How Saudi Arabia is building a sustainable agricultural sector through innovation

Special How Saudi Arabia is building a sustainable agricultural sector through innovation
The farm in Wadi Bin Hashbal, Asir, covers over 3.2 million square meters and is recognized by the Guinness World Records. (Supplied photos/File))
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Updated 09 June 2024
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How Saudi Arabia is building a sustainable agricultural sector through innovation

How Saudi Arabia is building a sustainable agricultural sector through innovation
  • A vertical farm in Riyadh has produced a greater yield of strawberries than local farmers at a fraction of the water usage
  • Wadi Bin Hashbal, the Kingdom’s Guinness World Record-breaking sustainable farm, uses treated water to irrigate its crops

RIYADH: Climate change poses a significant threat to agriculture, with serious implications for food security, livelihoods and access to water. That is why Saudi Arabia is adopting a range of innovative and sustainable farming practices.

As summer temperatures become more intense around the world, crop yields are dwindling and water scarcity mounting, raising the specter of food insecurity in some regions and higher prices on domestic and global markets.

Agriculture is also a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. About 24 percent of human-induced emissions are the result of agriculture, forestry and land use activities, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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To limit the environmental harm caused by farming while also adapting crop production to hotter, drier conditions, governments and businesses worldwide are adopting new technologies, methods and practices in pursuit of sustainable agriculture.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, strategies for agriculture and forestry, unlike in other sectors, can simultaneously increase adaptive capacity and mitigate climate change if implemented sustainably.

Sustainable agriculture refers to methods and practices that preserve the environment, protect natural resources, ensure the security of food supply chains and provide sufficient returns for farmers.

Saudi Arabia has established several sustainable agriculture initiatives, including efforts to promote the use of treated water for irrigation and the adoption of soilless farming techniques — measures designed to meet the needs of a changing demographic.

By 2045, the world’s urban population is projected to increase by 1.5 times to 6 billion, according to the World Bank. With many more people leaving rural areas in search of opportunities in the cities, the way food is produced and distributed requires a rethink.

That is why Saudi Arabia is exploring the use of urban farming technology, including vertical farming or soilless culture, as a potential solution.




Vertical farming addresses the challenges of limited land availability, seasonality of crops, and a growing global population. (Shutterstock)

Vertical or soilless farming refers to a method of growing plants without the use of soil, whereby nutrients are delivered to the roots through water — a process also known as hydroponics.

Soilless plants utilize drip or mist irrigation techniques, enabling a more controlled dispensation of water, preventing water wastage. This technique saves 98 percent more water than traditional farming, according to the World Economic Forum.

Areas struggling with water scarcity, poor soil fertility, salinity, or sodicity could benefit from this method, not only to conserve water and reduce pesticide usage, but also to allow for year-round crop production.

The National Research and Development Center for Sustainable Agriculture, or Estidamah, is a standalone legal not-for-profit research center based in Saudi Arabia. Its vertical farming program aims to optimize crop production — mainly leafy vegetables and strawberries.




The National Research and Development Center for Sustainable Agriculture, or Estidamah, has been producing high-yield tomatoes at its greenhouses. (Estidamah photo)

To bolster this initiative, the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture set aside SR100 million ($27 million). In 2021, scientists from Estidamah and Wageningen University in The Netherlands managed to cultivate Estavana variety strawberries in a greenhouse in Riyadh.

The resulting strawberry yield, and that of two other varieties, was considerably greater than that of local farmers, demonstrating the technology’s immense potential.

However, Saudi Arabia’s commitment to sustainable agriculture is perhaps best demonstrated by the methods and practices used at Wadi Bin Hashbal — a mega farm situated in the mountainous southwestern Asir region.

“This farm is the largest sustainable research demonstration or experimental farm in the world, with an area exceeding 3.2 million square meters, as is recognized by the Guinness World Records,” Ahmed Al-Mujthal, director-general of the Ministry of Environment and Water’s Asir branch, told Arab News.

One of the most impressive features of the farm is its use of treated water to irrigate crops. “The treated water is divided into municipal and industrial wastewater, with each type requiring specific treatment plants,” said Al-Mujthal.

DID YOUKNOW?

• Saudi Arabia exports wheat, dates, dairy products, eggs, fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables and even flowers.

• Wadi bin Hashbal’s sustainable farm is recognized by Guinness World Records as the largest in the world using treated water to irrigate crops.

• Urban farming and treating wastewater for irrigation are some of the sustainable agricultural practices adopted by Saudi Arabia.

The primary treatment phase removes large particles and oils, the secondary treatment phase involves aerobic bacteria, and the tertiary treatment uses filters to remove remaining pollutants and odors.

“Chlorination is done to eliminate microbes and treated water is suitable for all uses except direct human consumption,” said Al-Mujthal. “The amount of water produced from the treatment plants in the Asir region exceeds 240,000 cubic meters per day.”

The treated water is then transported across the region to where it is needed. “There are four main treated water plants in the Asir region, all of which rely on the triple treatment method and are completely suitable for irrigating all crops,” Al-Mujthal added.

Wadi Bin Hashbal has about 16,000 trees yielding eight varieties of seasonal fruit, in addition to 2,400 non-fruiting local trees and a field designated for growing fodder and raising livestock. It also contains five protected, air-conditioned farms designated for research.




The success of the Kingdom’s sustainable agriculture projects bodes well for climate-vulnerable nations around the globe. (Supplied photos/File)

“More importantly is monitoring the quality of water and soil that is carried out on the farm by constantly taking samples and analyzing them in specialized laboratories accredited by the ministry,” said Al-Mujthal.

This is in addition to measuring the temperature and humidity in the soil, and the amount of rain and wind speed on the site through the climate station established on the farm.

The Asir region was strategically chosen for the farm as it is characterized by a unique geography, the fertility of its soil and its favorable climate.

“In general, the data received from the competent authorities indicates that the average rainfall in the Asir region exceeds 300 mm per year,” said Al-Mujthal. In mountainous areas with dense vegetation, rainfall can even exceed 500 mm per year.

“Other factors include the relative abundance of surface and groundwater in addition to the presence of excellent infrastructure in the Asir region for drainage and water treatment,” Al-Mujthal added.

The success of the Kingdom’s sustainable agriculture projects bodes well for climate-vulnerable nations around the globe that are struggling to adapt to water scarcity and rising temperatures.

Indeed, if crops can be grown sustainably in Saudi Arabia — one of the hottest and driest places on the planet — there is hope yet for agriculture in a changing world.
 

 


Riyadh rent hike drives demand for home ownership

Riyadh rent hike drives demand for home ownership
Updated 48 min 47 sec ago
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Riyadh rent hike drives demand for home ownership

Riyadh rent hike drives demand for home ownership
  • Ongoing construction boom to improve housing affordability, expert says
  • Harmon described Ejar platform as unresponsive and biased toward landlords, with tenants feeling that their interests are not being adequately protected

RIYADH: The Kingdom’s capital has experienced a significant surge in apartment rental prices in recent years, making it increasingly difficult for many residents to afford suitable accommodation.

This sharp rise in rental costs has led to a growing trend among Riyadh’s population to prioritize home ownership over renting, as they seek to gain more stability and control over their living situations.

According to recent real estate market data, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in central Riyadh has skyrocketed to over SR5,000 ($1,300) per month (numbers differ daily). For larger units, the costs can be even more staggering, with three-bedroom apartments often commanding monthly rents in excess of SR10,000, a CBRE.sa report states.

Exorbitant rent prices have placed a significant financial strain on many middle-class and lower-income families, forcing them to make difficult choices about their housing options. (AN photos by Hajar AlQusayer)

These exorbitant prices have placed a significant financial strain on many middle-class and lower-income families, forcing them to make difficult choices about their housing options.

“It’s become almost impossible for my family to continue renting,” said Shahad Al-Ghamdi, a young administrative manager living in Riyadh. “The rent for even a modest apartment eats up a large portion of my monthly salary, leaving little room for other expenses. I’ve been seriously considering taking out a mortgage and buying a home instead, as it would ultimately be more cost-effective in the long run.”

FASTFACTS

• According to recent real estate market data, the average rent for a one- bedroom apartment in central Riyadh has skyrocketed to over SR5,000 ($1,300) per month (numbers differ daily).

• The Saudi government has introduced mortgage financing programs and other incentives to make it easier for citizens to purchase their own properties.

• Economist and financial analyst Talat Zaki Hafiz cautioned that factors, such as interest rates and inflation, will play a crucial role in determining overall market dynamics.

Al-Ghamdi’s sentiment is echoed by countless other Riyadh residents, who are increasingly viewing home ownership as a more viable and sustainable option compared to the ever-rising rental market.

To address this pressing issue, the Saudi government has introduced mortgage financing programs and other incentives to make it easier for citizens to purchase their own properties. As a result, the demand for home loans has surged, with many banks reporting a significant increase in mortgage applications over the past few years.

However, as highlighted by the experiences of residents like Romana Harmon, the government’s efforts to regulate the rental market through initiatives like Ejar platform have been perceived as largely ineffective.

Exorbitant rent prices have placed a significant financial strain on many middle-class and lower-income families, forcing them to make difficult choices about their housing options. (AN photos by Hajar AlQusayer)

Harmon described Ejar platform as unresponsive and biased toward landlords, with tenants feeling that their interests are not being adequately protected.

Romana said: “I have had experience with them (Ejar), and they do not respond to people who alert them to overly expensive apartments. They should protect both the landlord and tenant, but they don’t. They seem to be on the side of the landlord and owner.”

Harmon’s concerns raises the question of how can the system more effectively serve the people it is designed to help. Harmon’s own rental experience has been a rollercoaster of broken promises and escalating costs, with the landlord apparently increasing her rent by an astonishing 58 percent despite the standard maximum of 5-10 percent.

Exorbitant rent prices have placed a significant financial strain on many middle-class and lower-income families, forcing them to make difficult choices about their housing options. (AN photos by Hajar AlQusayer)

Harmon said that she was able to contact Ejar but they told her that there are no laws that stop the landlord from increasing a new lease.

Harmon, who is an expat working temporarily in Saudi Arabia, is not considering buying a house and has to deal with rent that keeps getting higher.  

Economist and financial analyst Talat Zaki Hafiz acknowledged the ongoing construction boom in Saudi Arabia which has a “value of construction outputs reaching $141.5 billion, a 4.3 percent increase compared to the previous year.”

Hafiz believes that this expansion in housing and office buildings may help narrow the gap between supply and demand, potentially leading to more balanced rental prices and improved housing affordability.

However, Hafiz also cautioned that other factors, such as interest rates and inflation, will play a crucial role in determining overall market dynamics. He remains optimistic about the future, but emphasized the need for continued efforts to address the root causes of the rental crisis and ensure that housing remains accessible and affordable for all.  

“But we are still in good condition compared to countries who are members of G20 and I believe solutions are taking place … it is matter of time to increase the supply of houses,” Hafiz added.

To truly address the rental crisis in Riyadh, the Saudi government must take a more comprehensive and responsive approach. This may involve strengthening rent control regulations, empowering regulatory bodies like Ejar to effectively protect tenants’ interests, and exploring innovative solutions to increase the supply of affordable housing units.

By addressing the systemic issues underlying the rental market, the government can help alleviate the financial burden on Riyadh’s residents and foster a more inclusive and prosperous future for the city.

 


Thriving tree planted by King Faisal a symbol of Saudi-Pakistani relations

The Sapium sebiferum, or Chinese tallow tree, was planted by King Faisal during his 1966 visit to Pakistan. (SPA)
The Sapium sebiferum, or Chinese tallow tree, was planted by King Faisal during his 1966 visit to Pakistan. (SPA)
Updated 23 July 2024
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Thriving tree planted by King Faisal a symbol of Saudi-Pakistani relations

The Sapium sebiferum, or Chinese tallow tree, was planted by King Faisal during his 1966 visit to Pakistan. (SPA)
  • Dr. Salma Hawsawi: “The Sapium sebiferum tree holds an exceptional place and importance, connecting Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. It represents a model of international bonding for nearly 58 years, since the era of King Faisal”

MAKKAH: In the heart of Islamabad’s International Friendship Garden, a tree stands as a living testament to the enduring bond between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

The Sapium sebiferum, or Chinese tallow tree, was planted by King Faisal during his 1966 visit to Pakistan.

The Sapium sebiferum, or Chinese tallow tree, was planted by King Faisal during his 1966 visit to Pakistan. (SPA)

The tree’s presence in Shakarparian, as the garden is known locally, has inspired a wave of goodwill. Across Pakistan, streets, neighborhoods, mosques, and universities now bear the names of Saudi monarchs, reflecting the deep-rooted affection between the two countries.

The garden, home to trees planted by various world leaders, bursts into bloom each spring. Yet, for many Pakistanis, King Faisal’s tree, as it is locally known, holds special significance. It stands as a living reminder of the shared history and mutual respect between the two nations.

HIGHLIGHT

The presence of the tree planted by King Faisal in Shakarparian, as the garden is known locally, has inspired a wave of goodwill.

King Faisal was among the first guests to plant a tree in this garden, which blossoms with flowers in spring and has become a destination for tourists from around the world.

The Sapium sebiferum, or Chinese tallow tree, was planted by King Faisal during his 1966 visit to Pakistan. (SPA)

Dr. Salma Hawsawi, professor of ancient history at King Saud University, told Arab News: “The Sapium sebiferum tree holds an exceptional place and importance, connecting Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. It represents a model of international bonding for nearly 58 years, since the era of King Faisal.”

The “warmth and enthusiasm” displayed during the state visits are telling, she noted. “They reveal the deep-rooted connection and mutual respect that have grown between our nations over the decades.

“These trees, with their vibrant green hue, have long symbolized hope and prosperity,” Hawsawi explained. “Their robust root systems serve as the foundation for branches, leaves, and fruits. King Faisal laid down the primary foundation.”

The tree is known for its quick growth which “perfectly encapsulates the dynamic expansion of our bilateral ties,” she added, elaborating on how this natural metaphor extends to various facets of the countries’ partnership.

“We have witnessed this accelerated growth in our strategic partnerships, knowledge exchange programs, cultural dialogues, economic investments, and efforts toward political stability and peace. Trees embody growth, prosperity, stability, and continuity. These qualities are deeply ingrained in the multifaceted relationship between our two nations,” Hawsawi concluded.

 


King Salman oasis hosts global chemistry talent event

King Salman oasis hosts global chemistry talent event
Updated 34 min 43 sec ago
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King Salman oasis hosts global chemistry talent event

King Salman oasis hosts global chemistry talent event
  • The students toured an exhibition showcasing research priorities, development and innovation in the Kingdom, focusing on energy and industry-related technologies

RIYADH: The King Salman Science Oasis hosted 333 talented individuals from 90 countries who participated in the 56th International Chemistry Olympiad 2024.

This event was organized by the King Abdulaziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity in partnership with the Ministry of Education and King Saud University.

The program is in Riyadh from July 22 to July 30, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday.

During their visit, participants were immersed in a rich learning experience, exploring the history of chemistry in the Kingdom and its crucial role in the industry’s development.

They also delved into the petrochemical industry’s contributions to innovation and entrepreneurship in the Kingdom, gaining valuable insights and knowledge.

The students toured an exhibition showcasing research priorities, development and innovation in the Kingdom, focusing on energy and industry-related technologies.

They also interacted with 13 researchers from the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, who provided insights into areas such as refining, petrochemicals, hydrogen, nuclear sciences, advanced materials, electronics, semiconductors, advanced manufacturing, future energy and mining.

At the end of their visit, students participated in making Taif perfume as part of their experience at the King Salman Science Oasis.

 


GCC secretary general receives newly appointed Uzbekistan ambassador to Saudi Arabia

GCC secretary general receives newly appointed Uzbekistan ambassador to Saudi Arabia
Updated 23 July 2024
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GCC secretary general receives newly appointed Uzbekistan ambassador to Saudi Arabia

GCC secretary general receives newly appointed Uzbekistan ambassador to Saudi Arabia
  • The parties looked at ties between the GCC and Uzbekistan, and relations between the GCC and Central Asia

RIYADH: Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council Jassim Mohammed Al-Budaiwi on Tuesday in Riyadh received the recently appointed Ambassador of Uzbekistan to the Kingdom Nodirjon Turgunov.

The parties looked at ties between the GCC and Uzbekistan, and relations between the GCC and Central Asia, and ways to enhance them, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

They also exchanged views on the latest regional and international developments and political issues of mutual concern.

Al-Budaiwi wished the ambassador success in his new duties.

 

 


Saudi wildlife center celebrates cheetah conservation milestone

Saudi wildlife center celebrates cheetah conservation milestone
Updated 23 July 2024
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Saudi wildlife center celebrates cheetah conservation milestone

Saudi wildlife center celebrates cheetah conservation milestone
  • Four cubs born as part of national strategy

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Wildlife has announced a major breakthrough in its cheetah conservation efforts, with the birth of four cubs and the completion of a comprehensive national strategy.

The announcement came during a session held by the center on Tuesday to introduce the cheetah, and outline efforts for its reintroduction. This initiative is part of the National Cheetah Conservation Strategy within the National Cheetah Reintroduction Program, launched last year under the auspices of the minister of environment, water and agriculture, Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli, who is also chairman of the center.

The center’s CEO, Dr. Mohammed Qurban, said: “The official launch of the National Cheetah Conservation Strategy and the announcement of the birth of four cheetah cubs signifies an important achievement in our conservation efforts. This strategy reflects our unwavering commitment to ensuring a sustainable future for wild cheetahs in their natural habitats in the Kingdom.”

Qurban added that the birth of the cubs was especially important given the cheetah’s absence from the Arabian Peninsula for more than four decades.

“Our recent discovery of ancient cheetah mummies in northern Saudi Arabia underscores the region’s historical role as a prime cheetah habitat,” he said.

Qurban said that this discovery would fuel the determination to reestablish cheetah populations, “guided by an integrated strategy designed in accordance with best international practices.”

He said: “The current remaining distribution of cheetahs worldwide is limited to 9 percent of their historical range, with only 7,100 in existence among 34 different groups in the wild.”

The center also unveiled its multi-phase National Cheetah Conservation Strategy during the briefing session. The plan outlines a series of critical steps aimed at reestablishing a viable cheetah population in Saudi Arabia.

The strategy begins with the creation of specialized breeding facilities and rewilding centers, identifying protected areas that offer suitable habitats for the reintroduced cheetahs, preparing for reintroduction, community partnership in the protection program, and finally, reintroduction and establishment of a self-sustaining breeding population.

The announcement reflects Saudi Arabia’s leading role and success in efforts to enhance environmental balance through the conservation of endangered species, their captive breeding, and reintroduction. The center said that only 15 percent of cheetahs born in the wild could breed in captivity, and of this group, only 20 percent continued to reproduce.

The center’s research team, in collaboration with global experts, has recently disclosed pivotal findings from its comprehensive cheetah research, offering new perspectives on the species’ presence in the Arabian Peninsula. The study, which examined the chronological age of specimens and identified cheetah subspecies, provided a fresh look at the cultural and historical significance of these big cats in the region. The findings are set to recalibrate current conservation strategies. By correcting long-held misconceptions and providing region-specific data, the study allows for more targeted and effective conservation efforts.

The team has successfully pinpointed the timeline of the cheetah’s extinction in the region and extracted crucial genetic information from historical specimens. The scientists have identified the specific subspecies of the Arabian cheetah, comparing its genetic sequence with those of cheetahs currently housed in the center’s facilities and populations worldwide. The findings support the center’s ongoing efforts to breed and reintroduce cheetahs to their native habitats in Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom is ramping up its commitment to cheetah conservation, employing a multi-faceted approach that combines scientific research, innovative strategies and collaborative partnerships.