Saudi Arabia aims to raise $ 55 billion from privatization plan

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RIYAD: Saudi Arabia is a barren and barren land, covered with vast deserts and rugged mountains and therefore unsuitable for anything except growing dates. Right? In fact, wrong.

The Saudi environment is dry, without a doubt. But surprisingly, the Kingdom is an agricultural power, on the way to achieving a considerable measure of food security, while becoming a major exporter of agricultural products.

This trend has become even more urgent with the implementation of Vision 2030, which defines agriculture as one of the five main strategic sectors, alongside aerospace / defense, automotive, transport / logistics. and construction.

So how is this possible?

First of all, Saudi Arabia is richer in water than it seems at first glance. While the Kingdom has no permanent rivers and one of the lowest rainfall rates in the world at just four inches per year, it does have huge reserves of groundwater.

Just as oil lakes exist deep beneath its parched surface, so there are vast underground aquifers. In 2019, these supplied no less than 10 billion cubic meters of irrigation water to local farms.

In addition, the government has built a network of dams in wadis across the country to capture flood waters from occasional heavy rains. And of course, Saudi Arabia is the world leader in seawater desalination, with no less than 27 desalination plants supplying both cities and farms.

View of the Wadi Murwani Dam, located in Al-Khulais, Saudi Arabia. (Shutterstock)

This access to considerable volumes of water has enabled the nation to supply its domestic market with wheat, dairy products, eggs, fish, poultry, vegetables and flowers – and to export all of these items around the world. And believe it or not, Saudi Arabia is, thanks to the help of the Irish, one of the most efficient dairy farmers on the planet, with an extraordinarily high annual production of 1,800 gallons per cow.

That said, the Kingdom faces challenges in terms of annual population growth of 1.7%, as well as the demands of an increasingly sophisticated consumer market. A simple diet of dates, camel milk and a few pieces of meat could have been sufficient a century ago. But today’s consumers, like the rest of the world, expect almost endless choice.

There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia will not stop importing certain foods. After all, authentic Japanese wasabi can only be imported from Japan, and real Parmigiano-Reggiano is only made in Parma, Italy. But agriculture in the Kingdom is expected to grow by 5 percent per year over the next five years.

Saudi Arabia’s two new “green” initiatives will in part be driven by the Strategy for Sustainable Development of Agriculture, a component of Vision 2030. This comprehensive strategy has four main objectives: Efficient and sustainable use of agricultural resources and natural, especially water; comprehensive and sustainable food security; improving agricultural efficiency and productivity; and sustainable rural development.

INNUMBERS

* 1st – Saudi rank as a food importer from the Middle East.

* 80% – The food consumed comes from abroad.

* 16m – Tons of food currently consumed.

* 4.6% – Expected annual growth rate of food consumption.

These policies are being implemented in the face of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, an unforeseen and continuing crisis that has highlighted the danger of any country too heavily dependent on global supply chains for essential products such as than food.

Smart farming in Saudi Arabia means focusing on crops that require relatively less water and finding alternatives to water intensive farming. Thus, the cultivation of thirsty grains such as wheat has been largely transferred to the water-rich Sudan, while local farmers are encouraged to focus on water conservation approaches such as greenhouse fruit and vegetable production. .

Additional value is added through the processing of raw materials. For example, farmers can and squeeze fruit, instead of just providing fresh produce. Fruit canning is the Kingdom’s largest food production segment, and fruit juices are the second largest source of income for Saudi food producers. And the Saudis know well that 1001 products can be made from the humble date!

The future success of agriculture in the Kingdom will largely depend on the efficiency of production. Vision 2030 recognizes modern agriculture as an “industry”, comparable to construction and logistics, and equally dependent on innovation and new technologies.

Irrigation system for pivot agriculture, located in the desert area of ​​Al-Sarar, Saudi Arabia. (Shutterstock)

A recent academic article in the Journal of the Saudi Society of Agricultural Sciences, said: “There is a gap between the demand and production of agricultural products (in the Kingdom) which must be filled through the adoption of modern technologies, ie. that is, land and water. – economic approaches, greenhouse cultivation and seawater recovery.

Hydroponic farming is an example of smart farming, that is, growing plants with only water and nutrients instead of soil. Hydroponic agriculture can be integrated as an aspect of urban growth. There is no reason why large indoor spaces cannot be built or converted to produce hydroponically grown fruits, salads and vegetables – providing food to a city without the need for long distance transportation and transportation. logistics.

Hydroponics can also harness the semi-treated gray water produced by wastewater and industry, recycling valuable natural resources.

Another brilliant idea is “aquaponics” agriculture, in which aquatic creatures such as shrimp feed on naturally growing bacteria and produce nutrient-rich wastewater that can be used to grow edible plants. This type of virtuous circle requiring little maintenance is perfectly suited to a country lacking water like Saudi Arabia.

Of course, attention should also be paid to more traditional agricultural resources, but with the application of modern techniques. The science of genetics can have a dramatic effect on the production of local breeds. Goats, for example, are indigenous to the Kingdom and are a traditional source of milk and meat.

The continued expansion of Saudi Arabia’s agricultural sector requires continued cooperation between the public and private sectors. (Shutterstock)

Genetic crossbreeding of local goats with foreign breeds has the potential to dramatically improve the size and production of livestock. All of this indicates that many of the answers to Saudi Arabia’s food security concerns can, with a little imagination and experimentation, be found on its own doorstep.

These biotechnologies also offer exciting new business opportunities in the quest to diversify the Saudi economy and liberate the country from dependence on oil and its various derivatives.

The continued expansion of Saudi Arabia’s agricultural sector requires continued cooperation between the public and private sectors and depends on four key elements: education, technology transfer, advisory services and investment in new facilities. .

The government is leading the way in terms of investment and infrastructure, and Saudi farmers accept that innovation and change are realities. It remains for entrepreneurs to take advantage of the fact that agro-industry and biotechnology are called upon to play an essential role in the future and will be major sources of income.

The issue of food security is a challenge for the Saudi people and a major opportunity.



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