Using smart technology to cultivate fresh greens

Using smart technology to cultivate fresh greens
The Natufia Smart Garden gives households total control over the greens they want to consume without depending on the climate or the seasons. (Supplied)
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Updated 04 March 2023
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Using smart technology to cultivate fresh greens

Using smart technology to cultivate fresh greens
  • Food tech firm adopts penetrative pricing to drive food security in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is in overdrive to achieve its ambitious goals of diversifying its economy and further uplifting the quality of life without compromising its commitment to sustainable living.

Its measures have created a rich environment conducive to innovation and investment and witnessed mushrooming startups developing novel ideas supported by different institutions in the public and private sectors.

One of those entities is the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology which has emerged as a beacon for innovative ideas and a home to the most diverse startups in the region.

Its venture, Natufia Labs, is contributing toward ensuring food security in the Kingdom. 

In 2014, the company pioneered a hydroponic kitchen farm that automates plant growth through a self-contained case that provides optimal water, lighting, and nutrients to cultivate fresh greens throughout the year.

Called Natufia Smart Garden, the technology gives households total control over the greens they want to consume without depending on the climate or the seasons.

With the smart kitchen garden, though, you place the seed pods within the nursery of the cabinet to germinate. After about 10 days, the pod turns into a plant. It is then moved to the growth chamber, and 30 days later, you have fresh green produce devoid of pesticides or preservatives.

The technology can sow over 40 varieties of seed pods and can grow almost 32 plants simultaneously, including basil, chilies, kale, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and chamomile, to name a few. But the technology came with a price.

At $13,000, the product was a luxury and a preserve of the uber-rich. Weighing 270 kg, it was a hardware-intensive technology that commanded huge manufacturing costs coupled with the logistics challenges of sourcing parts from different parts of the world. 

“Our first clients were chefs in France and private clients in California. These were people who loved food and cooking, and for them, Natufia was an extension of their gardens. They told us it was something they wanted for years,” Gregory Lu told Arab News, who set up the company in 2014 in Estonia after spending the better part of his life selling dream homes across Europe.

What also went in the company’s favor was its environmental commitment because here was a product that curbed packaging, pollution, food miles, and toxins.

So, what turned this one-time realtor into an environmentalist? In 2012, after advising high net worth individuals on lucrative real estate opportunities, the law graduate found his true calling as he purchased an olive plantation in Sicily.

“I was able to reconnect with nature and produce olive oil in the most natural way, without fertilizer, pesticide, and excess watering,” said Lu. This enthusiastic embrace of natural living inspired Lu to dream of a farm for every household.

In 2018, Natufia Labs joined the Techstars Dubai Accelerator Opening Class and closed a $1.2-million seed round led by Butterfly Ventures, Techstars, and the Dubai-based Ginco Investments.

I was able to reconnect with nature and produce olive oil in the most natural way, without fertilizer, pesticide, and excess watering.

Gregory Lu, Natufia Labs founder and CEO

However, when the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the world, it highlighted the fragility of the global supply chains and their impact on food security. It made it harder for farmers and food producers to get their produce to market.

For instance, according to the General Authority for Statistics, food and beverage in Saudi Arabia recorded the highest annual increase of 14.4 percent in July 2020, primarily due to a 19 percent increase in vegetable prices and 18.2 percent in meat prices.

With limited mobility and increased demand for home deliveries, transportation costs also shot up, burdening the food basket further. The July 2020 GASTAT report further revealed that transportation costs in Saudi Arabia increased by 7.3 percent, mainly from a 13.9 percent increase in vehicle prices.

The lightning had struck, furthering Lu’s resolve to reach the masses.

In 2021, Lu finally received a helping hand from the unlikeliest place nearly 4,000 km away from his base camp: KAUST.

It not only awarded $2 million to Natufia Labs through its venture capital investment arm, the KAUST Innovation Fund, but also offered a residency at the KAUST Research and Technology Park. Lu soon perfected the art of production and lowered the price. Later, Lu realized the only way he could push the envelope was by designing a product that was smaller in size and more compact in shape than the Natufia Smart Garden.

In the fall of 2022, it launched Natufia One, a smaller and semi-automated version of Natufia Smart Garden, which was entirely developed at KAUST. Weighing 65 kg, Natufia One ventured into the market.

Lu now plans to raise new investments to increase production capacity and triple the firm’s distribution network before the end of this year. He also hopes to launch a slew of new products in 2024.

The plans are encouraging, considering the Kingdom is on a war footing to localize the country’s food industry by 2030.


Pakistan’s commerce minister to invite top 100 global brands in bid to boost exports

Pakistan’s commerce minister to invite top 100 global brands in bid to boost exports
Updated 23 September 2023
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Pakistan’s commerce minister to invite top 100 global brands in bid to boost exports

Pakistan’s commerce minister to invite top 100 global brands in bid to boost exports
  • Dr. Gohar Ejaz announces state-guest protocol and free office space for invited international brand representatives
  • Government may allow local industrialists to purchase electricity directly from producers at competitive regional rates

KARACHI: Pakistan’s interim commerce minister Dr. Gohar Ejaz announced his decision on Friday to invite 100 top global brands to attend a conference with the aim of increasing exports from the country to $100 billion within the next five years.

Addressing the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), the minister did not divulge when he was planning to hold the conference. However, he assured everyone it would take place within the tenure of the caretaker government.

“We are going to hold the conference within 90 days and approach the top 100 brands and request them to come to Pakistan as our state guest,” he said.

Ejaz said the government would provide these companies space to set up their offices free of cost and declare the area an “export zone” with complete protocol. He noted the country had more remittance inflows than export revenue, which was only limited to about $27 billion.

The minister said the government’s decision to launch a crackdown against the smugglers of dollars had led to the appreciation of the Pakistani rupee.

“The rupee that was trading at around Rs350 has come down to Rs290,” he said, adding that the real effective rate should be Rs260 and, according to inflation figures, it should be somewhere around Rs200.

Ejaz said the government had also decided to act against gas thieves since that raised the production costs of many industries.

“UFG [Unaccounted for Gas] is much higher than the benchmark,” he added. “Therefore, the cabinet has granted approval in principle for action against gas thieves, and a grand operation against them will be conducted by next week.”

The minister said the government imposed some import restrictions in the past to reduce pressure on the external account, but it had proved counterproductive.

“By imposing restrictions, imports were curtailed but smuggling from Afghanistan and Iran surged by $5 billion,” he informed.

The minister said it was not possible to offer subsidies to local industries, though an alternative proposal to provide them cheaper electricity was under consideration that would allow industrialists in Sindh and Punjab provinces to purchase power directly from producers at regionally competitive rates.

Responding to a question about the closure of markets earlier than usual, he said the deadline for that had been extended. The government had asked stakeholders to submit proposals along with hourly sales trends to make an informed decision on the matter.


How eight mega-projects are transforming Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh into a global destination

How eight mega-projects are transforming Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh into a global destination
Updated 23 September 2023
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How eight mega-projects are transforming Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh into a global destination

How eight mega-projects are transforming Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh into a global destination
  • Sports Boulevard, New Murabba, Qiddiya and King Salman Park are just some of the city’s highly-anticipated attractions
  • These sustainable and innovative urban spaces will promote culture, heritage, entertainment, leisure and recreation

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 is paving the road for a better future by implementing transformative projects across the Kingdom. These projects aim to integrate advanced technologies and sustainable practices, ultimately enhancing the standard of living and quality of life for residents.

These projects, including Sports Boulevard, New Murabba, Qiddiya, and King Salman Park, are part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.

They are designed to create sustainable and innovative urban spaces, promote sports and recreational activities, enhance cultural and heritage sites, and provide entertainment and leisure options for residents and visitors. 

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 is paving the road for a better future by implementing transformative projects across the Kingdom. These projects aim to integrate advanced technologies and sustainable practices, ultimately enhancing the standard of living and quality of life for residents.

These projects, including Sports Boulevard, New Murabba, Qiddiya, and King Salman Park, are part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. They are designed to create sustainable and innovative urban spaces, promote sports and recreational activities, enhance cultural and heritage sites, and provide entertainment and leisure options for residents and visitors.

Sports Boulevard

Sports Boulevard is the world’s largest linear park, stretching more than 135 km. It encompasses an investment area of 2.3 million sq m and features 4.4 million sq m of green and open spaces.

The park will be home to 50 sports facilities, making it a popular destination for a wide range of visitors, including pedestrians, cyclists (both professional and amateur), horse riders, art and culture enthusiasts, and individuals who prioritize eco-friendly activities. The park’s pathways and spaces have been carefully designed to encourage and support a healthy lifestyle.

Sports Boulevard in Riyadh is divided into eight distinct districts, each characterized by its distinctive design and accompanied by pathways and trails, providing a one-of-a-kind experience.

These districts include Wadi Hanifah, Wadi Al-Yasin, Wadi Al-Sulai, Arts District, Entertainment District, Athletics District, Eco District, and Sand Sports Park. Together, they offer an opportunity to promote healthy living and provide a diverse range of entertainment options in a modern and appealing manner.

New Murabba

Big enough to hold 20 Empire State buildings, the New Murabba is set to be the biggest contemporary downtown in Riyadh, thereby supporting the city’s future growth according to the goals of Saudi Vision 2030.

The New Murabba aims to incorporate the concept of sustainability by including green spaces and dedicated paths for walking and cycling. These measures are designed to enhance overall well-being by promoting healthy and active lifestyles and fostering community engagement.

Additionally, the project will feature a museum, a state-of-the-art technology and design university, a versatile immersive theater, and more than 80 destinations for entertainment and cultural activities.

The development in northwest Riyadh, at the intersection of King Salman and King Khalid roads, will cover 19 sq km and provide housing for residents. It will include more than 25 million sq m of floor space, including residential units, hotel rooms and retail space. There will also be office space, recreational facilities and community amenities. The New Murabba development aims to offer a convenient lifestyle with living, working, and entertainment options within a 15-minute distance. It will have its own transportation network and be a 20-minute drive from the airport.

Qiddiya

The Qiddiya project aims to become a groundbreaking city globally renowned for offering the most imaginative and captivating experiences. Qiddiya strives to create a thriving and enjoyable city centered around entertainment, sports and culture.

It is creating numerous exciting attractions, including theme parks suitable for families. These sports arenas can host international competitions, sports and arts academies, concert venues, racetracks for motorsport enthusiasts, and outdoor adventure activities that offer experiences with nature and the environment. Qiddiya will also provide various real estate options and community services.

The 32-hectare site will include 28 rides and attractions across six different themed areas. The 4 km Falcon’s Flight rollercoaster ride will be the centerpiece of the park, and will touch speeds of 250 km an hour and includes a dive of 160 m.

But the rollercoaster is just a small part of the Qiddiya giga-project, which will include arts centers, festival grounds, a sports stadium, shops and restaurants, housing developments, a motor racing circuit and a golf course designed by 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus.

King Salman Park

King Salman Park is being constructed on more than 16 sq km of land, making it the largest urban park in the world. The park will offer diverse activities and options for residents and visitors of the city. Its environmental elements will significantly increase vegetation in the region and provide more per capita green spaces.

Green areas and open spaces will cover more than 9.3 million sq m, including an Islamic-style garden, a vertical garden, a maze garden, and a bird and butterfly sanctuary. These gardens span more than 400,000 sq m, with a circular pedestrian walkway extending for 7.2 km, a valley area of more than 800,000 sq m, and 300,000 sq m of water features.

The park’s Royal Art Complex will include a national theater with a seating capacity of 2,500, five museums, an outdoor theater accommodating 8,000 audience members, a complex with three cinema halls, four art academies, and an educational center for children.

The sports and entertainment facilities will feature a 850,000 sq m royal golf course, a virtual reality court, a skydiving center, an equestrian center, and running and biking routes.

Diriyah

Diriyah, the historical birthplace of Saudi Arabia, is a treasure trove of more than 30 cultural establishments, including museums and academies. It takes visitors on a captivating journey through the Kingdom’s vibrant history and offers many opportunities to engage with contemporary art.

Turaif, a UNESCO World Heritage site, gives visitors the chance to immerse themselves in captivating performances, interactive exhibitions, educational trails and advanced technologies that together help to showcase Diriyah’s past.

The Old Town features an art district that includes galleries, workspaces and creatively designed residences, while the Period Village recreates a 300-year-old local lifestyle, complete with bustling markets, artisanal shops, workshops, and delectable traditional cuisines.

Jax

The Jax district in Diriyah brings together talented professionals and aspiring artists to express the essence of life through vibrant colors. Their captivating creations are on display throughout the area.

As visitors explore the district, they encounter an array of installations in hallways and public spaces that offer an incredible visual and sensory experience and immerse them in the world of contemporary art.

The district also plays a significant role in promoting art and culture in Diriyah. In 2021 and 2022, it was home to the Diriyah Biennale Foundation, which hosted the Kingdom’s first international contemporary art biennale, in Riyadh. The event attracted artists and enthusiasts from around the world, further solidifying the Jax district’s reputation as a prominent cultural destination.

King Abdullah Financial District

Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District is a thriving hub that embodies the vision of the late ruler it is named after for the creation of a prosperous financial center. Aligned with the goals Vision 2030, the district contributes to the expansion and diversification of the Kingdom’s economy, while also providing a dynamic environment within the community.

Its impressive buildings, inspired by the local natural landscape, have reshaped the Riyadh skyline. They offer state-of-the-art office facilities and sustainable smart city solutions that empower businesses to thrive.

Additionally, the district contains exceptional recreational and retail amenities designed to help provide a distinctive lifestyle experience. Through its remarkable architecture and vibrant atmosphere, it is a symbol of economic growth and community vitality.

Diplomatic Quarter

The Diplomatic Quarter, also known as Al-Safarat, is a vibrant area that houses embassies, residential complexes, and a wide variety of dining options. It is also home to important cultural sites, including Tuwaiq Palace, with its unique tent-like structures and panoramic views of Wadi Hanifa.

The Cultural Center, meanwhile, is a spacious two-story building with a large celebration hall, an auditorium equipped with state-of-the-art technology, and a partially covered outdoor area for performances and other celebrations.


Saudi Maritime Congress makes a splash

Saudi Maritime Congress makes a splash
Updated 22 September 2023
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Saudi Maritime Congress makes a splash

Saudi Maritime Congress makes a splash

DAMMAM: Business cards were traded as fast as wheeled suitcases rolled at the Saudi Maritime Congress as thousands of key players from the industry descended on Dammam.

The fourth edition of the event saw deals struck, debates held, and networking carried out as the Kingdom drives forward with its goal of becoming a global logistics hub.

Held over two-days at the Dhahran Expo venue, this year’s gathering focused on the maritime and logistics sector throughout the Gulf Cooperation Council region – with a specific emphasis on Saudi Arabia’s economic diversification plan Vision 2030.

The event took place just days before the Kingdom was due to celebrate its 93rd National Day  – a milestone which was repeated with pride numerous times by different speakers.

Omar Hariri, president of the Saudi Ports Authority, also known as Mawani, and Ahmed Al-Subaey, CEO of transportation and logistics company Bahri, delivered keynote addresses on the opening day of the event.

“The Saudi maritime sector possesses vast potentials, and this conference is an ideal platform to showcase our capabilities to the world,” said Al-Subaey, adding: “The development of the maritime and logistics sector is vital in realizing the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 objectives.

“Bahri is committed to focusing on leveraging its accumulated experience for the sector’s development within the Kingdom and across the globe.”

Arab News spoke to Chris Morley, group director of Seatrade Maritime, the organizer of the event, and he was keen to flag up how Saudi Arabia’s improvements in the logistics arena are expected to boost port revenue – an increasingly important non-oil source of growth.

He said: “By building out inland logistics hubs and enhancing rail connectivity, the Kingdom is looking to more than quadruple the country’s annual container throughput to 40 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units) by 2030.”

Morley noted that the Kingdom has 53,000 ships operating within its borders, and those vessels are registered in over 150 countries and carry up to 11 billion tonnes of cargo annually.

He said Saudi Arabia’s rise on global connectivity indexes shows the Kingdom is “a powerful and promising partner for more regional and global trade.”

Morley added: “The event has been really exciting and reflects the eagerness of the global industry to be part of Saudi Arabia’s commitment to developing its maritime trade and doing business on an international scale.”

UAE-based Abdulla bin Damithan, CEO and managing director at DP World GCC, traveled to Dammam for the event and spoke to Arab News about his hopes for the deepening of ties between his country and Saudi Arabia in the future.

He emphasized how his role at DP World has recently expanded to go beyond the UAE and into the entirety of the GCC, and how the Kingdom would be one of his main focuses going forward as he attempts to help support the transformation of Saudi Arabia through innovation and investment into a global logistics hub.

“With the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, maritime is one of the focuses of the future – not only between Saudi Arabia and the UAE but also between our nations as a GCC,” he said.

Bin Damithan stressed that technological developments in the sector are having wide-reaching impacts, adding: “Technology means that we're making things much easier and creating new jobs, jobs for the young nationals of the country.

“But the most important thing, I think, is including our female colleagues who are entering into this job, where it was limited before.”

Saudi Arabia and DP World operate the South Container Terminal at Jeddah Islamic Port, the largest harbor in the Kingdom and a crucial link in the world’s busy “east-west” trade routes through the Red Sea.

With an investment of $800 million, DP World has ambitions of doubling the terminal’s capacity from 2.5 million TEUs to 5 million. Set to be finalized by 2024, the project aims to propel Jeddah Islamic Port to become a global trade and a logistical services hub.

Omar Hariri, president of the Saudi Ports Authority.

As well as discussions and debates, the event saw agreements being signed by major players in the industry

Bahri signed a Memorandum of Understanding with SAIL, a subsidiary of the Saudi Investment Recycling Co., to mutually strengthen their offerings within the Kingdom.

The latter firm, owned by Public Investment Fund, was launched in June 2022 as a marine environmental services company, which will act as a regional hub when it comes to responding to oil and hazardous spills along the coastlines of Saudi Arabia.

The alliance with Bahri aims to facilitate maritime sector development and the provision of technical support, while also promoting knowledge and expertise exchange between the two companies.

Ziyad Al-Shiha, CEO of SAIL, said this agreement would play a pivotal role in shaping the future of the maritime sector to benefit from the rapid developments, and to help consolidate the Kingdom’s position as a global hub in this industry.

His equivalent in Bahri, Al-Subaey, stressed the importance of this strategic cooperation, noting that the strengths and joint expertise between the two companies would contribute to the establishment of an ecosystem that promotes innovation, and provides new job opportunities.

Another deal involved Mawani signing a partnership agreement with SIRC aimed at promoting maritime sustainability in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi Maritime Congress was supported by founding strategic partners Bahri and Seatrade Maritime, with support from Mawani, the Transport General Authority, Saudi Aramco and IMI.

The exhibition space featured over 120 organizations representing main sectors of the maritime industry including shipping, shipbuilding, artificial intelligence, as well as port and terminal management and finance.

Firms with booths included Saudi Global Ports Co, Bass Global Marine Services, and Hong Kong Marine Department.

Last year, a record 3,757 visitors attended the event and this year’s final numbers are projected to be close to that.

Chris Hayman, chairman of Seatrade Maritime, used a speech to describe Saudi Arabia as “taking a more active role in global maritime affairs.”

According to Seatrade Maritime News, he said the conference provided one of the first opportunities for the industry to discuss the implications of the new and accelerated pathway towards decarbonisation agreed at the International Maritime Organization’s recent Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting just two months ago.  

He said: “The adoption of the new technologies and the availability of zero carbon fuels needed to meet the new timetable together represent a major challenge for the global industry.

“Driven by the exciting development now unfolding here in the Kingdom, the level of support for Saudi Maritime Congress 2023 has grown substantially from last year.  

“With an increase in overall attendance of more than 50 percent and a greatly expanded exhibition, this event is on track to join the elite group of world class maritime events, matching Saudi Arabia’s growing status as a global maritime hub.”


Oil Updates – prices rise as supply concerns outweigh demand fears

Oil Updates – prices rise as supply concerns outweigh demand fears
Updated 22 September 2023
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Oil Updates – prices rise as supply concerns outweigh demand fears

Oil Updates – prices rise as supply concerns outweigh demand fears

TOKYO: Oil prices rose on Friday as concerns that a Russian ban on fuel exports could tighten global supply outweighed fears that further US interest rate hikes could dent demand, but they were still headed for their first weekly loss in four weeks, according to Reuters.

Brent futures climbed 50 cents, or 0.5 percent, to $93.80 a barrel by 6:50 a.m. Saudi time, while US West Texas Intermediate crude futures gained 63 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $90.26 a barrel.

Both benchmarks were on track for a small weekly drop after gaining more than 10 percent in the previous three weeks amid concerns about tight global supply as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies maintain production cuts.

“Trading remained choppy amid a tug-of-war between supply fears that were reinforced by a Russian ban on fuel exports and worries over slower demand due to tighter monetary policies in the United States and Europe,” said Toshitaka Tazawa, an analyst at Fujitomi Securities Co. Ltd.

“Going forward, investors will focus on whether the OPEC+ production cuts are being implemented as promised and whether the rise in interest rates will reduce demand,” he said, predicting WTI to trade in a range of around $90-$95.

Russia temporarily banned exports of gasoline and diesel to all countries outside a circle of four ex-Soviet states with immediate effect to stabilize the domestic fuel market, the government said on Thursday.

The shortfall, which will force Russia’s fuel buyers to shop elsewhere, caused heating oil futures to rise by nearly 5 percent on Thursday.

“Crude oil bounced off a session low after Russia banned diesel exports, which included gasoline. The action reversed a downside movement in crude markets following the hawkish Fed decision on Thursday,” said Tina Teng, an analyst at CMC Markets, in a note.

“However, mounting fears of a recession in the Eurozone could continue pressuring oil prices.”

The US Federal Reserve on Wednesday maintained interest rates, but stiffened its hawkish stance, projecting a quarter-percentage-point increase to 5.50-5.75 percent by year-end.

That buoyed fears that higher rates could dampen economic growth and fuel demand while boosting the US dollar to its highest since early March, making oil and other commodities more expensive for buyers using other currencies.

The Bank of England mirrored the Fed and held interest rates on Thursday after a long run of hikes, but said it was not taking a recent fall in inflation for granted.

A European Central Bank governing council member said the central bank will most likely keep interest rates stable at its next policy meeting. 


Pakistan seeks $6bn for corporate farming from Saudi Arabia, other Gulf nations by 2028

Pakistan seeks $6bn for corporate farming from Saudi Arabia, other Gulf nations by 2028
Updated 22 September 2023
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Pakistan seeks $6bn for corporate farming from Saudi Arabia, other Gulf nations by 2028

Pakistan seeks $6bn for corporate farming from Saudi Arabia, other Gulf nations by 2028
  • Arab News speaks exclusively to CEO of FonGrow, spearheading agriculture projects under new investment body
  • Pakistan in talks with Saudi companies like Al-Dahara, Saleh and Al-Khorayef for investment in corporate farming

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is seeking up to $6 billion investment from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Bahrain over the next three to five years for corporate farming, with the aim of cultivating 1.5 million acres of previously unfarmed land and mechanizing existing 50 million acres of agricultural lands across the country, the CEO of the company spearheading the initiative has said.

The development comes months after Pakistan set up a Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) — a civil-military hybrid forum — to attract foreign funding in agriculture, mining, information technology, defense production and energy as the South Asian country deals with a balance of payments crisis and requires billions of dollars in foreign exchange to finance its trade deficit and repay its international debts in the current financial year.

Earlier this month, caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said Saudi Arabia and the UAE would invest up to $25 billion each in Pakistan over the next five years in the mining, agriculture and information technology sectors.

Initiatives in the agriculture sector under SIFC are being administered by FonGrow, which is part of the Fauji Foundation investment group run by former Pakistani military officers.

“We have estimated about $5-6 billion [investment from Gulf nations] for initial three to five years,” Major General (retired) Tahir Aslam, FonGrow’s managing-director and chief executive officer, told Arab News in an interview. 

He declined to share details about the breakdown of the investment from each individual country.

The CEO said the company was engaging with several Saudi companies like Al-Dahara, Saleh and Al-Khorayef to attract investment in the corporate farming sector. He did on elaborate on progress made so far in the discussions. 

Aslam said his company was also working on different investment models with the Saudi and UAE companies for corporate farming, including joint ventures.

“If they want to make direct investment, it is a corporate model. So, they will take an equal number of stakes in the company, and they get an equal number of positions in the governance [of the company]. So, it is going to be a joint company.”

About strategy and targets to mechanize farming, Aslam said FonGrow was working on a two-pronged approach to bring up to 1.5 million acres of new arable land under cultivation and modernize 50 plus million acres of land already being farmed.

This, he said, would require about “$25 million per each thousand acres and other for machinery, and setting up of infrastructure for value addition.”

FonGrow is aiming to set up corporate farms on over 100,000 acres in the next 5-7 years. The first such farm had already been established on over 5,000 acres of land in Khanewal, he said. 

“Next year, we will be starting our second farm on over 10,000 acres and we hope to develop the capacity to be able to develop 20 to 25 thousand acres every year,” Aslam said. “Mainly, we are starting in Punjab and then we are looking for lands. Wherever we get suitable lands, we will go to all the provinces.”

To a question about the source of capital to develop the land, the official said: “We have no issue of rupee capital availability for our project because ultimately it will bring returns to Fauji Foundation.”

“There is a small challenge that we are facing basically, which is of foreign exchange because the irrigation systems and the tractors and harvesters that we have to import, they need foreign exchange.”

Aslam said Pakistan’s corporate farming model envisioned that sixty percent of the crops would contribute to the country’s food security, and the remaining 40 percent would be exported mainly to Gulf countries to earn foreign exchange. 

He said Pakistan had received a first export order of Fauji cereal products from a Gulf nation, though he declined to name the country:

“It is a starting quantum [that] is about $25 million worth of products in one year. But I think as we break more grounds this will continue to increase in the coming years.” 

Responding to concerns about the army’s involvement in economic projects in Pakistan, he said the military was only contributing where requested by the civilian government.

“They [foreign countries] wanted an organization which provides continuity or security of their investment, that was the reason the army joined in and then the army also said we have such a large [investment] potential available,” the FonGrow CEO said.

“In the past also, the army has very willingly contributed to projects of nation-building and national importance … Army is playing its part, but no soldiers are involved.”