Saudi government signs up to 100m tree-planting scheme to tackle desertification
Al-Abdulqader said the center was keen to work with partners in the government sector to plant trees
Updated 14 July 2021
RIYADH: The Saudi government has committed to an ambitious scheme aimed at planting 100 million trees in the Kingdom to help tackle desertification.
As part of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the Saudi Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources and the National Center for the Development of Vegetation Cover and Combating Desertification, the initiative will see the fast-tracking of the planting of 500,000 trees with renewable resources.
The two bodies will also cooperate on developing a long-term strategic plan to address the issue.
The MoU was inked in the presence of deputy minister for mining affairs, Khalid Al-Mudaifer, the ministry’s undersecretary for mining control, Ahmed Faqih, and center CEO, Dr. Khaled Al-Abdulqader.
Faqih said the agreement formed part of a framework of joint cooperation programs with a number of government agencies related to the environment, adding that the mining industry had invested in a range of initiatives and projects to ensure sustainable development.
He noted the common goals of both parties in relation to the MoU, and in collaborating on afforestation, the development, preservation, and sustainability of vegetation, restoring natural vegetation cover, combating desertification, and raising environmental awareness among all sections of society.
The work would also contribute to increasing the efficiency of optimal and sustainable utilization of renewable natural and water resources, and contribute toward achieving Vision 2030 targets, Faqih said.
Al-Abdulqader said the center was keen to work with partners in the government sector to plant trees and encourage investors in the mining industry to participate in afforestation campaigns and associated national projects.
Yamama Cement Co., one of the firms to obtain a mining license, recently signed a deal to plant 300,000 trees.
Meanwhile, the accelerated short-term cooperation track of the MoU will see the planting of 500,000 native trees using renewable water sources while rehabilitating and developing natural vegetation cover and supporting biodiversity.
The ministry would also be contributing to the activities of the annual Environment Week through environmental awareness initiatives.
Under the terms of the MoU’s long-term strategic cooperation agreement, ministry and center officials will set up a joint team to conduct studies at sites in the Kingdom targeted for afforestation to determine renewable water sources, the number of trees to be planted, costings, and timelines for achieving the scheme’s goals.
Saudi city dwellers get back to nature on Riyadh floriculture tour
‘We decided to design this experience to showcase the beauty of floriculture in the desert of Najd’
Updated 20 January 2022
RIYADH: Saudi city dwellers are being offered the chance to get back to nature by delving into the world of plants.
The opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of life in Riyadh has been made available at a flower plantation just a 40-minute drive from the center of the capital.
Tour agency Maalim — that runs specialist trips to destinations throughout the Kingdom — has been operating trips to a farm in Al-Muzahimiyah where visitors can discover floriculture, learning how to plant and grow all kinds of flowers.
As well as offering cultural, agricultural, and tourist trips, the travel firm plans to introduce factory tours to help promote and support Saudi businesses and products.
The popular floriculture experience has been running every Friday and Saturday since August for groups of 18 to 20 people or private parties and trips will come to a seasonal close at the end of January.
Hessah Alajaji, founder of the Maalim agency, said: “Citizens and visitors of Saudi Arabia have never heard of this huge flower farm in Saudi Arabia. Yet it was established in 1991 and used to export produce internationally. But due to high demand in the Kingdom, it became locally distributed.
“We decided to design this experience to showcase the beauty of floriculture in the desert of Najd.
• The tour is suitable for families, couples, friendship groups, and individuals and starts with an optional short bicycle ride passing by the farm’s glasshouses and wells.
• A guide then leads an indoor plantation walking tour through up to six glasshouses where visitors can watch farmers nurturing crops and learn about watering and growing methods.
“We seek opportunities and design experiences in different locations in the Kingdom for everyone to enjoy. We care about preserving nature and culture and we put a lot of effort into protecting the authenticity of the locations and tailor experiences accordingly.
“If you told me that there would be a place in Riyadh that has unique flower planting, I wouldn’t believe it,” she added.
The tour is suitable for families, couples, friendship groups, and individuals and starts with an optional short bicycle ride passing by the farm’s glasshouses and wells. A guide then leads an indoor plantation walking tour through up to six glasshouses where visitors can watch farmers nurturing crops and learn about watering and growing methods.
Exotic plants are also featured among flower varieties including lilium, chrysanthemum, Casablanca, spray roses, and tulips and visitors are invited to pick and sample fresh vegetables along the way.
In addition, the chance to create a bouquet is available at a flower arranging session, run by Loverda Academy. A floral-themed brunch brings the tour to a climax.
Who’s Who: Faisal Al-Maghlooth, general director of Made in Saudi program
Updated 20 January 2022
Faisal Al-Maghlooth has been the general director of the Saudi Export Development Authority’s Made in Saudi program since July.
The initiative, aimed at locally and globally promoting national products and services, was launched to support Saudi Arabia’s national high-quality products and reinforce their competitiveness.
Al-Maghlooth, an experienced digital media strategist with a background in leading company marketing campaigns, is also the spokesman for, and a member of, Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s digital media committee.
He started his career in 2010 as a senior sales executive at the Saudi Basic Industries Corp., where he was responsible for agricultural nutrient sales, after-sales support, and drafting marketing reports. He also provided recommendations to improve clients’ services and revenue generation capabilities.
Two years later, he became a sales executive with SABIC South Africa where he closely worked with an international client base from the African continent.
Through his ownership of Meraki, a digital content service provider, and his position as its digital marketing manager, he gained experience working across digital platforms and managing marketing campaigns, including major government-to-public campaigns and initiatives.
His digital strategy skills came into focus as he monitored competitors’ activities and played a significant role in strategizing, planning, and analyzing social media campaigns.
In 2018, he began his journey with mass media campaigns at the STC Channels as manager of external communications. He utilized multiple media channels to implement print, broadcast, digital, and face-to-face communication strategies on behalf of the company. He then moved on to become a director at Mobily, where he was responsible for the telecom firm’s digital content.
Al-Maghlooth dedicated his social media presence to promoting the national product, which led to him taking up his current job with the Made in Saudi program, where he is developing a unified national industrial brand.
For four consecutive years from 2013, he was listed on Twitter among the top 50 most influential Saudis, and he has also served as head of digital communications and production at the Zakat, Tax, and Customs Authority.
He gained a bachelor’s degree in technical marketing from Weber State University, in the US, in 2007, and a master’s degree in business administration from Oklahoma City University in 2009.
Thanks for the memories: American recalls Saudi childhood dream
Georgia man tells Arab News that growing up in the Kingdom was the ‘opportunity of a lifetime’
Updated 20 January 2022
MAKKAH: An American who grew up in Saudi Arabia is working to correct misconceptions about the Kingdom’s culture and traditions from his home in the US after labeling his childhood “the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Sid Fritts’ is passionate about the Kingdom, and spent many years living and working there.
One of his closest friends in the Kingdom, Abid Jan, told Arab News that Fritts is devoting his life to “correcting misconceptions about Saudi culture.” He added that Fritts has furnished his home with carpets and objects inspired by Saudi traditions.
In an interview with Arab News, Fritts said: “Yes, I still have my thobe (traditional Saudi long dress) which I used to wear all the time when I was a young boy and I now have one that I wear when I receive my Saudi friends.
“My American friends love the ‘Saudi Room’ in my house, and I have so many friends in the Kingdom. I love the country, which I consider my second home.”
He added: “I have so many wonderful memories from when I lived there as a young boy. I get so emotional when I talk about it because of those memories and the friendships that I made while we were living there.
“It was the opportunity of a lifetime. I am so grateful to my father because he gave me that opportunity.”
Fritts said: “When I was a young boy at Parents Cooperative School in Jeddah, I had no idea that being there would shape me into the man I am today.”
“My father served as a ground equipment manager for Saudi Arabian Airlines in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“I’m so thankful to Saudia for giving my father that opportunity.
“The Arab people were so caring and welcoming that we never felt like foreigners.”
He added: “We collected so many things when we lived in Saudi. You could not get stuff like that in the US. These items in my home are some of my most treasured memories.”
Fritts said that among the memories he would “never forget” was the time he remembered hearing about King Faisal being the “People’s King.”
He added: “Honestly, I was a young boy. It was and still is a dream for me to meet King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. I am amazed by the transformation that Saudi Arabia has been going through since I left, especially that the memories I recall from life there as a young boy.
“But I’m very excited in the direction that it is going. Mohammed bin Salman is doing an amazing job, especially with regards to Vision 2030.”
Fritts now lives in Canton, Georgia. His father taught Saudi workers how to operate aircraft for the flag carrier between 1978 and 1985.
He said that he has Saudi friends in the US who visit his home and stay for weeks at a time. “My advice to Saudis would be to continue being kind people that they are and hopefully it will spread more love,” he added.
Fritts said: “I am 54 years old. I own several companies. I have owned a heating and air company for 14 years but am also co-owner of a company called Global Vision Plus, which specializes in sports and entertainment.
“We are now working on getting a project approved in the Kingdom.”
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
Updated 19 January 2022
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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
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
Updated 16 January 2022
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.
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.
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.