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.
 

 


MoU to drive job creation, training in Saudi hospitality 

MoU to drive job creation, training in Saudi hospitality 
Updated 17 sec ago
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MoU to drive job creation, training in Saudi hospitality 

MoU to drive job creation, training in Saudi hospitality 
  • MoU focuses on improving hospitality services in Jeddah’s historic district, Al-Balad
  • Collaboration will create local jobs and develop a skilled workforce in the fields of hospitality, heritage tourism, and tourist guidance

RIYADH: The Ministry of Tourism and Al-Balad Development Co., a Public Investment Fund subsidiary, signed a memorandum of understanding on Wednesday to collaborate in empowering national human capital in the tourism sector.

The MoU focuses on improving hospitality services in Jeddah’s historic district, Al-Balad, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The collaboration will create local jobs and develop a skilled workforce in the fields of hospitality, heritage tourism, and tourist guidance.

The agreement, signed by Al-Balad Development Co. CEO Jamil Ghaznawi and the ministry’s acting Undersecretary for Tourism Human Resources Development Hind Al-Zahid in the presence of Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb, stipulates a collaborative effort to harness shared resources and expertise.

The partnership aims to empower Saudi nationals through comprehensive training, education, and job opportunities.

The initiative aligns with the Kingdom’s National Tourism Strategy, which seeks to attract 150 million visitors annually by 2030 and create 1.6 million tourism-related jobs.


Saudi Arabia welcomes statement on agreement between Yemeni parties to lift economic sanctions

Yemen’s government and Houthis agreed to increase the frequency of Yemenia’s flights from Sanaa to Jordan from 1 to 3 a day.
Yemen’s government and Houthis agreed to increase the frequency of Yemenia’s flights from Sanaa to Jordan from 1 to 3 a day.
Updated 24 July 2024
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Saudi Arabia welcomes statement on agreement between Yemeni parties to lift economic sanctions

Yemen’s government and Houthis agreed to increase the frequency of Yemenia’s flights from Sanaa to Jordan from 1 to 3 a day.
  • Yemen’s government and Houthis agreed to increase the frequency of Yemenia’s flights from Sanaa to Jordan from one to three a day and to introduce other flights

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia welcomed on Wednesday a statement issued by the UN’s special envoy for Yemen about an agreement between the country’s internationally recognized government and the Houthis to lift economic sanctions.

Hans Grundberg, the UN’s special envoy for Yemen, said on Tuesday that both parties agreed to ease economic hostilities by canceling their most recent actions taken against banks in areas the other controls and pledged to halt all such measures in the future.

They also agreed to increase the frequency of national carrier Yemenia’s flights from Sanaa to Jordan from one to three a day and to introduce daily flights from the capital to Cairo and India. In addition, the two sides will hold discussions about administrative, technological and budgetary issues related to the airline.

The Kingdom affirmed its continued support for Yemen, its government, and people, and its keenness to encourage efforts to reduce escalation and maintain calm.

The Kingdom hopes the agreement will contribute to dialogue between the Yemeni parties under the auspices of the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Yemen to discuss all economic and humanitarian issues in order to reach a comprehensive political solution to the Yemeni crisis within the framework of the road map to support the peace process in Yemen.


Camel culture comes to life at Jeddah Season 

Camel culture comes to life at Jeddah Season 
Updated 24 July 2024
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Camel culture comes to life at Jeddah Season 

Camel culture comes to life at Jeddah Season 
  • Special pavilion highlights camels’ economic, cultural significance in Saudi society
  • Through illuminated murals and interactive touch screens, visitors are invited to delve into history

JEDDAH: The Ministry of Culture is bringing the “Year of the Camel” to life at Jeddah Season 2024 with a dedicated pavilion offering visitors an immersive experience of these iconic animals.

From life-size camel sculptures to interactive displays, the pavilion in City Walk, one of the Jeddah Season zones, showcases the camel’s enduring significance in society, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Through illuminated murals and interactive touch screens, visitors are invited to delve into history and understand why 2024 was designated as the “Year of the Camel.”

These displays offer insights into the objectives behind honoring camels, and are provided in Arabic and English to provide access for a global audience.

The pavilion provides historical inscriptions dedicated to the animal, and the vast camel-related vocabulary in the Arabic language, the SPA stated.

One of the highlights of the pavilion is audio of camel sounds, each with its own name. These hold special significance in the daily lives of those who have long cherished the companionship of these remarkable animals.

The displays showcase the economic importance of camels, their role in ensuring food security, and the unique capabilities that have cemented their place in Saudi Arabia culture.


Design program for architects wraps up in Riyadh

Design program for architects wraps up in Riyadh
Updated 24 July 2024
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Design program for architects wraps up in Riyadh

Design program for architects wraps up in Riyadh
  • A presentation showcased the journey of the participants during the program and highlighted the activities they took part in
  • Commission CEO Sumayah Al-Solaiman delivered a speech highlighting the commission’s “unwavering commitment” to investing in the development of Saudi architects and designers

RIYADH: The Architecture and Design Commission concluded the first Design Leadership Program with a ceremony in Riyadh attended by architecture and design experts, as well as program participants.

A presentation showcased the journey of the participants during the program and highlighted the activities they took part in, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.

Commission CEO Sumayah Al-Solaiman delivered a speech highlighting the commission’s “unwavering commitment” to investing in the development of Saudi architects and designers.

Improving the skills of Saudis in the industry will allow them to become influential leaders, she added.

The developer of the Creative Leadership Course at the Future London Academy, Matt Hexemer, said in a speech that the Saudi program is a “pioneering initiative” that nurtures the Kingdom’s talents and fosters creativity.

Dialogue sessions were held at the ceremony, led by prominent speakers including Sarah Fayad, strategy and urban design senior manager at The Line in NEOM; and Ali Al-Shuaibi, president and founder of BEEAH Planners, Architects and Engineers Co.

The commission launched the program in May to cultivate the leadership skills of architects and designers, bolster their capacity to lead projects, and foster an environment that promotes collaboration in the local architecture and design community.


Saudi foreign deputy minister receives representatives of UN Syria envoy

Saudi foreign deputy minister receives representatives of UN Syria envoy
Updated 24 July 2024
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Saudi foreign deputy minister receives representatives of UN Syria envoy

Saudi foreign deputy minister receives representatives of UN Syria envoy

RIYADH: Saudi Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Saud Al-Sati received in Riyadh on Wednesday representatives from the office of the UN special envoy for Syria.

Al-Sati discussed the latest developments in Syria in a meeting with Chief Political Affairs Officer Robert Dunn and Political Affairs Officer Marwa Fouad, the ministry said on its official account on X.