora of the region. (Shutterstock)
Thee Ain, top left, in the Kingdom’s south features native flora of the region. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 14 November 2022

How the Saudi Green Initiative seeks to turn the desert green

How the Saudi Green Initiative seeks to turn the desert green
  • The plan unveiled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in March 2021 seeks to plant 450 million trees by 2030 
  • The initiative seeks to halt desertification, preserve biodiversity and preserve limited water resources

JEDDAH: Although the majority of Saudi Arabia’s terrain is covered by desert, a surprisingly large number of indigenous plant species are able to withstand the harsh climate. Now, under the umbrella of the Saudi Green Initiative, efforts are underway to preserve, and even increase, the amount of vegetation across the Kingdom.

From its desert vistas in the north to the southern region of Asir, the Kingdom is home to an abundance of vegetation, including more than 2,000 wild plant species belonging to 142 families. According to the Saudi National Center for Wildlife, however, about 600 of thee species are classified as endangered and 21 are already thought to be extinct.

The SGI, announced in March 2021, is the largest afforestation project the country has ever seen, with a target of planting 450 million trees by 2030. By the end of 2021, about 10 million trees had already been planted across all of the Kingdom’s 13 regions.

When one thinks of Saudi Arabia, forests might not be the first type of ecosystem that springs to mind. However, the Kingdom has about 2.7 million hectares of woodland, primarily in the remote southwestern highlands of Abha and Asir.

On the face of it, the goal of planting 450 million trees may sound ambitious, to say nothing of the planned greening of the desert, especially given the frenetic urban expansion the Kingdom is witnessing.

But in fact, to counter the potential harm of urban sprawl, the Saudi government has set specific SGI goals to incorporate green spaces harmoniously into urban expansion, including parkland and afforestation within the limits of the Kingdom’s desert cities.




Wild plants, such as the blood lily, contribute to protection of Saudi Arabia’s unique biodiversity. (Supplied)

The greening of unmanaged surfaces within these cities will not only help to curb rising temperatures but also cut carbon dioxide emissions, improve air quality, provide opportunities for more active lifestyles, and beautify cities in a sustainable way.

In more rural climes, meanwhile, the greening efforts have to work against encroaching desertification, limited water resources and record-high temperatures, all of which are thought to be the result of climate change caused by humans.

The SGI road map sets out to halt and reverse desertification and soil degradation, preserve the Kingdom’s unique biodiversity, and maintain limited water resources in a nation where rainfall in scarce and groundwater is being depleted.

Currently, Saudi Arabia has 15 areas that are protected because of their biodiversity; 12 are on land and three of them are marine. The National Center for Wildlife proposes to increase that number to 75, 62 on land and 13 in coastal and marine areas.

The King Salman Royal Nature Reserve in northern Saudi Arabia covers about 6 percent of the Kingdom’s landmass. It includes mountain terrain, vast plains and high plateaus, and is home to about 300 animal species along with rare archaeological heritage sites, some dating back as far as 8,000 BC.

The reserve’s management has recently planted 100,000 seedings with the help and participation of volunteers in partnership with Maaden, a joint effort by the reserve’s authority and partners to contribute to SGI’s goals.​

FASTFACTS

* 2,000 wild plant species are native to Saudi Arabia, belonging to 142 families. However, about 600 are classified as endangered and 21 are already extinct.

* 15 areas are protected in the Kingdom because of their biodiversity, 12 on land and 3 marine. The National Center for Wildlife plans to increase the number to 75.

“We are committed to increasing the vegetation cover, as we have already achieved in planting 600,000 plants as well as having many seed-sowing campaigns to increase the vegetation in the reserve,” a KSRNR spokesperson told Arab News.

“The trees and shrubs are perennial plants that restore the desert-degraded habitats. These plants are native species to the desert habitats and are adapted to the desert’s harsh conditions, such as drought and high temperatures, and do not require excessive water for irrigation.

“The reserve’s strategic objective is to establish a seedling program that includes many projects, such as installing the main nursery.”

Nevertheless, water remains a major challenge for conservation work and greening schemes in the Kingdom. Over the centuries, inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula found ways to sustain life and survive droughts by digging freshwater wells. Over time, and in the wake of the Kingdom’s economic boom in the 1970s, Saudis turned to modern farming methods, increasingly tapping groundwater reserves.




Saudi Arabia and its journey to 10 billion trees - SGI is aiming to contribute to the largest afforestation project in the world.

With no rivers or natural lakes, and very little annual rainfall to replenish sources, Saudi Arabia established seawater desalination plants in its eastern and western coastal areas to support inland cities. Nevertheless, the demand for freshwater is growing and natural aquifers are fast depleting.

The Saudi government is therefore exploring ways to preserve its water resources and use them more efficiently so that they can continue to meet the demands of a growing economy while also keeping green spaces well watered.

Maria Nava, a scientific consultant for Greening Arabia at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology Center for Desert Agriculture, told Arab News that the SGI’s strategic team is likely to tap into treated wastewater to irrigate newly planted vegetation.

Another goal, she said, is “to reduce rainfall loss to the sea or through sand infiltration by the implementation and improvement of water harvesting in the Kingdom and remediation of soil for water retention where needed.”

Plants in urban areas tend to need much more water and canopy cover to provide shade than those growing in mountain, wadi and desert climates, Nava said.

“This vegetation requires more water compared with desert trees, which are drought-resistant and have fewer leaves,” she added.




Under the Saudi Green Initiative, efforts are underway to preserve and increase plant life as well as tree cover across the Kingdom. (Supplied)

Given the Kingdom’s diverse topography, much will need to be done to restore arid or semi-arid lands, prevent soil erosion, retain water, farm using permaculture techniques, and plant vegetation that is tolerant of local conditions, including the growing threat of dust storms.

“All areas in the Kingdom are important and are treated as such,” said Nava. “Each action zone has been deeply studied and analyzed for its potential for tree growth, water availability and aftercare of the vegetation.

“Within the scope of each zone, the propositions are based on being sustainable and that the vegetation can be kept and enhanced in the future. It is not that some have more attention than others; it is more that some, because of weather, water availability, soil, topography, etc., have a higher potential to ‘host’ vegetation than others.

“Nevertheless, all ecosystem changes will affect others, which has also been considered. Each strategy has been thought out in order to be sustainable.”

Driven by necessity, Saudi Arabia is rethinking its water-conservation strategy. Given the ambitious goals of the SGI, a shift from irrigation with desalinated water to the use of treated water was recommended because of the energy demands.




A bitter apple. (Shutterstock)

“Desalination is more energy-intensive than wastewater treatment,” said Nava. “It is possible to reuse all the wastewater for irrigation since the water quality is good for it and there are already plans for this to happen in the Kingdom.

“Currently there is already some reuse of treated wastewater, and as part of the national water strategy the reuse of treated wastewater will reach 70 percent by 2030, with plans to increase this percentage in the near future.”

As the nation becomes more aware of its natural bounties, communities across the Kingdom are also beginning to more actively participate in efforts to achieve the goals of the SGI and achieve a greener future.

“The communities are the base for all the initiatives to become real and succeed,” said Nava. “It is highly important to engage and involve the people, hear their needs, understand their traditions and make them part of the decisions.

“The implementation of the SGI has to be based on three main pillars: social, economic and sustainable.”


KSRelief delivers relief aid to Pakistan, Yemen, Niger, Afghanistan and Jordan

KSRelief delivers relief aid to Pakistan, Yemen, Niger, Afghanistan and Jordan
Updated 02 February 2023

KSRelief delivers relief aid to Pakistan, Yemen, Niger, Afghanistan and Jordan

KSRelief delivers relief aid to Pakistan, Yemen, Niger, Afghanistan and Jordan
  • A shipment delivered by KSRelief containing 500 food packages benefited 500 families in Niger
  • Syrian refugee children in eight Jordanian governorates received school bags

DUBAI: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) distributed 350 food packages to those affected by the floods in Pakistan’s Sindh province. 

The relief center’s delivery benefited 2,450 individuals on Tuesday, state agency SPA reported. 

It also distributed 42 tons and 372 kilograms of food items in Yemen’s Marib, benefiting 132 families and 924 individuals in the area. 

Similarly, a shipment delivered by KSRelief containing 500 food packages benefited 500 families in Niger, while 400 food packages were sent to Afghanistan, benefiting 2,400 individuals in-need. 

Meanwhile, Syrian refugee children in eight Jordanian governorates received school bags from KSRelief in cooperation with the Jordan Hashemite Charity. 

The aim was to provide 29,881 male and female students with basic educational supplies.


Saudi crown prince, French FM discuss bilateral relations

Saudi crown prince, French FM discuss bilateral relations
Updated 02 February 2023

Saudi crown prince, French FM discuss bilateral relations

Saudi crown prince, French FM discuss bilateral relations

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received on Thursday Catherine Colonna, French minister for Europe and foreign affairs, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The meeting discussed ways to enhance bilateral relations in all fields, in addition to the latest regional and international developments.

Saudi and French senior officials attended the meeting.

Colonna arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday on an official visit to the Kingdom.

French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday. (Twitter/@KSAMOFA)

Upon her arrival at King Khalid International Airport, she was received by Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji, the Kingdom’s foreign ministry said.

Colonna’s visit is expected to focus on ways to enhance the distinguished cooperation between the Kingdom and France, the ministry added.


Saudi foreign minister reviews relations with OIC chief, Cypriot and Kyrgyz counterparts

Saudi foreign minister reviews relations with OIC chief, Cypriot and Kyrgyz counterparts
Updated 02 February 2023

Saudi foreign minister reviews relations with OIC chief, Cypriot and Kyrgyz counterparts

Saudi foreign minister reviews relations with OIC chief, Cypriot and Kyrgyz counterparts

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan received a phone call from the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Hissein Brahim Taha, the ministry said on Wednesday. 
During the call, they reviewed aspects of cooperation between the Kingdom and the OIC in various fields, in addition to discussing the most prominent regional and international developments.
Prince Faisal also received separate calls from his Cypriot counterpart Ioannis Kasoulides and his Kyrgyz counterpart Zheenbek Kulubaev, the ministry said.
During the calls, they reviewed bilateral relations, and ways to enhance and develop them in various fields of cooperation and joint coordination, and discussed aspects of enhancing joint action toward various regional and international issues.


Top chef serves up the story behind Saudi Arabia’s new national dishes

Top chef serves up the story behind Saudi Arabia’s new national dishes
Updated 02 February 2023

Top chef serves up the story behind Saudi Arabia’s new national dishes

Top chef serves up the story behind Saudi Arabia’s new national dishes
  • In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Rakan Al-Oraifi explains the appeal and cultural significance of jareesh and maqshush
  • They were recently named by the Saudi Ministry of Culture’s Culinary Arts Commission as the Kingdom’s national dish and dessert

RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Culture’s Culinary Arts Commission announced this month that jareesh has been selected as the national dish of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and maqshush as its national dessert.

Jareesh is a slow-cooked dish of cracked wheat, vegetables and a sauce, with the optional addition of lamb. Maqshush is made of buckwheat bites topped with some combination of ghee, honey, dates, molasses and sugar.

The commission’s announcement forms part of its National and Regional Dishes Narratives initiative, which seeks to identify and celebrate popular dishes that are part of the Kingdom’s culinary culture. It will include research to discover which dishes best represent each region, the results of which are due to be announced later in the year.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Rakan Al-Oraifi, an internationally renowned Saudi executive chef, welcomed the initiative, which he said will showcase traditional dishes and ensure they are at the forefront of the Saudi Culinary scene.

Al-Oraifi, who is a member of the World Master Chefs Society and the founder of Kit Catering, said that jareesh originated in the central Najd region and there is more than one variety.

“Usually, we cook it with laban (buttermilk), so it is known as white jareesh,” he said. “We also have a second kind of jareesh, which is from Hail (in north-western Saudi Arabia), and it is red because we cook it with tomato sauce.”

The distinctive flavors of the dish come from its topping of ghee, caramelized onions and lemon powder, he added.

The selection of jareesh as national dish reflects its popularity across Saudi society, the Culinary Arts Commission said, and references to it can be found in heritage books dating back centuries. It is considered one of the most important dishes in Saudi heritage and is known as “master of dishes,” it added.

Al-Oraifi said that the main reason jareesh is so popular is because people in the Najd region historically ate wheat rather than rice because it required fewer resources.

“Jareesh is a traditional dish everyone likes, young and the old,” he said. “The dish is filled with different flavors; it is kind of salty, a little bit sour because of the buttermilk, and you can eat it during winter or summer.”

According to the commission, the dish is typically served on a variety of occasions, mainly happy ones, and though it originated in the central region it spread throughout the Kingdom.

Maqshush, meanwhile is a dessert typically served as breakfast in Saudi households, and comprises wheat flour, ghee and honey or sugar. It is particularly popular during the winter. According to the commission, the history of the dish dates back more than a century and it is commonly served with Saudi coffee.

Al-Oraifi — who is also a member of the World Association of Master Chefs, the Emirates Culinary Guild, Latin American gastronomic association Aregala International, and the Saudi Arabian Chef Association — is pleased that the dessert, which originated in Hail, is being recognized.

“Maqshush also is made from wheat,” he said. “We mix two kinds of flower in Maqshush: white and brown.”

He added that it is a popular breakfast dish because the wheat, ghee and honey provide energy and power.

In addition to their widespread popularity, the authenticity of their flavors, and their significance in Saudi culture, jareesh and maqshush were chosen as national dishes because they are simple to prepare using ingredients that are readily available, the commission said.

According to “Saveurs d’Arabie” (“Flavors of Arabia”), a cookbook published recently by the commission and Cassi Edition, maqshush might be considered a combination of pancakes and bread because of its taste and texture. It’s small, soft loaves are simple to make and were traditionally baked on a saj, a convex metal pan.

According to the book, the word maqshush means one who picks the smallest portion or pieces of food, which is thought to reflect the fact the dish is prepared from simple, inexpensive ingredients.

Al-Oraifi has been crowned the best chef in Saudi Arabia three times. In 2021, he was awarded first place in the culinary category at the National Cultural Awards. He was the executive chef of Suhail restaurant in Riyadh and AlUla, for which he created a unique, authentic menu.

He joined Al-Khozama group as Executive Chef in 2022 to create a contemporary Saudi menu for Maiz restaurant in Diriyah, and recently moved to Paris for the advanced study of French pastry.

Decoder

Jareesh and maqshush

Jareesh, a popular dish that originated from Saudi Arabia's central Najd region, has been designated as national dish of the Kingdom by the Ministry of Culture’s Culinary Arts Commission. It is a slow-cooked dish of cracked wheat, vegetables and a sauce, with the optional addition of lamb. Maqshush, made of buckwheat bites topped with some combination of ghee, honey, dates, molasses and sugar, is the national dessert.


Who’s Who: Abdulaziz Alzamil, director of talent acquisition at the Soudah Development Co.

Who’s Who: Abdulaziz Alzamil, director of talent acquisition at the Soudah Development Co.
Updated 01 February 2023

Who’s Who: Abdulaziz Alzamil, director of talent acquisition at the Soudah Development Co.

Who’s Who: Abdulaziz Alzamil, director of talent acquisition at the Soudah Development Co.

Abdulaziz Alzamil is the director of talent acquisition and organization development at the Soudah Development Co. owned by the Public Investment Fund. 

His role includes overseeing design and implementation of the company structure and talent acquisition function in line with the company’s objectives. He is involved in supporting the development and implementation of HR initiatives and functions while implementing global best practices for sustainable growth. 

Before joining PIF, Alzamil was director of strategic workforce planning and HR transformation for the public sector at the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development in Riyadh.  

Alzamil played a major part in enhancing government effectiveness and increasing the performance of public sector employees as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 through developing procedures that included top-down analysis, workforce planning, and workload analysis for all ministerial and non-ministerial entities. 

He also helped in developing benchmark comparisons with the public sectors around the world and designed an HR maturity assessment to provide superior employee experiences. 

Alzamil has held several leadership roles in designing and implementing recruiting strategies in telecom and IT companies such as Nokia, Jawwy, and Mobily.  

He also worked as a research assistant at California State University, San Bernardino, in the US. His area of focus mainly involved an integrative emotional intelligence model, the development of social-emotional competence assessment, and coaching competence. His research article was published in a peer-reviewed journal in the US. 

He gained a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature from Imam Mohammad bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh in 2009 and a master’s degree in business administration from California State University, San Bernardino in 2014. 

Alzamil holds a CIPD Level 7 certification and has attended many training courses, including strategic workforce planning from the Leoron Institute in Dubai, and international organizations management from the University of Geneva.