Saudi Arabia joins UN decade for global water security

Saudi Arabia's United Nations Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi. (AP)
Updated 25 March 2018

Saudi Arabia joins UN decade for global water security

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has joined a UN-sponsored international decade to safeguard and improve the world’s water supplies.
The “Action Water for Sustainable Development” decade was adopted by the General Assembly in December 2016 and begins this year. It will help focus attention on global water security during the next 10 years.
Saudi Arabia was represented at the opening session of the conference by Saudi Arabia’s UN ambassador, Abdullah Al-Maalami, and Undersecretary of the Ministry of Environment Dr. Faisal Al-Subaie.
UN members expressed concern over lack of access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, and over water-related disasters, scarcity and pollution being worsened by urbanization, population growth, desertification, drought and climate change.
The decade — launched in conjunction with World Water Day, March 22 — will focus on sustainable development and integrated management of water resources for the achievement of social, economic and environmental goals.


Hydroponic farming boosts prospects of sustainable agriculture in Saudi Arabia

Updated 28 min 9 sec ago

Hydroponic farming boosts prospects of sustainable agriculture in Saudi Arabia

  • Setup allows minute control over conditions like temperature, pH balance and exposure to nutrients and water
  • Method using recycled water is ideal for Saudi Arabia, one of the most water-stressed countries

JEDDAH: Hydroponics is the science of growing plants without soil and with limited amounts of water. As a farming method it has a number of benefits: It helps to develop fibrous roots for improved nutrient absorption, reduces the risk of roots rotting and promotes the rapid maturity of plants.

By using innovative design that requires minimal space, hydroponics gardens can grow fruit, vegetables and flowers in half the time of traditional agriculture, using 90 percent less water.

Saudi Arabia, which covers 80 percent of the peninsula, will use sustainable agricultural techniques, such as hydroponics, to cut water waste by 50 percent by 2030, above. (Supplied)

Historical records reveal that the first recorded uses of hydroponic systems were in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the floating gardens of the Aztecs, and gardens in ancient China.

In modern times, a NASA-sponsored experiment on the Mir space station in 1997 used aeroponics to grow bean seedlings in zero gravity, raising the prospect of sustainable agriculture in space. Aeroponics is a form of hydroponics in which the plants are fed using a mist sprayed onto their roots, rather than being suspended in water.

In recent years, the popularity of hydroponics has gained momentum, as existing farmers and people without any experience in traditional farming seek to take advantage of advances in technology and the potential benefits they can bring.

Low rainfall, limited availability of freshwater from rivers and lakes, and dwindling, non-renewable groundwater reserves mean that the Middle East is the most water-stressed region on earth. Meanwhile, regional demand for water is soaring — and likely to continue to rise given population growth and economic development — resulting in some of the highest per-capita water consumption rates in the world.

Across most of the Arabian Peninsula, one of the most arid regions on earth, 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 its 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.

Last October the representative from Saudi Arabia, as part of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, told the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) of the 76th session at the UN General Assembly that the Kingdom was taking steps to build sustainable agriculture, improve consumption patterns to reduce waste by 50 percent by 2030, encourage innovation, and empower women and young people working in the agriculture sector.

INNUMBER

70 percent increase in food production will be required by 2050 to meet caloric needs of a global population of 9.8 billion.

68 percent of that projected 9.8 billion global population will live in urban areas by 2050.

With an eye on future food challenges, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture is exploring the option of localized vertical-farming technologies, and has allocated $27 million to develop them.

The challenges the Kingdom’s policymakers face are no different from those confronting their counterparts in many other countries in the Middle East and North Africa: How to prevent the situation from getting worse and, more precisely, how to equip farmers to resolve the problems they face.

According to agricultural scientists, substantial investment in adaptation will be required to help maintain current farming yields, and achieve increases in production and food quality to meet demand. Vertical farming facilities that use hydroponics is one possible solution to the challenges, especially in countries with arid and semi-arid climates.

UAE's Al-Badia Farms in Dubai uses an indoor vertical farm with innovative hydroponic technology to grow fruits and vegetables all year round. (Karim Sahib / AFP)

In recent years, several agribusinesses in Saudi Arabia have started using hydroponics systems, after conducting intensive research, collecting data and devising suitable mechanisms, with the aim of keeping pace with the Kingdom’s soaring population and food requirements.

A key feature of hydroponics is the use of recycled water, which comes with its own challenges. Although water recycling is a relatively simple process, the costs involved, from initial investment to annual maintenance, are not trivial because the resultant quality of the water must be high enough for growing plants, according to Turki Alduhayan, the CEO of Green Mast, an agribusiness in Riyadh.

Water recycling is a key feature of hydroponics, although the process also comes with its own challenges. (Supplied)​​​​

“We send our water samples on a weekly basis to labs in Holland and the analysis report provides us with the water properties absorbed by the plants,” he told Arab News.

“This way we can control the water consumption and we save a lot, but ensuring high water quality is no easy feat. We are recycling water and saving money but it requires a lot of following up and evaluation to stay consistent.”

Alduhayan said he has learned what works through trial and error, having had to make decisions and comparisons, ranging from the type of soil to use in greenhouses to testing a plant’s endurance and its ability to survive in a hydroponics farm. He said he once tested a particular variety of tomato plant that yielded fruit for up to nine months and grew to a height of 14 meters.

Based on his experiences, Alduhayan said that hydroponic systems are an attractive option for many farmers in Saudi Arabia for a number of reasons.

FASTFACT

The first recorded uses of hydroponics date back to the hanging gardens of Babylon, the floating gardens of the Aztecs, and gardens in ancient China.

Delivering produce from farm to table is easier said than done, he explained, when one considers the logistical and transportation challenges involved in ensuring shipments remain at a suitable temperature, stay fresh and are delivered to suppliers on time.

“This is one of the biggest obstacles and challenges facing hydroponic companies,” Alduhayan said. “Saudi Arabia is the size of Europe and it is expensive to transport produce to areas that are very far from the place of origin. There’s more to the business than just growing crops and produce. Even so, Saudi Arabia has come a long way in just a few years.

The Middle East is the world’s most water-stressed region, and the Arabian Peninsula in particular must make good use of smart ways maximizing its resources, main. (Supplied)

“MEWA has shown its support for hydroponic farming in the Kingdom but there needs to be more strict regulations to ensure that the proper protocols are followed through. Further support from the ministry, buyers and transportation service providers can, and will, help farmers in the long run. In the three years since I started my business, my costs are a fraction of when I first started.

“You can rest assured that if you buy cherry tomatoes, for instance, from a hydroponics farm they will stay fresh longer than you would normally expect of such a fruit.”

Red Sea Farms is another Saudi company that uses an environmentally sustainable saltwater-based agriculture system. This technology enables farmers to grow food and cool greenhouses using saltwater in larger quantities, and better levels of quality, than traditional farming systems, and to supply produce for a much longer growing season.

Red Sea Farms co-founder Mark Tester says the company uses an environmentally sustainable saltwater-based agriculture system. (Supplied)

Mark Tester, co-founder of Red Sea Farms and the associate director of the Center of Desert Agriculture at King Abdullah University for Science and Technology, said that while hydroponics systems are not suitable for bulk commodity crops such as wheat, they can provide a rapid return on investment for a wide variety of other crops.

“From the perspective of the government, greenhouses provide a golden opportunity to maximize the value from the (ultimately unsustainable) groundwater being extracted, giving the best return possible for this valuable resource,” he told Arab News.

“With Red Sea Farms’ technologies, the environmental footprint of production is reduced even further, which is good for the environment considering the reduced water usage and carbon-dioxide emissions, lower costs and higher income for the farmer.”

Another proven benefit of hydroponics farming is that it eliminates the need for large-scale use of pesticides and herbicides.

Tomatoes from a hydroponics farm are said to stay fresh longer than those produced using the traditional method of farming. (Supplied)

“Because hydroponics in greenhouses enable good control of both air and water, it also provides the chance to minimize exposure of plants to pests and diseases, thus enabling us to minimize the use of pesticides,” Tester said. “This saves the farmers money, is better for the environment and means healthier food for consumers. Everyone wins.

“The benefits of innovative farming systems become increasingly valued and increasingly valuable, even in places with ideal conditions for agriculture such as in Western Europe.

“The use of greenhouses is massively expanding. So even in the south of the Kingdom there is clearly a very important role for greenhouses to play in agriculture and the healthy, sustainable production of our food.”

As more agribusinesses in Saudi Arabia embrace modern, innovative methods, the appeal of hydroponics is expected to rapidly grow thanks to the many advantages it offers.

More broadly, growing crops using hydroponics and greenhouses is increasingly looking like a smart bet, especially for future generations in countries with arid and semi-arid climates, which are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, land degradation and extreme weather events.


Saudi Arabia protecting endangered turtles through rescue programs

Updated 16 January 2022

Saudi Arabia protecting endangered turtles through rescue programs

  • Five of seven sea turtle species in world have been discovered in the Kingdom’s territorial waters
  • The Saudi National Center for Wildlife aims to protect nesting sites of these endangered sea turtles

JEDDAH: The Saudi National Center for Wildlife has rescued and rehabilitated five turtles found on the coasts of Saudi Arabia.
According to the center, the world’s oceans include seven species of sea turtles, five of which have been discovered in the Kingdom’s territorial waters of the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf.
For more than 100 million years, sea turtles have crossed great distances across the world. They play a vital role in maintaining the health and balance of the marine ecosystem.
The Kingdom has recorded sightings of green, hawksbill, loggerhead, olive ridley and leatherback turtles.
According to the center, during nesting season, sea turtles lay 60 to 160 eggs at once. This can be repeated up to six times over the course of a nesting season. In some cases, turtles have been seen to return to the same areas that they were born in more than 40 years later.

FASTFACT

For more than 100 million years, sea turtles have crossed great distances across the world.

The islands of Karan and Jurayad along the Kingdom’s coasts on the Arabian Gulf are found to be primary nesting sites for both the hawksbill and green turtles.
And on the Red Sea, Ra’s Baridi, Farasan Island, Shakir Islands, Ras Al-Shaaban, Jabal Hassan and Sanafir Island are also important locations for the two species.

Sea turtles are facing many threats, including overfishing, pollution, climate change and habitat destruction, mainly due to development in coastal areas and the wildlife trade. (Shutterstock)

Sea turtles are facing many threats, including overfishing, pollution, climate change and habitat destruction, mainly due to development in coastal areas and the wildlife trade.
The World Wildlife Fund has listed the hawksbill and green turtles as “endangered,” while loggerhead, olive ridley and leatherback turtles are classified as “vulnerable.”
Through rehabilitation programs and research studies, the Saudi National Center for Wildlife aims to protect nesting sites of endangered sea turtles to maintain an environment in which they can thrive.
The Kingdom is committed to preserving and restoring its marine biodiversity through initiatives.
Among the many projects to restore and protect marine life, NEOM has launched programs to protect endangered species such as the hawksbill sea turtle and hammerhead shark.
The Red Sea Development Company also works towards implementing initiatives to protect marine life and endangered sea turtles in the Kingdom.
The company, in cooperation with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, early last year worked on the rehabilitation of two hawksbill turtles.
The turtles were safely returned to the waters of Waqadi Island, which will remain untouched and undeveloped as a protected area overseen by the The Red Sea Development Company.
The Saudi National Center for Wildlife continues to set standards for sustainable development initiatives to lay the foundation for marine protection in all future development plans.


Saudi Arabia celebrates ‘Year of Saudi Coffee’ at Expo 2020 Dubai

Updated 15 January 2022

Saudi Arabia celebrates ‘Year of Saudi Coffee’ at Expo 2020 Dubai

  • A short film discussed the importance and status of coffee in Saudi society
  • Visitors at the pavilion were able to taste the different types of coffee grown in the regions of the Kingdom

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s initiative designating 2022 as “Year of Saudi Coffee” spilled over at its pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai with an information campaign emphasizing the importance of celebrating one of the Kingdom’s main elements of culture and folklore.
A short film discussed the importance and status of coffee in Saudi society, with its different types, flavors and tastes, as these types represent multiple regions of the Kingdom, state news agency SPA reported.
Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most coffee consuming countries, and is currently striving to achieve self-sufficiency in Khawlani coffee beans and raising its economic return, with the aim of contributing to raising the non-oil GDP.

A picture of Khawlani coffee plantation, planted in Saudi Arabia's Jazan region, is displayed in Saudi pavilion at the Dubai Expo 2020 in Dubai, UAE, on October 11, 2021. (@KSAExpo2020/Twitter)

The short film featured scenes about the importance of coffee in the Saudi society, with its different types and flavors, as each kind represents multiple regions of the Kingdom.
Visitors at the pavilion were able to taste the different types of coffee grown in the regions of the Kingdom.
The Saudi pavilion has so far attracted “over 2 million visitors over the first three months,” according to Hussain Hanbazazah, the commissioner general of the pavilion.


Qatari, Omani, Kuwaiti and Bahraini forces arrive in Saudi Arabia for GCC security exercise

Updated 14 January 2022

Qatari, Omani, Kuwaiti and Bahraini forces arrive in Saudi Arabia for GCC security exercise

RIYADH: Security forces from Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain arrived in Saudi Arabia on Thursday to take part in a joint tactical exercise of Gulf Cooperation Council member states.

First to arrive was a contingent from the Royal Oman Police, commanded by Colonel Salim Mubarak Al Abrawi.

The Qatari force, which came on board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster military cargo plane, is commanded by Maj. Yousef Al-Hamad.

Kuwait's contingent is commanded by Brigadier General Abdullah Al-Ateeqi, who explained that the exercise is aimed at "raising the level of coordination and field cooperation" among the GCC states.

Bahrain's team arrived in a motorcade through the King Fahd Causeway, which connects Saudi Arabia's eastern city of Alkhobar to the island nation.

Omani security forces arrived in Saudi Arabia on Thursday to join the GCC security exercise. (Royal Oman Police photo)

UAE’s security forces arrived in the Kingdom on Wednesday. 

Arab Gulf Security 3 will take place this month in Dammam in the Eastern Province, the Saudi Defense Ministry has said. 

In a statement carried earlier by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the Saudi Ministry of Interior on Tuesday said "the exercise aims to strengthen the bonds of cooperation between the Gulf Cooperation Council countries in the security field and raise the level of coordination and the degree of readiness of the security services to confront crises and emergencies and to address all threats and risks to the Arabian Gulf region.” 

 

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Female business owner kitting out camels at King Abdulaziz Camel Festival

Updated 14 January 2022

Female business owner kitting out camels at King Abdulaziz Camel Festival

  • Noura’s company Safayef specializes in customized camel capes, covers, necklaces and other accessories

RIYADH: Female camel owners last week had the chance, for the first time ever, to showcase their animals in a camel beauty contest at the annual King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia. But they were not the only women to play a prominent role at the event; others contributed by providing the impressive accessories that helped the camels catch the eyes of the judges.

Noura Al-Ghannam, for example, is the owner of Safayef, a company that specializes in making customized camel capes, covers, necklaces and other accessories.

“I started my business two years ago, in 2019, but a year before that we studied the local market and the problems in traditional products and how they are limited,” she told Arab News.

She came to the conclusion that traditional capes for camels were very plain and simple and lacked style, so she decided to brighten them up with the addition of colorful embroidery and by offering a variety of fabrics. The name of the business, Safayef, refers to the decoration made from woolen threads that appears on the camel accessories.

“I realized that we need different fabrics for camel capes that are suitable for winter and summer, and some are only suitable for formal occasions,” Al-Ghannam said. “We also work on necklaces and medals.” 

Each colorful, embroidered cape is customized and meticulously stitched as per the precise measurement of the camel to ensure a perfect fit. (Supplied)

Sewing has been one of her passions since a very young age, she added.

“I loved embroidering and adding accessories on fabrics, and while most designers tend to design traditional clothes, I wanted to differ from them and decorate camels, as I have an interest in them,” she said.

One of the challenges she faced in setting up her business was the bespoke nature of the accessories she provides, which require precise measurements to ensure they perfectly fit the camel they are made for.

“One of the reasons why we don’t have a retail store is because these clothes are specially tailored and customized for one camel at a time,” Al-Ghannam said. “When we get an order we have to take the measurements of the camel so it can fit the clothes perfectly. 

Each colorful, embroidered cape is customized and meticulously stitched as per the precise measurement of the camel to ensure a perfect fit. (Supplied)

“One of the biggest challenges that we had was taking the measurements for a camel. However, after a year of working with camels, we overcame the problem and now it has become easier to do so.”

Al-Ghannam said that she wants to expand her business to all Gulf countries and aspires to it becoming the leading specialist brand for camel accessories.

Her clients include camel owners and the organizers of camel festivals, and she revealed that she also receives many requests for horse accessories.

“I know many horse owners want accessories for their horses,” she said. “However, Safayef is a business specializing in camel accessories only — and in any business, it is very important to focus on what you do best.”

Al-Ghannam said that when she started her business she contacted the Kingdom’s Camel Club and explained her business plans. They welcomed her with open arms, she added, and this year she participated in the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival for the first time by providing flags, necklaces, scarves and embroidered covers.

Safayef has also supplied camel capes and team uniforms to the Eid Caravans initiative, organized by the Ahyaha Humanitarian Foundation in cooperation with the Saudi Camel Club, Diriyah Gate Development Authority, and the Imam Mohammad bin Saud Charity Society. The initiative involved a convoy of 14 camels loaded with gifts that were distributed to more than 400 homes. In addition, Safayef has participated in other special events, including for Saudi National Day and Eid.