Bumper melon harvest sweetens Uzbekistan’s pandemic woes

A woman prepares melons to be hanged for storage in the village of Vazir in the northwest of Uzbekistan. (AFP)
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Updated 28 October 2020

Bumper melon harvest sweetens Uzbekistan’s pandemic woes

  • The coronavirus pandemic hit Uzbekistan hard, just when it was on an economic upswing

VAZIR, Uzbekistan: In the giant shed of Uzbek farmer Sanat Kalandarov, a bountiful melon harvest hangs suspended from wooden beams, promising profits through a difficult winter ahead.

Kalandarov is practicing a type of storage that is centuries-old — the shed has been in his own family for three generations — and he is dismissive of younger farmers who are turning to refrigerators.

“Melons need fresh air to breathe,” 35-year-old Kalandarov said, indicating narrow slits for ventilation in the shed walls, which are thick enough to shield the fruits from the cold of winter and the early spring heat.

“When the days are frosty, we insulate the room. Plus, this method requires no electricity. It is very economical.”

These thick-skinned varieties of Uzbekistan’s favorite fruit — some shaped like torpedoes, others more spherical — are planted in May, two months after the melons that ripen in summer.

They are then stored and sold during the winter, when their value can grow 15-fold on the domestic market and even more abroad.

This year, the melon growing season has been especially good, and it is just as well.

The coronavirus pandemic hit Uzbekistan hard, just when it was on an economic upswing.

Remittances sent by migrants working abroad fell by half, according to a report by the United Nations Development Program published in July, straining hundreds of thousands of family budgets that depended on them.

Strict lockdowns triggered massive layoffs around the landlocked country of 33 million, with small businesses especially affected.

Kalandarov, by contrast, has been able to hire 12 people who would have otherwise been unemployed from his village of Vazir in the arid northwest of the country.

He is also planning to send his first batch of melons for export to neighboring Kazakhstan by the end of October.

“With COVID-19 and all the unemployment (it has caused), these winter melons are a lifeline,” he said, noting that he had 50 tons of the crop to sell in the off season.

According to the ministry of agriculture, an average of 700,000 tons of melons are grown annually in Uzbekistan on 35,000 hectares of land.

Shohruh Tolibov, an expert from the ministry, said that exports represent less than 10 percent of that total — some of the sweetest varieties do not travel well. But they will more than double this year and have grown five-fold over the last three years.

Such growth has been triggered by the agricultural reforms of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who broke up monopoly interests that dominated the export of fruit and vegetables and allowed smallholders the chance to determine their own clients.

Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia and Ukraine are the top destinations for Uzbek melons, said Tolibov.

This month, the locally-based Jahon Exim Group claimed it had overseen the first exports of Uzbek melons to Britain.

“We hope that Uzbek melons, known for their taste and health benefits, will be appreciated by local consumers,” said the company’s director Jahongir Giyasov in comments to local media.

Uzbekistan grows more than 50 types of melons.

Khorezm, a region in the lower reaches of the Amu Darya river that benefits from temperate winters, grows at least 12 and they all share a common characteristic — deliciousness.

While other crops fail in this area, “melons grow sweeter on saline land,” said Kalandarov, whose employees feasted hungrily on some of his produce, slicing up the green-skinned bounty like sticky birthday cakes at the end of a long, warm, autumn day.

Kalandarov grew up on the melon fields, and has been growing his own fruit since he was a teenager.

But he is no longer satisfied with this work alone. Instead, his dream is the same as the avowed policy of the national government — to move from selling raw produce to products with value added.

“I have a business plan. I want to create new products — melon jam, melon conserve, dried melon. There is a big demand for these products on foreign markets,” he said.

OPEC+ may consider output cut of more than 1 million bpd

Updated 02 October 2022

OPEC+ may consider output cut of more than 1 million bpd

  • The figure is slightly above estimates for a cut given last week

RIYADH:  The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies led by Russia, also known as OPEC+, will consider an oil output cut of more than a million barrels per day when it meets on Oct. 5, OPEC sources told Reuters on Sunday.

The figure is slightly above estimates for a cut given last week, which ranged between 500,000 bpd and 1 million bpd.

OPEC+ is meeting in person in Vienna for the first time since March 2020. “It is a meeting that is taking place at a very interesting global time,” one of the sources said.

The output cuts are being considered on the back of a slide in oil prices from multiyear highs reached in March and market volatility. Saudi Arabia first flagged the possibility of cuts to correct the market in August.

Earlier this week, a source familiar with Russian thinking said Moscow could suggest a cut of up to 1 million bpd, while an OPEC source put the likely figure closer to 500,000 bpd. Talks are expected to continue ahead of the meeting.


OPEC+ is meeting in person in Vienna for the first time since March 2020.

Saudi Arabia first flagged the possibility of cuts to correct the market in August.

The output cuts are being considered on the back of a slide in oil prices from multiyear highs reached in March and market volatility.

India cuts tax

The Indian government has cut a windfall tax on domestically produced crude oil to 8,000 ($97.99) rupees per ton from 10,500 rupees per ton from Sunday, after a decline in global oil prices.

India has also scrapped an export tax on jet fuel and halved export duties on diesel to 5 rupees per liter from Sunday, a government notification said.

NNPC transaction

Nigeria’s state-owned oil company NNPC Ltd. has bought the marketing business of unlisted OVH Energy, giving it access to 380 fuel stations in Africa’s largest oil producer and Togo, among other assets, the two companies said on Saturday.

OVH Energy Marketing, the owner and operator of Oando branded retail service stations, said the outlets would be rebranded NNPC and full integration is expected by the end of 2023.

The deal also gives NNPC access to eight liquefied petroleum gas plants, three aviation depots and 12 warehouses.

NNPC, which became a commercial entity in July, already owns more than 500 fuel stations across Nigeria and said it would be ready for an initial public offering by mid-next year.


Saudi real GDP expected to rise by nearly 8 percent, say analysts

Updated 02 October 2022

Saudi real GDP expected to rise by nearly 8 percent, say analysts

  • Inflation is predicted to be 2.6 percent and 2.1 percent in 2022 and 2023 respectively: Al Rajhi Capital

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s budgeted revenues for 2023 are likely to be based on the Brent price at $76 per barrel, said Al Rajhi Capital in its assessment of the Kingdom’s budget figures.  

“For 2023, we believe oil revenues could reach SR754 billion ($200.7 billion) and non-oil revenue at SR417 billion,” said the head of research at Al Rajhi Capital Mazen Al Sudairi.

“Based on our assessment, the government’s 2023 budgeted revenues are likely based on an assumption of brent at around $76 a barrel.” 

Real gross domestic product growth is forecast to increase by nearly 8 percent year-on-year in 2022 and 3.1 percent year-on-year in 2023, according to Al-Rajhi Capital.

Inflation is expected to be 2.6 percent and 2.1 percent in 2022 and 2023 respectively, Al-Rajhi said.

Revised 2022 revenues are mostly in line with estimates, however, the expenditure budget is much higher than from an earlier announcement, it said.

The Kingdom’s Finance Ministry’s preliminary budget statement projected spending to reach SR1.11 trillion next year, with revenue of SR1.12 trillion. 

The 2023 spending budget was raised by 18 percent, with a slight fiscal surplus of SR9 billion expected for 2023.

The world’s largest oil exporter is expected to balance the books in the coming year, having emerged with a quickly developing balance sheet due to the rebound in crude. 

Saudi officials expressed intention to change the heavy reliance on petrodollars and “decouple” the Kingdom’s spending from oil volatility as it puts the country’s economy at the mercy of uncertainty in the oil market. 

Its budget surplus was recorded at SR78 billion in the second quarter of 2022, an almost 50 percent rise from the same time last year. 

Its revenue reached SR370.4 billion whereas expenditure totaled SR292.5 billion in the second quarter of this year, according to the ministry. 

The ministry’s estimates showed that oil revenue stood at SR250.4 billion, signaling an 89 percent year-on-year rise in the second quarter. 

However, the Kingdom’s non-oil revenues only rose by 3 percent to SR120 billion in the second quarter. 

Domestic debt reached SR604.8 billion at the end of June, up from SR558.8 billion in the previous half, showed the ministry data. 

The Finance Ministry’s data showed that the Kingdom’s external debt fell from SR379.3 billion to SR361.8 billion in the same period. 

The objectives of the state’s general budget for the fiscal year 2023 come as a continuation of the process of work to strengthen and develop the financial position of the Kingdom, Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said.

“The government attaches great importance to enhancing the support and social protection system and accelerating the pace of strategic spending on Vision (2030) programs and major projects to support economic growth,” Al-Jadaan added.

The Kingdom’s economy has demonstrated its strength and durability by achieving high growth rates, after taking many policies and measures with the aim of protecting the economy from the repercussions of inflation and supply chain challenges, the minister said.

Saudi digital transformation strategy enters the final phase

Updated 01 October 2022

Saudi digital transformation strategy enters the final phase

  • The plan aims to create a new seamless government experience for beneficiaries by 2024

CAIRO: As worldwide business leaders integrate automation and digitalization into their strategies, the Kingdom has been calling for local initiatives to drive digital transformation into its economy.

Since 2006 Saudi Arabia has had an established plan for digitization, called to the National Strategy for Digital Transformation.

As the world swiftly adopted digital strategies after the pandemic put in place a huge need for physical interaction alternatives, Saudi Arabia itself was able to quickly establish a framework for digital transformation in sectors including finance, commerce, logistics and information technology.

The action plan was divided into three phases. It is currently in its final stage, the Smart Government Strategy, which aims to create a new seamless government experience for beneficiaries by 2024.

In line with the action plan, several government authorities have established regulatory sandboxes using digital technologies to allow businesses and startups to experiment in a controlled environment. A sandbox is a testing environment in a computer system in which new or untested software or coding can be run securely.

One of the most active sandboxes is at the Saudi Central Bank, also known as SAMA, which aims to boost the financial sector and transform it into a smart financial hub.

SAMA has admitted 38 companies into its sandbox while providing licenses to several businesses that use financial technology in their operations.

The Communication and Information Technology Commission provides a sandbox for delivery applications, and the Digital Government Authority enhances organizational solutions in digital platforms and services.

The Kingdom has also encouraged using artificial intelligence to achieve Vision 2030 and Smart Government Strategy objectives.

The strategy is expected to set Saudi Arabia’s AI market to touch $135.2 billion by 2030, which is estimated to contribute 12.4 percent to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product.

Saudi Arabia also intends to transform its workforce by educating and establishing a reservoir of 20,000 AI and data qualified experts, of which 5,000 will be given deep expertise and highly certified.

The Global AI Summit held in Riyadh on Sept. 13 has been another significant leap into the evolution of the sector, with global leaders partnering with several Saudi-based companies.

The event witnessed the launch of Aramco’s Global AI Corridor project that aims to build and commercialize the AI ecosystem in the Kingdom, in addition to over 40 agreements and partnerships in the public and private sectors.


SABIC takes lead in blue fuel production, net-zero endeavors

Updated 02 October 2022

SABIC takes lead in blue fuel production, net-zero endeavors

  • It recognized SABIC’s Jubail facility for producing 37,800 tons of blue ammonia and Aramco’s wholly owned refinery in the same city, known as SASREF, for 8,075 tons of blue hydrogen

DUBAI: SABIC Agri-Nutrients Co., a Saudi Basic Industries Corp. subsidiary, has gained the world’s first independent certification for blue hydrogen and ammonia production, said a senior company official.

TÜV Rheinland, leading independent testing, inspection, and certification agency based in Germany, has certified the blue hydrogen and ammonia production facilities of SABIC AN and Saudi Arabian Oil Co.

It recognized SABIC’s Jubail facility for producing 37,800 tons of blue ammonia and Aramco’s wholly owned refinery in the same city, known as SASREF, for 8,075 tons of blue hydrogen.

Commenting on the certification, SABIC’s executive vice president of sustainability, technology and innovation, Bob Maughon, told Arab News that people will “see more examples of that from us to come.”

The chemical giant is on a path to ensure that it reduces its carbon neutrality by 20 percent compared to its 2018 baseline. 

The company is also well on track to achieve net-zero for scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2050, said Maughon on the sidelines of the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association Research and Innovation Conference in Dubai.

The US Environmental Protection Agency defines scope 1 emissions as direct greenhouse gas emissions from sources owned by an organization.

Scope 2 emissions are indirect GHG emissions from purchased electricity, steam, heat or cooling.

SABIC currently emits approximately 53 million tons to 55 million tons of carbon per year, including scopes 1 and 2, he said.

These figures are well aligned with the Vision 2030 blueprint, which aims to reduce carbon emissions by 278 million tons per year by 2030, added Maughon.

Besides reducing carbon emissions and producing blue hydrogen, SABIC supports the transition to electric power and helps meet global climate change goals.

Maughon, who is also the chief technology and sustainability officer of SABIC, said the company recently launched the Bluehero initiative that focuses on solutions for the broader electrification market and electric vehicles.

The initiative supports the automotive industry’s mission to create better, safer and more efficient EVs, optimizing structural battery components with flame-retardant materials.

He said that materials for “lightweighting” EVs, encapsulating batteries and many other solutions, are being developed by the company to improve fuel efficiency and performance.

Several major brands worldwide have announced that they will deprioritize investments in internal combustion engines and make significant investments in preparing for the conversion to EVs, according to Maughon.

As a result, he believes SABIC will benefit greatly from these lightweight trends with its differentiated material portfolio, which is crucial for reducing battery demand and increasing car range.

Maughon said that SABIC is investing significantly in research around low-carbon processes and circular plastic.

Earlier this month, it joined hands with European companies BASF and Linde to start the construction of the world’s first pilot plant for large-scale electrically heated steam cracker furnaces in Germany.

The new technology uses electricity from renewable sources instead of natural gas, which allows it to reduce carbon emissions of one of the most energy-intensive production processes in the chemical industry by up to 90 percent compared to technologies commonly used today.

The demonstration plant, scheduled to be launched in 2023, will be fully integrated into one of the existing steam crackers at BASF’s Verbund site in Germany’s Ludwigshafen city.

SABIC and BASF will handle the investment, and BASF will operate the plant. On the other hand, Linde will oversee the project’s engineering, procurement, and construction and will commercialize the developed technologies in the future.

The project has been granted €14.8 million ($14.7 million) by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action to help overcome challenges caused by global conditions and energy costs.

With the new technology, BASF, SABIC, and Linde aim to develop full-scale commercial production plants “that can achieve significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, compared with today’s technology.”


Saudi real estate markets rise as ground realities change: JLL CEO

Updated 01 October 2022

Saudi real estate markets rise as ground realities change: JLL CEO

  • Demand for residential properties in Riyadh is expected to continue to strengthen in the longer term

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s retail sector witnessed an increase in retail space and a strong recovery in domestic demand following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in the first half of 2022, according to the head of global real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle.

The underlying demand for residential properties in Riyadh remains strong, and it is expected to continue to strengthen in the longer term as the government fuels its ambitious target to make the city one of the 10th largest in the world by 2030, said a senior JLL official.  

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Thierry Delvaux, CEO, Middle East, Africa and Turkey at JLL, said: “The real estate is reviving. Since the relaxation of the restrictions, we are seeing a greater movement of people. 

The office rates are very high at the moment. And when it comes to rents, we are seeing significant growth. Retail centers are reporting high levels of footfall.

Thierry Delvaux, CEO, Middle East, Africa and Turkey at JLL

“We are also seeing a comeback from firms that planned to open new offices.”

As a result, the demand for office real estate is rising — reflected in growing occupancy rates, which for Grade A buildings are nearly full, pointed out Delvaux.

Agreeing that the property market has reached the pre-pandemic level, the JLL CEO said: “The office rates are very high at the moment. And when it comes to rents, we are seeing significant growth.”

Demand for retail shops is also increasing. Delvaux said that retail centers are reporting high levels of footfall, especially malls.

Commenting on residential properties witnessing strong demand in Riyadh, Delvaux said: “Rents and prices for residential real estate in Riyadh is growing, and we are seeing single-digit growth for both.”

The northward trend is not just limited to Riyadh but also other major cities such as Jeddah.

“If you talk about Jeddah, we are seeing limited supply. Demand is growing, resulting in a significant impact on residential rents and prices,” added Delvaux.

Improving growth outlook

On the growth rate of the real estate market this year compared to last year, he said: “It depends from sector to sector. 

“For example, the residential sector is seeing single-digit growth in terms of rents. 

“Offices are also seeing very healthy rental growth due to higher demand levels and quite scarce supply for office space.” 

The outlook for the Saudi real estate market in the second half of 2022 remains encouraging.

“In the short to medium term, we expect the population of Riyadh to grow in line with the Vision 2030 program to double its population and increase homeownership to 70 percent by 2030, suggesting that the demand will continue to grow.”

Riyadh aims to increase its residents from 7.5 million today to between 15 million and 20 million in 2030 under ambitious plans unveiled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Future Investment Initiative summit held in the Saudi capital last year.

Changing market dynamics

Speaking at the JLL roundtable on the importance of sustainability in enhancing the transparency of the real estate market, Delvaux said that he is witnessing a growing interest in transparency standards and sustainability, which could be a game changer.

“We understand the significant impact we can create through our work in Saudi Arabia,” he said, adding: “In addition to reducing our emissions, we are also making strategic investments in sustainability services and capabilities, leveraging the breadth and strength of our global platform and local expertise.”

According to JLL’s latest Global Real Estate Transparency Index, the Kingdom maintained its position in the top 50 global rankings, boosting its position at a regional level. It ranked 49 on the index.

The roundtable also focused on the vulnerabilities faced by the Middle East and North Africa region while highlighting the concerted efforts made by the Kingdom to bring about green innovation in real estate.

The initiatives include introducing the Mostadam Green Building Rating System tailored to the Kingdom’s local climate and environmental characteristics and the Saaf Certification Program.

Also noteworthy is the retrofitting of the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs’ building in Riyadh by the National Energy Services Co., also known as Tarshid, with energy efficiency measures to reduce a facility’s energy consumption.

“With Saudi real estate industry’s momentum toward decarbonization and transparency, the country has emerged as one of the world’s top 50 most transparent real estate markets,” said Saud Mohamed Al-Sulaymani, the country head of JLL Saudi Arabia, while speaking at the roundtable. 

With Saudi real estate industry’s momen-tum toward decarbon-ization, the country has emerged as one of the world’s top 50 most transpa-rent real estate markets.

Saud Mohamed Al-Sulaymani, Country head of JLL Saudi Arabia

He also emphasized that hosting the upcoming UN climate conferences in Egypt and Dubai provided an excellent opportunity for the region to shed light on its climate change risks and vulnerabilities and showcase its action plans to mitigate and adapt to them.

Separately, the National Housing Co. recently signed nine agreements totalling SR2 billion ($533 million) with a number of national strategic partners on the sidelines of the Distinguished Cities Projects Exhibition in Riyadh.

The agreements with national partners aim to provide project management services, engineering supervision, design work implementation, housing unit construction, and evaluation services.

Furthermore, the agreements make it easier to manage the printing environment and control consumption, as well as ensure the quality of infrastructure, improve operational sustainability and develop projects.

Earlier this month, the company signed an agreement to finance and develop a portfolio of projects worth more than SR40 billion, which will result in the construction of more than 150,000 housing units in 11 cities across Saudi Arabia.