How Saudi Arabia is promoting healthy diets and sustainability with plant-based alternatives 

Special How Saudi Arabia is promoting healthy diets and sustainability with plant-based alternatives 
In such a meat-heavy culture, it is difficult to imagine Saudis embracing more plant-based alternatives. But as the world edges closer to global warming, companies around the world, such as Saudi-based Ayla’s Choice, have to think beyond imagination. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 April 2024
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How Saudi Arabia is promoting healthy diets and sustainability with plant-based alternatives 

How Saudi Arabia is promoting healthy diets and sustainability with plant-based alternatives 
  • New farming technologies that use less water and produce less CO2 are gaining traction in Saudi Arabia
  • The government has inked deals with several private agri-tech firms to develop meat and dairy substitutes

RIYADH: Just a few short years ago, visitors to Saudi Arabia could never have imagined feasting on a plate of vegan tuna nigiri or a meatless shawarma. Thanks to new investments in agritech, these plant-based alternatives are now firmly on the menu.

With the movement towards meatless eating gaining momentum in response to mounting environmental and health concerns, the Kingdom’s public and private sectors are working together with a view to produce food more sustainably. 

“Taking actions towards plant-based products is essential for promoting environmental sustainability,” Faisal Al-Sughayer, co-founder and general manager of Saudi plant-based brand Ayla’s Choice, told Arab News.




Faisal Alsughayer, co-founder and general manager of Ayla’s Choice, Faisal Alsughayer, says the company’s goal is to provide consumers with healthy alternatives to animal products. (Supplied)

“Conserving resources, enhancing human health, ensuring food security, and even economic opportunities as well — and also building climate resilience. This is what we’re trying to do with farming. 

“By making conscious choices to incorporate more plant-based options into our diets and lifestyles, we can contribute to a positive change and create a healthier, more sustainable society.”

Since the launch of the Saudi Green Initiative in March 2021, the Kingdom has witnessed significant changes owing to its commitment to enhance food security, the promotion of sustainable agriculture, and adaptation to evolving food trends.

Mindful of vulnerabilities in the global supply chain, the Kingdom’s investment in food industry innovation and diversification is also designed to achieve a degree of self-sufficiency in meeting the dietary needs of the population.




Last year, one of Saudi’s most anticipated giga-projects, NEOM, announced its collaboration with a Dutch greenhouse company to form a horticulture oasis just outside the urban city.  (Supplied)

This is being driven in part by government initiatives, new technological advances, and shifts in consumer preferences.

About a year ago, the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture signed deals with the Cooperative Societies Council, Saudi Greenhouses Management and Agricultural Marketing Co., and Ayla’s Choice to develop plant-based foods. 

With these agreements, the ministry aims to promote a culture of healthy eating, provide locally made, high-quality vegan and vegetarian alternatives, and to utilize advanced technologies for producing meat and dairy substitutes.

These deals will also help modernize farming and marketing systems, promote food security, enhance environmental sustainability, and contribute to the overall development of the Kingdom’s agricultural sector.




Ayla’s Choice is passionate about creating sustainable local plant-based products. (Supplied)

According to Al-Sughayer, Ayla’s Choice was the first company in Saudi Arabia to obtain a license from MEWA to produce plant-based products, paving the way for more licenses and investment opportunities.

The company’s goal is not to promote a completely meatless and dairy-free diet, but rather to provide consumers with healthy alternatives to animal products. 

At one of its recent workshops in collaboration with MEWA, the company showcased innovative products, including truffle and olive caviar, carrot-based smoked salmon tartlet, tomato tuna nigiri, and eggplant unagi nigiri.




At one of their recent workshops in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, Ayla’s Choice showcased innovative bites including truffle and olive caviar, carrot-based smoked salmon tartlet, tomato tuna nigiri, and eggplant unagi nigiri. (Supplied)

“We’re eager to explore opportunities for collaboration for sustainability planning initiatives, including setting targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, by conserving water resources, preserving biodiversity, and participating in government led working groups or task forces focused on sustainable food systems,” said Al-Sughayer.

In doing so, the firm aims “to provide expertise and input from our sites from the plant-based sector, and from the agricultural sector to enhance food security in Saudi,” he added.

As of now, collaborations are in the works with MEWA, the Ministry of Economy and Planning, and individual companies to embark on joint ventures that will ensure the availability of the highest-quality meat- and dairy-free foods. 

DID YOUKNOW?

• At the tail end of 2023, Vertical Farms Co. broke ground on Saudi Arabia’s largest indoor vertical farming project to date. It is set to begin operations in the second half of 2024.

• Companies like iFarm are pushing towards simplifying the process of mass sustainable commercial vegetable growing applications locally.

• With 3.2 million square meters, a large-scale farm in Asir’s Wadi bin Hashba holds the world record for the world’s largest sustainable farm.

Saudi Greenhouses Management and Agri Marketing Co. — also known as Al-Rasheed Greenhouses — is one of the largest farming and horticulture companies in the Gulf Cooperation Council area, with more than 40 years’ experience in the sector.

The firm operates in nine locations, managing more than 90 hectares of greenhouses and an additional 27 hectares of new expansions in high-tech greenhouses throughout the Kingdom. It is the biggest supplier of fresh produce to Saudi Arabia’s main retailers

“The company has full control on the whole supply chain of the fresh produce, starting from designing the right greenhouse specification for the right region to grow in the Kingdom, to delivering the fresh produce on the shelves for consumers,” Abdullah Al-Rasheed, the firm’s senior project manager, told Arab News




The sustainable farm in the Asir region, recently recognized by Guinness World Records as the largest in the world, uses treated water to irrigate crops planted across a 3.2 million square meter area. (Supplied)

“So logistic crop consultations, production management, is all handled under our company.”

Al-Rasheed Greenhouses recently signed a deal to cultivate and supply plant-based ingredients to Ayla’s Choice for use in its products, such as lion’s mane mushrooms, which are a meat-free alternative to steaks.

Al-Sughayer hopes the partnership will encourage local farmers in Saudi Arabia to consider tailoring their choice of crops to meet the growing demand of the plant-based foods industry, generating a better return on their produce and reducing waste in the process.

“This can have significant benefits for both the farmers and food security in Saudi,” he said. “Our aim is to diversify food sources by working with local farmers to develop plant-based products from the overabundance of local produce.”

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Saudi Arabia’s food sector has made great strides in sustainability. Last year, one of the Kingdom’s most highly-anticipated gigaprojects, the NEOM smart city, announced a new collaboration with a Dutch greenhouse company to build a self-sustaining horticultural oasis.

Using revolutionary technologies, the partnership with Van Der Hoeven will allow the region’s desert landscape, scorched by high temperatures and parched by low rainfall, to flourish with locally grown produce.

SweGreen, a Stockholm-based agritech company and vertical farming venture, is another potential partner. 

Using soilless farming technology and monitoring systems managed by artificial intelligence, the company has enabled local supermarkets to grow crops in the middle of the store with absolute control over the quality and growing process.




SweGreen has made headlines internationally with its world-leading in-store farm solutions and its AI-based steering and digital monitoring system. (Supplied)

“SweGreen has set four global industry records for efficiency and sustainability in agriculture,” Scott A. Ellis, the firm’s consultant liaison, told Arab News.

“The first one is a world record for lowest CO2 emissions. This is measured per kilogram of lettuce produced,” measured against the environmental impact of transporting food across the planet and its concurrent waste.

“Of course, this reduces the carbon footprint and also contributes to a more sustainable planet,” Ellis added.

The technology has also achieved the lowest rate of energy consumption and the highest production efficiency. More importantly for Saudi Arabia, however, is that the technology scored highest for water conservation, requiring just 1.3 liters per kilogram of greens.


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• KAUST leading Saudi Arabia’s progress in aquaculture


“Production occurs 24 hours a day, all year round, regardless of the weather outside,” said Ellis. 

“So, in summary, the greens with the highest nutritional content and maximum integrity and taste, have the lowest need for resources, including the big ones like water, energy and space, and leave the softest climate footprint.”

The revolutionary farm-to-fork system has been installed at 32 sites worldwide with plans for many more.




The plant-based company’s goal is not to promote a meatless and dairy-free diet, but rather provide healthier alternatives to the general population. (Supplied)

Ellis believes the technology will benefit local farmers by promoting local collaborations and will encourage consumers to purchase healthier foods, resulting in a healthier population overall.

“SweGreen is very supportive of working in a flexible way with Saudi Arabia to meet the needs and goals of Vision 2030,” he said.

For Al-Sughayer and others in the Saudi business community, partnerships with firms like SweGreen are a productive and mutually beneficial way to promote good health and environmental sustainability. 

“By leveraging international expertise, we can easily address the challenge of produce when addressing sustainability goals and promoting food security in Saudi,” he said.
 

 


Black cloth covering Kaaba in Makkah raised ahead of Hajj

Black cloth covering Kaaba in Makkah raised ahead of Hajj
Updated 23 May 2024
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Black cloth covering Kaaba in Makkah raised ahead of Hajj

Black cloth covering Kaaba in Makkah raised ahead of Hajj
  • Procedure meant to keep the cover, Kiswa, free from getting soiled and tampered
  • 36 specialized technical personnel carried out procedure with aid of 10 cranes

RIYADH: In keeping with the annual tradition, officials raised the lower part of the kiswa — the elaborately designed black cloth covering the Kaaba — in Makkah on Wednesday ahead of this year’s Hajj pilgrimage.
As approved by the General Authority for the Care of the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, the exposed part was covered with a white cotton fabric, two-and-a-half meters wide and 54 meters long on all four sides, according to the Saudi Press Agency.
Carrying out the procedure were 36 specialized technical personnel with the aid of 10 cranes.

In this handout photograph, taken and released by Saudi Press Agency, specialized technicians are seen at work at the Kaaba in Makkah on May 23, 2024, raising the special cover to keep it from being soiled and damaged ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (SPA)

As described in the SPA report, the kiswa is lifted in several stages: It starts with unscrewing the bottom of the cover from all sides, separating the corners, then untying the bottom rope and removing it from the fixing rings, after which the cloth is rolled upward. The lanterns are then dismantled and the white cloth are put in place, after which the lanterns are reinstalled over the white cloth until the final stage.
The procedure is repeated every year to protect the kiswa from getting soiled and damaged as pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba.

In this handout photograph, taken and released by Saudi Press Agency, specialized technicians are seen at work at the Kaaba in Makkah on May 23, 2024, raising the special cover to keep it from being soiled and damaged ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (SPA)

The annual Hajj in Saudi Arabia is considered the world’s largest human gathering, with year 2012 marking the biggest number of participants at 3.16 million.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Saudi authorities allowed only a symbolic observance of Hajj with just a thousand pilgrims. The numbers were gradually raised as the health crisis was placed under control worldwide. Last year, almost 1.84 million pilgrims performed the “once in a lifetime” journey and the figure is expected to go higher this year.
Every year, on the ninth day of the Islamic month of Dul Hijjah, the black silk cloth is removed and a new kiswa is draped in its place.


Saudi Arabia welcomes move by Norway, Ireland and Spain to formally recognize Palestinian state

Saudi Arabia welcomes move by Norway, Ireland and Spain to formally recognize Palestinian state
Updated 23 May 2024
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Saudi Arabia welcomes move by Norway, Ireland and Spain to formally recognize Palestinian state

Saudi Arabia welcomes move by Norway, Ireland and Spain to formally recognize Palestinian state
  • Palestinian Authority and its rival group Hamas both welcomed the recognition
  • Israel recalls envoys to Spain, Ireland and Norway for consultations

RIYADH/COPENHAGEN: Saudi Arabia said Wednesday it welcomed the “positive” decision taken by Norway, Spain, and Ireland to recognize a Palestinian state. 
The Kingdom said it appreciated this decision “which confirms the international consensus on the inherent right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” in a foreign ministry statement. 

The kingdom also called on more countries to swiftly take the same stance, “which would contribute to finding a reliable and irreversible path to achieve a just and lasting peace that fulfills the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Leaders of Norway, Spain and Ireland said on Wednesday they were formally going to recognize Palestine as a state.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said: “There cannot be peace in the Middle East if there is no recognition.”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez also announced that the country’s council of ministers would recognize an independent Palestinian state on Tuesday May 28.

“Next Tuesday, May 28, Spain’s cabinet will approve the recognition of the Palestinian state,” he said, adding that his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu was putting the two state solution in “danger” with his policy of “pain and destruction” in the Gaza Strip.

Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris said it was a move coordinated with Spain and Norway, marking “an historic and important day for Ireland and for Palestine.”

The Palestinian Authority and its rival group Hamas both welcomed the recognition of a Palestinian state by Ireland, Spain and Norway.

The Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank territory while Hamas runs Gaza.

Jordan hailed the coordinated move as an “important and essential step towards Palestinian statehood.”

“We value this decision and consider it an important and essential step towards a two-state solution that embodies an independent, sovereign Palestinian state along the July 1967 borders,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told a press conference.

Qatar’s foreign ministry welcomed the announcement as an “important step in support of a two-state solution,” expressing hope that other countries would follow suit.

The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council also spoke out in support of the European countries’ move, with secretary general Jasem Mohamed Albudaiwi saying it represented “a pivotal and strategic step towards achieving the two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a statement said.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, based in the Saudi city of Jeddah, similarly welcomed the move as an “important historic step”.

Several European Union countries have in the past weeks indicated that they plan to make the recognition, arguing a two-state solution is essential for lasting peace in the region.

Israel recalled envoys to Spain, Ireland and Norway over their moves to recognize a Palestinian state.

“Today, I am sending a sharp message to Ireland and Norway: Israel will not go over this in silence. I have just ordered the return of the Israeli ambassadors from Dublin and Oslo to Israel for further consultations in Jerusalem,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in a statement.

Sanchez said in March that Spain and Ireland, along with Slovenia and Malta, had agreed to take their first steps toward Palestinian recognition, seeing a two-state solution as essential for lasting peace.

The efforts come as a mounting death toll in Gaza from Israel’s offensive to rout Hamas prompts calls globally for a ceasefire and lasting solution for peace in the region.

Norway, which is not a member of the European Union but mirror its moves, has been an ardent supporter of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

“The terror has been committed by Hamas and militant groups who are not supporters of a two-state solution and the state of Israel,” the Norwegian government leader said.

“Palestine has a fundamental right to an independent state,” Gahr Store told a press conference.

The move comes as Israeli forces have led assaults on the northern and southern edges of the Gaza Strip in May, causing a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of people, and sharply restricted the flow of aid, raising the risk of famine.

The Scandinavian country “will therefore regard Palestine as an independent state with all the rights and obligations that entails,” Gahr Store said.

Norway’s recognition of a Palestine state comes more than 30 years after the first Oslo agreement was signed in 1993.

Since then, “the Palestinians have taken important steps toward a two-state solution,” the Norwegian government said.

It said that the World Bank determined that Palestine had met key criteria to function as a state in 2011, that national institutions have been built up to provide the population with important services.

“The war in Gaza and the constant expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank still mean that the situation in Palestine is more difficult than it has been in decades,” the Norwegian government said.


Black cloth covering Kaaba in Makkah raised ahead of Hajj

Black cloth covering Kaaba in Makkah raised ahead of Hajj
Updated 23 May 2024
Follow

Black cloth covering Kaaba in Makkah raised ahead of Hajj

Black cloth covering Kaaba in Makkah raised ahead of Hajj
  • The procedure is meant to keep the cover, known as kiswa, free from getting soiled and tampered with as pilgrims performing Hajj circumabulate the Kaaba

RIYADH: In keeping with the annual tradition, officials raised the lower part of the kiswa — the elaborately designed black cloth covering the Kaaba — in Makkah on Wednesday ahead of this year's Hajj pilgrimage.

As approved by the General Authority for the Care of the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, the exposed part was covered with a white cotton fabric, two-and-a-half meters wide and 54 meters long on all four sides, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

Carrying out the procedure were 36 specialized technical personnel with the aid of 10 cranes.

As described in the SPA report, the kiswa is lifted in several stages: It starts with unscrewing the bottom of the cover from all sides, separating the corners, then untying the bottom rope and removing it from the fixing rings, after which the cloth is rolled upward. The lanterns are then dismantled and the white cloth are put in place, after which the lanterns are reinstalled over the white cloth until the final stage.

The procedure is repeated every year to protect the kiswa from getting soiled and damaged as pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba.

The annual Hajj in Saudi Arabia is considered the world's largest human gathering, with year 2012 marking the biggest number of participants at 3.16 million.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Saudi authorities allowed only a symbolic observance of Hajj with just a thousand pilgrims. The numbers were gradually raised as the health crisis was placed under control worldwide. Last year, almost 1.84 million pilgrims performed the "once in a lifetime" journey and the figure is expected to go higher this year.

Every year, on the ninth day of the Islamic month of Dul Hijjah, the black silk cloth is removed and a new kiswa is draped in its place.


Saudi authorities limit entry to Makkah to Hajj visa holders

Saudi authorities limit entry to Makkah to Hajj visa holders
Updated 23 May 2024
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Saudi authorities limit entry to Makkah to Hajj visa holders

Saudi authorities limit entry to Makkah to Hajj visa holders

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior announced that visit visa holders are not allowed to enter or stay in Makkah during May 23-June 21 as access to the city will be limited to Hajj visa holders.

The ministry stressed that all types of visit visa are not a permit to perform Hajj, adding that violators will be subject to penalties according to Saudi laws and regulations.


Saudi FM in Tehran conveys king, crown prince condolences for Iran president death

Saudi FM in Tehran conveys king, crown prince condolences for Iran president death
Updated 23 May 2024
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Saudi FM in Tehran conveys king, crown prince condolences for Iran president death

Saudi FM in Tehran conveys king, crown prince condolences for Iran president death

RIYADH: Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, conveyed the condolences of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to top Iranian officials in Tehran on Wednesday on the death of President Ebrahim Raisi and his companions.

Prince Mansour bin Muteb bin Abdulaziz, Adviser to King Salman and Minister of State, and Prince Faisal were received by Deputy Chief of Staff for Political Affairs to Iran President Mohammad Jamshidi and Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani.

Saudi ambassador to Iran Abdullah Al-Enazi attended the reception.