How Saudi Arabia is promoting healthy diets and sustainability with plant-based alternatives 

In such a meat-heavy culture, it is difficult to imagine Saudis embracing more plant-based alternatives. But as the world edges closer to global warming, companies around the world, such as Saudi-based Ayla’s Choice, have to think beyond imagination. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 April 2024
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How Saudi Arabia is promoting healthy diets and sustainability with plant-based alternatives 

  • New farming technologies that use less water and produce less CO2 are gaining traction in Saudi Arabia
  • The government has inked deals with several private agri-tech firms to develop meat and dairy substitutes

RIYADH: Just a few short years ago, visitors to Saudi Arabia could never have imagined feasting on a plate of vegan tuna nigiri or a meatless shawarma. Thanks to new investments in agritech, these plant-based alternatives are now firmly on the menu.

With the movement towards meatless eating gaining momentum in response to mounting environmental and health concerns, the Kingdom’s public and private sectors are working together with a view to produce food more sustainably. 

“Taking actions towards plant-based products is essential for promoting environmental sustainability,” Faisal Al-Sughayer, co-founder and general manager of Saudi plant-based brand Ayla’s Choice, told Arab News.




Faisal Alsughayer, co-founder and general manager of Ayla’s Choice, Faisal Alsughayer, says the company’s goal is to provide consumers with healthy alternatives to animal products. (Supplied)

“Conserving resources, enhancing human health, ensuring food security, and even economic opportunities as well — and also building climate resilience. This is what we’re trying to do with farming. 

“By making conscious choices to incorporate more plant-based options into our diets and lifestyles, we can contribute to a positive change and create a healthier, more sustainable society.”

Since the launch of the Saudi Green Initiative in March 2021, the Kingdom has witnessed significant changes owing to its commitment to enhance food security, the promotion of sustainable agriculture, and adaptation to evolving food trends.

Mindful of vulnerabilities in the global supply chain, the Kingdom’s investment in food industry innovation and diversification is also designed to achieve a degree of self-sufficiency in meeting the dietary needs of the population.




Last year, one of Saudi’s most anticipated giga-projects, NEOM, announced its collaboration with a Dutch greenhouse company to form a horticulture oasis just outside the urban city.  (Supplied)

This is being driven in part by government initiatives, new technological advances, and shifts in consumer preferences.

About a year ago, the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture signed deals with the Cooperative Societies Council, Saudi Greenhouses Management and Agricultural Marketing Co., and Ayla’s Choice to develop plant-based foods. 

With these agreements, the ministry aims to promote a culture of healthy eating, provide locally made, high-quality vegan and vegetarian alternatives, and to utilize advanced technologies for producing meat and dairy substitutes.

These deals will also help modernize farming and marketing systems, promote food security, enhance environmental sustainability, and contribute to the overall development of the Kingdom’s agricultural sector.




Ayla’s Choice is passionate about creating sustainable local plant-based products. (Supplied)

According to Al-Sughayer, Ayla’s Choice was the first company in Saudi Arabia to obtain a license from MEWA to produce plant-based products, paving the way for more licenses and investment opportunities.

The company’s goal is not to promote a completely meatless and dairy-free diet, but rather to provide consumers with healthy alternatives to animal products. 

At one of its recent workshops in collaboration with MEWA, the company showcased innovative products, including truffle and olive caviar, carrot-based smoked salmon tartlet, tomato tuna nigiri, and eggplant unagi nigiri.




At one of their recent workshops in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, Ayla’s Choice showcased innovative bites including truffle and olive caviar, carrot-based smoked salmon tartlet, tomato tuna nigiri, and eggplant unagi nigiri. (Supplied)

“We’re eager to explore opportunities for collaboration for sustainability planning initiatives, including setting targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, by conserving water resources, preserving biodiversity, and participating in government led working groups or task forces focused on sustainable food systems,” said Al-Sughayer.

In doing so, the firm aims “to provide expertise and input from our sites from the plant-based sector, and from the agricultural sector to enhance food security in Saudi,” he added.

As of now, collaborations are in the works with MEWA, the Ministry of Economy and Planning, and individual companies to embark on joint ventures that will ensure the availability of the highest-quality meat- and dairy-free foods. 

DID YOUKNOW?

• At the tail end of 2023, Vertical Farms Co. broke ground on Saudi Arabia’s largest indoor vertical farming project to date. It is set to begin operations in the second half of 2024.

• Companies like iFarm are pushing towards simplifying the process of mass sustainable commercial vegetable growing applications locally.

• With 3.2 million square meters, a large-scale farm in Asir’s Wadi bin Hashba holds the world record for the world’s largest sustainable farm.

Saudi Greenhouses Management and Agri Marketing Co. — also known as Al-Rasheed Greenhouses — is one of the largest farming and horticulture companies in the Gulf Cooperation Council area, with more than 40 years’ experience in the sector.

The firm operates in nine locations, managing more than 90 hectares of greenhouses and an additional 27 hectares of new expansions in high-tech greenhouses throughout the Kingdom. It is the biggest supplier of fresh produce to Saudi Arabia’s main retailers

“The company has full control on the whole supply chain of the fresh produce, starting from designing the right greenhouse specification for the right region to grow in the Kingdom, to delivering the fresh produce on the shelves for consumers,” Abdullah Al-Rasheed, the firm’s senior project manager, told Arab News




The sustainable farm in the Asir region, recently recognized by Guinness World Records as the largest in the world, uses treated water to irrigate crops planted across a 3.2 million square meter area. (Supplied)

“So logistic crop consultations, production management, is all handled under our company.”

Al-Rasheed Greenhouses recently signed a deal to cultivate and supply plant-based ingredients to Ayla’s Choice for use in its products, such as lion’s mane mushrooms, which are a meat-free alternative to steaks.

Al-Sughayer hopes the partnership will encourage local farmers in Saudi Arabia to consider tailoring their choice of crops to meet the growing demand of the plant-based foods industry, generating a better return on their produce and reducing waste in the process.

“This can have significant benefits for both the farmers and food security in Saudi,” he said. “Our aim is to diversify food sources by working with local farmers to develop plant-based products from the overabundance of local produce.”

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Saudi Arabia’s food sector has made great strides in sustainability. Last year, one of the Kingdom’s most highly-anticipated gigaprojects, the NEOM smart city, announced a new collaboration with a Dutch greenhouse company to build a self-sustaining horticultural oasis.

Using revolutionary technologies, the partnership with Van Der Hoeven will allow the region’s desert landscape, scorched by high temperatures and parched by low rainfall, to flourish with locally grown produce.

SweGreen, a Stockholm-based agritech company and vertical farming venture, is another potential partner. 

Using soilless farming technology and monitoring systems managed by artificial intelligence, the company has enabled local supermarkets to grow crops in the middle of the store with absolute control over the quality and growing process.




SweGreen has made headlines internationally with its world-leading in-store farm solutions and its AI-based steering and digital monitoring system. (Supplied)

“SweGreen has set four global industry records for efficiency and sustainability in agriculture,” Scott A. Ellis, the firm’s consultant liaison, told Arab News.

“The first one is a world record for lowest CO2 emissions. This is measured per kilogram of lettuce produced,” measured against the environmental impact of transporting food across the planet and its concurrent waste.

“Of course, this reduces the carbon footprint and also contributes to a more sustainable planet,” Ellis added.

The technology has also achieved the lowest rate of energy consumption and the highest production efficiency. More importantly for Saudi Arabia, however, is that the technology scored highest for water conservation, requiring just 1.3 liters per kilogram of greens.


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“Production occurs 24 hours a day, all year round, regardless of the weather outside,” said Ellis. 

“So, in summary, the greens with the highest nutritional content and maximum integrity and taste, have the lowest need for resources, including the big ones like water, energy and space, and leave the softest climate footprint.”

The revolutionary farm-to-fork system has been installed at 32 sites worldwide with plans for many more.




The plant-based company’s goal is not to promote a meatless and dairy-free diet, but rather provide healthier alternatives to the general population. (Supplied)

Ellis believes the technology will benefit local farmers by promoting local collaborations and will encourage consumers to purchase healthier foods, resulting in a healthier population overall.

“SweGreen is very supportive of working in a flexible way with Saudi Arabia to meet the needs and goals of Vision 2030,” he said.

For Al-Sughayer and others in the Saudi business community, partnerships with firms like SweGreen are a productive and mutually beneficial way to promote good health and environmental sustainability. 

“By leveraging international expertise, we can easily address the challenge of produce when addressing sustainability goals and promoting food security in Saudi,” he said.
 

 


Pakistan praises Saudi Arabia over facilitating Hajj for its nationals

Updated 18 May 2024
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Pakistan praises Saudi Arabia over facilitating Hajj for its nationals

  • Pakistani pilgrims have been arriving in Madinah since May 9 when pre-Hajj flight operations were launched
  • Pakistani minister is currently visiting Madinah to oversee Hajj arrangements for his nationals

RIYADH: Pakistani Minister of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Chaudhry Salik Hussain has expressed his appreciation to Saudi Arabia for the exceptional services and facilities provided to Pakistani pilgrims who will be taking part in Hajj this year.
Minister Hussain’s remarks came in a statement delivered in Madinah, where he is currently visiting to oversee Hajj arrangements for Pakistani pilgrims, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims this year, of which 63,805 people will perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme while the rest will use private tour operators. This year’s Hajj is expected to run from June 14-19.
Pakistani pilgrims have been arriving in Madinah since May 9 when pre-Hajj flight operations were launched. Over 20,000 Pakistani pilgrims have so far arrived in Madinah under the government scheme.
The Pakistani official particularly praised the Saudi leadership for launching the Makkah Route Initiative at Karachi International Airport, mirroring the program already established at Islamabad International Airport.
Hussain was also confident the initiative will be extended to Lahore Airport in the coming year.


KSrelief continues aid projects in Sudan, Yemen and Greece

Updated 30 min 9 sec ago
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KSrelief continues aid projects in Sudan, Yemen and Greece

  • 26 neurosurgeries were done in Sudan
  • 330 relief trucks delivered 5,752 tonnes of aid to Yemen

RIYADH: The Kingdom’s aid agency KSrelief continued its projects in Sudan, Yemen, and Greece.

In Sudan, KSrelief implemented a medical volunteer project for neurosurgery and spine surgery from May 12 to May 17.

About 15 volunteer specialists from various medical fields assisted in performing 26 surgeries, the Saudi Press Agency reported. 

In Yemen, KSrelief provided a convoy of 330 relief trucks, which delivered over 5,752 tonnes of critical supplies to people across 14 Yemeni governorates.  

The aid included food, medical supplies, and shelter materials. 

Additionally, KSrelief donated 10 tonnes of dates to Greece, which were presented by Saudi Ambassador to Greece Saad Al-Ammar to Athens.


How forest conservation is helping Saudi Arabia achieve its green objectives

Updated 58 min 50 sec ago
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How forest conservation is helping Saudi Arabia achieve its green objectives

  • By planting trees and protecting forests, the Kingdom promotes biodiversity and sustainable development
  • Forests provide habitats for hundreds of animal species and play a pivotal role in combating climate change 

JEDDAH: With its low annual rainfall, much of Saudi Arabia’s vast landscape is covered by desert, broken by occasional oases. In its mountainous regions, valleys, and along its coastline, however, the Kingdom is home to multiple forest ecosystems.

Forests play a pivotal role in combating climate change by acting as carbon sinks — storing carbon both above and below ground, thereby extracting it from the atmosphere, where it would otherwise contribute to the greenhouse effect.

Their significance in climate change adaptation and mitigation is also underscored by their role in creating local microclimates, providing habitats for a wealth of biodiversity, locking in freshwater resources, and preventing flash floods, landslides, and soil degradation.

Riyadh residents take part in a tree-planting project as part of the Greener Home initiative. (@Riyadh_Green/File)

Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Vegetation Cover Development and Combating Desertification is at the forefront of implementing the Kingdom’s strategic goals outlined in Vision 2030.

“Forests play a crucial role in mitigating climate change,” Samir Malaika, assistant director-general of the general administration of forests at NCVC told Arab News. “Saudi Arabia’s dry climate and geography hinder its efforts to conserve forests and promote plant growth.

“With most areas receiving minimal rainfall, forests struggle to thrive. The escalating impact of climate change exacerbates environmental stressors, hampering forest growth and regeneration efforts.”

The NCVC aims to elevate living standards by reducing pollution and facilitating the restoration of degraded environments. It is also committed to building resilience against natural hazards and defenses against harmful pests that could pose risks to vegetation.

Simultaneously, it prioritizes the sustainable development of the Kingdom’s natural resources. With seven ongoing initiatives, it aims to ensure the responsible and lasting utilization of resources in line with the nation’s sustainability objectives.

Among the center’s key initiatives under the Saudi Green Initiative is a scheme to plant some 10 billion trees — representing a significant step in the Kingdom’s reforestation effort.

The initiative for forest management and sustainable development by 2030 underscores a long-term commitment to nurturing and preserving woodland environments.

The phased approach to preserving and restoring vegetation in pasture areas reflects a strategic focus on addressing the specific ecological challenges faced by different ecosystems.

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Furthermore, the initiative for developing vegetation and infrastructure for 50 national parks highlights the importance of creating protected natural spaces while promoting biodiversity and ecotourism.

Moreover, the initiative to plant 7 million wild trees in royal reserves demonstrates a targeted effort to enhance the natural habitats within these pristine areas.

Engagement by the public and private sectors in vegetation development and combating desertification underscores the collaborative approach needed in order to achieve sustainable environmental goals.

One initiative of the National Center for Vegetation Cover Development and Combating Desertification with the aim of achieving sustainable forest management is to tap local community participation in agroforestry projects and by promotingecotourism. (Photo Courtesy: NCVC)

By harnessing the collective resources and expertise of various stakeholders, these initiatives aim to create a resilient and thriving ecosystem that benefits both present and future generations.

According to Malaika, Saudi Arabia boasts a forest coverage spanning approximately 2,768,050 hectares, primarily concentrated in the southern and southwestern regions, along riverbeds, and on the coastlines of the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf.

These forest ecosystems are categorized into three primary types: mountain, valley, and mangrove.

Mountain forests

Mountain forests are predominantly located in the region spanning the Hijaz Mountains in Taif to Jazan in the south. These areas have neutral soil acidity and receive the highest rainfall and humidity levels, particularly evident in the southwest with denser forest cover.

The juniper tree has proudly stood as a symbol of picturesque beauty in Al-Baha region, adorning its slopes and mountain peaks with vibrant green hues. (SPA)

Forests are made up of several Juniperus plant species, typically found at altitudes of 2,000 meters and above. Additionally, Olea chrysophylla forests, characterized by wild olive trees with golden leaves, thrive at altitudes of 1,500 to 2,000 meters.

At lower altitudes, between 1,000 to 1,500 meters, Acacia plant species dominate the landscape.

Notably, terraced agriculture is a common feature of mountainous regions, facilitating crop fruit tree cultivation while aiding in water retention and soil protection. However, improper management can lead to land degradation, adversely affecting the surrounding forests.

DID YOUKNOW?

• Saudi Arabia is home to more than 63 unique ecosystems, ranging from mountainous regions to coastal lowlands.

• The Kingdom boasts a diverse array of wildlife, including 78 terrestrial mammal species and 499 species of bird.

• Coral reefs in Saudi Arabian waters host an impressive 266 species, contributing to marine biodiversity.

• With more than 6,500 species, Saudi Arabia’s invertebrate population testifies to the richness of its ecosystems.

• Saudi Arabia boasts three distinct forest ecosystems: mountain forest, valley forest, and mangrove forest.

Valley forests

Saudi Arabia’s topography features 179 valleys distributed across the country. Valley forests, mainly situated in semi-arid regions, are characterized by species such as Acacia ehrenbergiana, Acacia tortilis, Maerua crassifolia, several species of Commiphora, and Salvadora persica.

Additionally, oases and valleys are abundant with various Acacia species, Ziziphus spina-christi, Salvadora persica, Haloxylon persicum, trees, shrubs, and Hyphaene thebaica. 

Saudi Arabia’s topography features 179 valleys distributed across the country. (AN file photo)

Mangrove forests

Mangroves and coastal ecosystems tolerant to saltwater are predominantly located along the Red Sea coast, with other stretches found along the Arabian Gulf coast.

Despite the lack of comprehensive forest data, studies indicate significant degradation of the mangrove ecosystem.

Avicennia marina is the most prevalent species in mangrove forests, with Rhizophora mucronata being less common.

Besides these natural forests, the Kingdom is also host to many urban and cultivated woodlands in its parks and residential neighborhoods, planted to provide shade, reduce temperatures, and beautify city streets.

Despite the Kingdom’s diverse ecosystems, it faces significant challenges in preserving and expanding its forests, including limited resources, poor local management, insufficient nursery production to meet seedling demand, a lack of awareness about dumping and unauthorized grazing, and other irresponsible human activities.

The Saudi National Center for Wildlife is working to protect, develop, and restore ecosystems and biodiversity around the Kingdom, in addition to addressing risks related to plant and animal life.

Red Sea Global implemented a nursery project with the goal to have 50 million trees of Mangroves by 2030. (Red Sea Global photo/File)

According to Abdulmanea Al-Qahtani, invertebrates department director at the NCW, the Kingdom has 63 distinct ecosystems, encompassing a diverse range of landscapes, including mountains, plains, deserts, valleys, forests, seas, wetlands, plateaus, coastal areas, and marshes, all teeming with biodiversity.

The Kingdom is home to 78 species of terrestrial mammal, 499 species of bird, 136 species of reptile, seven species of amphibian, and more than 6,500 species of invertebrate.

In its waters, the Kingdom also offers habitats to 19 species of marine mammal, eight species of freshwater fish, 1,248 species of saltwater fish, and 266 species of coral

Unknown to many, Saudi Arabia is home to 78 species of terrestrial mammal, 499 species of bird, 136 species of reptile, seven species of amphibian, and more than 6,500 species of invertebrate. (NCW collage image)

The Saudi Green Initiative, launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2021 under the Vision 2030 framework, aims to tackle threats to this rich biodiversity and foster sustainable development.

Key goals include transitioning to a sustainable economy by reducing carbon emissions, boosting renewable energy production, and bolstering conservation efforts.

Additionally, the initiative aims to enhance environmental protection, promote green technologies, and create green jobs to drive economic diversification and growth.
 

 


Saudi fund signs two loan agreements, inaugurates Hulhumale Island development in Maldives

Updated 17 May 2024
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Saudi fund signs two loan agreements, inaugurates Hulhumale Island development in Maldives

  • Al-Marshad participated in the partial inauguration of the Hulhulmale Island Development Project

MALE: CEO of the Saudi Fund for Development Sultan bin Abdulrahman Al-Marshad signed on Friday two development loan agreements with the Maldives’ Minister of Finance Dr. Mohammed Shafiq. These agreements will contribute to financing the Velana International Airport development project with a value of $100 million and the healthcare sector development project in the Maldives with a value of $50 million, provided by fund.

Additionally, Al-Marshad participated in the partial inauguration of the Hulhulmale Island Development Project, which the SFD is contributing to financing through a soft development loan worth $80 million. The event was also attended by Saudi Ambassador to the Maldives Matrek bin Abdullah Al-Ajalin.

 

 


King Salman issues royal order to promote 26 judges

Updated 17 May 2024
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King Salman issues royal order to promote 26 judges

RIYADH: King Salman issued a royal order on Friday to promote 26 judges at the Board of Grievances, Saudi Press Agency reported.

President of the Board of Grievances and Administrative Judicial Council Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammed Al-Yousef said that the royal order confirmed the keenness of the Kingdom’s leadership to support the judiciary to develop its performance and achieve quality and efficiency.

Earlier this month, the king issued a royal decree on Saturday to appoint 261 investigative lieutenants at the Ministry of Justice’s Public Prosecution.