How Saudi Arabia is boosting food security by pursuing agricultural self-sufficiency

Special How Saudi Arabia is boosting food security by pursuing agricultural self-sufficiency
A general view taken from an airplane on September 11, 2014 shows cultured farms in northern Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
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Updated 05 September 2023
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How Saudi Arabia is boosting food security by pursuing agricultural self-sufficiency

How Saudi Arabia is boosting food security by pursuing agricultural self-sufficiency
  • Kingdom taking proactive steps to develop agri-businesses as a buffer against global supply chain disruption
  • Heavy investment in small farming businesses and desalination has enabled Saudi Arabia to cultivate less-arable land

JEDDAH: Considering some 90 percent of Saudi Arabia’s territory is largely desert and ill-suited for farming, few might expect the Kingdom to be the site of a new agricultural boom designed to boost domestic crop production and reduce dependence on imported foodstuffs.

As large swathes of the Arab world struggle with food insecurity and supply-chain disruptions, the Kingdom’s initiatives, investments and technological innovations are redefining what it means to achieve self-sufficiency in many food items across one of the world’s most arid regions.

Today, Saudi Arabia has achieved complete self-sufficiency in the production of dates, fresh dairy products and table eggs, according to figures from the General Authority for Statistics’ Agricultural Statistics Publication.

These figures also show that Saudi Arabia produces more than enough of these three food items to meet local demand — 124, 118, and 117 percent, respectively — meaning it has excess capacity for export.

The Kingdom has also made progress in growing potatoes, meeting 80 percent of local demand. Domestic poultry comprises 68 percent, tomatoes 67 percent, red meat 60 percent, carrots 50 percent, fish 48 percent and onions 44 percent.

Improving food self-sufficiency has required the Kingdom to navigate the twin obstacles posed by climate change, bringing with it new record temperatures and soil degradation, and water scarcity, amid depleted rainfall and limited natural freshwater reserves.

Jamal Al-Saadoun, CEO and vice chairman of the Red Sea Farms Cooperative, or Tamala, an initiative aimed at developing agriculture in the Red Sea region, told Arab News the Kingdom reached its level of food self-sufficiency “through planning and over a long period.”

Saudi Arabia’s journey to food self-sufficiency started in the 1980s. During that decade, Riyadh “began developing agricultural plans and focusing on important sectors and products such as dairy, dates, poultry and table eggs,” said Al-Saadoun.

It was supported by investors, assisted by consultations and boosted by a good domestic market for homegrown products. Some of these goods were even exported to the Kingdom’s neighbors, demonstrating the oil-rich country’s potential to become an exporter of foodstuffs rather than a mere importer and consumer.




A picture taken on March 31, 2018 shows a date farm amidst sandstones in the Khuraiba archaeological site near Saudi Arabia’s northwestern town of AlUla. (AFP)

Now Saudi agri-businesses and investors have adopted modern technologies to improve quality and yields, learning and exchanging best practices with counterparts in the industry around the world.

“The presence of many technical companies inside the Kingdom and regular participation in international exhibitions by the Ministry of Agriculture” are giving  Saudis in the agricultural sector opportunities to meet specialists and learn about the latest technologies in their field, said Al-Saadoun.

Several economists have sought to emphasize the importance of food self-sufficiency in the face of chronic food insecurity, especially in countries that rely heavily on imports for domestic consumption.

As the global food system becomes more interconnected, the risk of food insecurity is on the rise. In this century alone, the importance of food self-sufficiency became evident during the 2007-08 world food price crisis.

More recently, destabilizing events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict have again underlined the importance of food security and the need for many countries to pursue self-sufficiency to avoid price inflation and shortages.

FASTFACTS

  • Saudi Arabia has implemented several innovative solutions to expand and improve its agricultural sector.
  • Riyadh has invested in desalination technologies to avoid depleting its freshwater reserves vital for growing crops.

Driven by the need to achieve self-sufficiency in keeping with its food-security strategy, the Saudi government has invested in modern desalination technologies and advanced irrigation techniques.

Such investments enable it to utilize its water reserves more effectively and avoid unnecessary wastage, particularly given its limited natural freshwater resources, especially groundwater.

Across most of the Arabian Peninsula, there is precious little rainfall and much of what there is runs off into desert sand or quickly evaporates.

An area covering more than 1,000,000 square miles contains almost no perennial rivers or streams, and the Kingdom’s southern section is covered by one of the largest deserts in the world.

Saudi Arabia occupies about 80 percent of the Arabian Peninsula and is one of its driest countries. Water resources are scarce and climate conditions severe. The conditions cause groundwater salinization, which is a common problem affecting the Kingdom’s agricultural sector.

As part of its investment in desalination technologies, Saudi Arabia has built plants along its coastlines that convert sea water into freshwater, which is then used for irrigation and other agricultural needs.




The Saudi government has invested in modern desalination technologies and advanced irrigation techniques. (Shutterstock)

In addition to reducing the use of its freshwater reserves, this process has made it possible to cultivate crops in drier, water-scarce regions, potentially giving the Kingdom more arable land for agriculture.

To prevent the exploitation of aquifers, Riyadh has also imposed strict regulations against groundwater extraction. By taking these proactive measures, Saudi Arabia is working to sustain and preserve this vital resource.

The Kingdom has achieved notable self-sufficiency in various crops, especially those requiring modern technologies, largely thanks to its integrated water management system. This approach has noticeably reduced the water consumption needed for agriculture from 86 percent to 70 percent.

Saudi authorities are also exploring the option of localized vertical-farming technologies and hydroponics — the science of growing plants without soil and with limited amounts of water.




Saudi Arabia has built plants along its coastlines that convert sea water into freshwater, which is then used for irrigation and other agricultural needs. (Saudi Water Conversion Corporation)

These innovations boost the domestic cultivation of essential crops, such as wheat, barley and dates, and simultaneously reduce reliance on foreign sources for these staples.

Despite these successes, the Kingdom still relies heavily on imports for much of the food consumed by the Saudi public. However, authorities recognize that the Kingdom cannot achieve complete food self-sufficiency by remaining dependent on the international market.

Consequently, over the summer, the Kingdom’s Agricultural Development Fund approved funding for small farmers in greenhouse vegetable production, fish and shrimp farming, and poultry breeding. Under this scheme, farmers were loaned $400 million in funding to support what many call “local-for-local” goods.

Al-Saadoun of Tamala highlighted the government’s support for agricultural cooperatives and initiatives to develop agriculture and livestock farming with a view to employ modern technologies, sustainable irrigation systems and organic farming practices.

Such initiatives include developing agricultural and livestock farming in the Red Sea region. In recent years, multiple centers for agricultural development have emerged throughout the coastal area, with small local farms adopting more advanced practices to boost yields.




Saudi companies and associations are helping farmers to transition to modern and sustainable farming methods. (Shutterstock)

Companies and associations like Tamala are playing a crucial role in helping such farmers transition to modern and sustainable farming methods. They aim to facilitate the development of high-quality produce while conserving vital resources.

Although Saudi Arabia is boosting local production, this does not mean it is turning its back on foreign imports. Rather, the Kingdom is diversifying its sources of food to guard against future systemic shocks.

Indeed, in a 2017 paper, “Food self-sufficiency: Making sense of it, and when it makes sense,” published by the journal Food Policy, the author argues that “policy choice on this issue is far from a straightforward binary choice between the extremes of relying solely on homegrown food and a fully open trade policy for foodstuffs.”

Saudi Arabia’s experience is a striking example of a country vigorously pursuing its goal of achieving food self-sufficiency and tackling food insecurity in an unpredictable and uncertain world.

 


Digital wellbeing summit at Ithra to confront technology’s dangers, advantages

Digital wellbeing summit at Ithra to confront technology’s dangers, advantages
Updated 20 May 2024
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Digital wellbeing summit at Ithra to confront technology’s dangers, advantages

Digital wellbeing summit at Ithra to confront technology’s dangers, advantages
  • Event at Ithra will have over 110 digital experts, 70 speakers from 20 countries

DHAHRAN: After a two-year hiatus, the second Sync Digital Wellbeing Summit 2024 returns to the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, or Ithra, this week for discussions and debates by world-leading experts.

Scheduled for May 22 and 23, Ithra will be buzzing with all things that merge technology and wellness, and will feature 110 digital experts and 70 speakers from 20 countries.

The second Sync Summit is scheduled for may 22 and 23, and Ithra will be buzzing with all things that merge technology and wellness. (Supplied)

“The Sync Summit 2024 is not just another conference. It’s a platform for meaningful discussions, critical reflections, and collective actions for a better digital future,” said Wadha Al-Nafjan, head of digital wellbeing at Sync. “As we navigate the digital paradox, it is vital to recognize our responsibility in shaping the world we want to live in.”

Topics including algorithmic homogenization and identity loss, AI’s impact on the creative industries, and misinformation will be tackled under the theme “Confronting the Digital Paradox.”

The second Sync Summit is scheduled for may 22 and 23, and Ithra will be buzzing with all things that merge technology and wellness. (Supplied)

The summit will be held at the Ithra headquarters in Dhahran, with a live stream available.

Day one, organized around the sub-theme “Cuts Both Ways: Wrestling with the Tensions of the Digital Era,” includes seven panels, two fireside chats and two keynote talks.

It’s a platform for meaningful discussions, critical reflections, and collective actions for a better digital future.

Wadha Al-Nafjan, Head of digital wellbeing at Sync

Day two, centering on the sub-theme “A Digital Renaissance: Shaping Our Relationship with Digital for a Better Future,” will have eight panels and three keynotes. In addition, it will have the Sync Spotlight series finale, for which creative influencer Omar Farooq will screen his new documentary, “The Dark Side of Japan.”

Although there was no summit last year at Ithra, the Sync team conducted extensive research globally that led to some compelling findings.

Wadha Al-Nafjan, Head of digital wellbeing at Sync

According to their research, 81 percent of those surveyed are concerned about the unsolicited collection of their personal data, 53 percent struggle to maintain boundaries between their work and personal lives, while 66 percent believe that the internet needs more regulation. About 73 percent of participants think social media was designed to be addictive.

Furthermore, the average time spent online daily has gone down, compared with 2021. About 68 percent claim to understand AI, 87 percent think technology is allowing people to work and study more flexibly, and 91 percent use digital devices to access resources including books and tutorials.

The second Sync Summit is scheduled for may 22 and 23, and Ithra will be buzzing with all things that merge technology and wellness. (Supplied)

“Never before has the world been so connected to everything and everyone. We know technology has improved our lives, but it also has the painful potential to distract and harm,” Ithra said in a statement to Arab News. The summit’s activities are geared toward “ensuring that we as humans come together to keep digital technology in check and working towards the greater good, safeguarding its future, and our own.”

The event will bridge the gap between academic research, industry practices, and end-users regarding digital wellbeing through a variety of sessions.

Sync Spotlight

A series of sessions will run in parallel to the two-day Sync Summit stage program, offering greater interaction between speakers and audience members.

Sync Action Forum

The worldwide Gen Alpha Forum, an initiative developed by Sync Research with McCann Worldgroup, will see the community expand to include Saudi Arabia parents of Gen Alpha children, as well as educators, and other Gen Alpha stakeholders.

Majlis

In partnership with Johns Hopkins, which has a local hospital at Aramco, the Majlis will host three sessions exploring digital wellbeing with educators, researchers and students.

The Plaza

The gamified experience will dive into the findings compiled by the Sync Research team through the lens of three projects which were developed with partners Horizon Group, PSB and McCann Worldgroup.

Sync Immersive

In this interactive journey, the organizers promise to provide a three-step experience designed to impact participants’ emotions and understanding, while guiding them into navigating the complexities of digital ethics.

Podcast

The booth experience will serve both as a studio to record live podcast episodes hosted by Mo Gawdat, formerly of Google, and as a multi-functional space for hosting media interviews. Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Islam, host of the English-language podcast, The Mo Show, will also be present.

Other notable speakers this year include US data scientist and AI specialist Rumman Chowdhury; Saudi Arabia athlete, FIFA World Champion and owner of an esports team, Abdulaziz Alshehri; and Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak.

One May 21, Ithra will host the Global Digital Wellbeing Assembly, a gathering of experts from across the Kingdom and the globe to discuss the guiding objectives and roadmap for a new digital wellbeing society.

Registration is now open and attendance is free.

 


Saudi artistry blooms in floral sculptures

Sara Abdullah’s two art collections, Alstroemeria (2024) and Anemone (2023), are each dedicated to the spotlighted flower.
Sara Abdullah’s two art collections, Alstroemeria (2024) and Anemone (2023), are each dedicated to the spotlighted flower.
Updated 20 May 2024
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Saudi artistry blooms in floral sculptures

Sara Abdullah’s two art collections, Alstroemeria (2024) and Anemone (2023), are each dedicated to the spotlighted flower.
  • To the artist, nature signifies creativity, inspiration and deep magical meaning, she told Arab News

RIYADH: Saudi artist Sara Abdullah’s delicate floral sculptures find inspiration in the nuances and harmony between humanity and nature.

To the artist, nature signifies creativity, inspiration and deep magical meaning, she told Arab News.

“Both (art and nature) are means of exploring the deeper aspects of the human existence. As artists, we can capture and express the intangible aspects of our lives that defy simple verbal descriptions,” she said.

Sara Abdullah’s two art collections, Alstroemeria (2024) and Anemone (2023), are each dedicated to the spotlighted flower. (Supplied)

Abdullah credits her artistry to her role model, her father, who introduced her to a multifaceted world of art at a young age.

“My story is like my dad’s — we started by painting characters and self-portraits but eventually transitioned to creating nature artwork,” she said.

“My father’s deep love for art and trying to convey his artistic message to the world is what makes me continue to search more for the deep meaning between art and nature and how to transform my ideas into a valuable work of art that includes a purposeful message that touches people.”

Sara Abdullah’s two art collections, Alstroemeria (2024) and Anemone (2023), are each dedicated to the spotlighted flower. (Supplied)

Her two art collections, Alstroemeria (2024) and Anemone (2023), are each dedicated to the spotlighted flower.

In the Alstroemeria collection, her sculptures begin with the design of the wood base, which is curved to reflect the feeling of containment and support.

She handcrafts pieces of the flower with twisted and connected edges, representing the petals from the beginning of their life until their flowering.

“Its distinction lies in its longevity among the flowers, and this is what adds to the true meaning of the artwork, which is connection, stability, love, friendship … feelings and bonds that are established after a long period of relationship,” the artist explained.

The message of the artwork is the “close connections and depth of feelings between people and the ability to support and contain each other as we go through life’s experiences.”

Abdullah describes her Anemone collection as “nature embodied in abstract sculptures … a harmonious dance between light and shadow.”

The wildflower has long inspired artists and storytellers, appearing in various works of Arabic literature, including in poems, stories and folk tales.

Anemone flowers generally grow open and wide, with a dark center.

Through this collection of sculptural works, Abdullah embodies the feeling of joy accompanied with dancing.

“When something happy happens in your life, then you start dancing as if you seem to be dancing lightly in the open air and you feel that you are open to the world due to the influence of this happiness. This simile reflects when you see the cold and light wind between the flowers, making them sway between each other lightly,” she said.

“When I prepare to create an art collection, I always try to choose pastel colors that are calm and comfortable to look at as natural colors, in addition to using materials to highlight some pieces or lines in the painting, which adds a three-dimensional touch to the artwork.”

Abdullah also described her outlook on life: “Try to deal with life as if you are like a flower that grows in its beautiful shape … and no matter how the wind blows on her at the end, she blooms beautifully again. Be always like flowers bloom.”

 

 


Saudi FM expresses Kingdom’s solidarity with Iran after helicopter crash

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan spoke with Iran’s acting Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani on Monday.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan spoke with Iran’s acting Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani on Monday.
Updated 20 May 2024
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Saudi FM expresses Kingdom’s solidarity with Iran after helicopter crash

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan spoke with Iran’s acting Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani on Monday.
  • Iranian president, foreign minister and seven others died when the aircraft they were traveling in went down on Sunday in a remote area of northwestern Iran

RIYADH: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan expressed the Kingdom’s solidarity with Iran and its people following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in a helicopter crash on Sunday. 

During a phone call with Iran’s acting Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani on Monday, Prince Faisal expressed his condolences over the deaths of the president and his accompanying delegation.

Raisi, 63, his foreign minister and seven others died when the aircraft he was traveling in went down on Sunday in a remote area of northwestern Iran, where the wreckage was only found on Monday morning.


267,657 pilgrims have arrived so far in Saudi Arabia ahead of Hajj

267,657 pilgrims have arrived so far in Saudi Arabia ahead of Hajj
Updated 20 May 2024
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267,657 pilgrims have arrived so far in Saudi Arabia ahead of Hajj

267,657 pilgrims have arrived so far in Saudi Arabia ahead of Hajj
  • This year’s Hajj, for the Hijri year 1445, is expected to begin on June 14 and conclude on June 19

RIYADH: As of May 19, 267,657 pilgrims had arrived in Saudi Arabia via air, land and sea ahead of Hajj, according to the General Directorate of Passports.
The directorate said it is using all of its resources to ensure entry procedures for pilgrims at all arrival points run as smoothly as possible by providing platforms that use the latest technical advances and fully trained staff proficient in many languages, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
This year’s Hajj, for the Hijri year 1445, is expected to begin on June 14 and conclude on June 19. Flights carrying pilgrims began to arrive in the Kingdom on May 9.


Saudi Libraries Commission expands Culture House network to Asir region

Saudi Libraries Commission expands Culture House network to Asir region
Updated 20 May 2024
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Saudi Libraries Commission expands Culture House network to Asir region

Saudi Libraries Commission expands Culture House network to Asir region
  • Culture Houses are part of the Quality of Life Program, an initiative under Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030

RIYADH: The Libraries Commission recently inaugurated a Culture House in the Ahad Rafidah Governorate, Asir region.

This follows a comprehensive renovation and upgrade of the public library, transforming it into a cultural hub for the area. The launch event was attended by the commission’s CEO, Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Asim.

The program aims to develop cultural infrastructure, enhance cultural sites, and improve public libraries. (SPA)

Al-Asim told the Saudi Press Agency that the project aims to fulfill the needs and aspirations of visitors, from its architectural design and facilities to the annual schedule of events. He noted that each Culture House in the Kingdom has a clear plan for sustainability and activation, offering acultural activities for all community segments, including children, adolescents, writers, intellectuals and artists.

According to SPA, since its soft opening four months ago, the Culture House in Ahad Rafidah has attracted nearly 30,000 visitors.

The Culture House has learning spaces, a children’s theater, a main theater, and a library with designated reading areas. It also includes spaces for innovation and technology. The facility offers several amenities, such as prayer rooms for men and women, meeting rooms, a printing and computer center, a cafe, and a shop.

Culture Houses are part of the Quality of Life Program, an initiative under Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. The program aims to develop cultural infrastructure, enhance cultural sites, and improve public libraries, thereby contributing to the Kingdom’s cultural and artistic advancement in line with the goals of Vision 2030.