60 years after its beginning, the bilateral collaboration between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the FAO, proves successful for the nation’s food security and the diversification of its economy.
“Our longstanding collaboration with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia represents an actual model of partnership to boost agriculture sustainable development” says Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, FAO Assistant Director General and Representative for the Near East and North Africa. “from fish farming to integrated farming systems, from animal resources to crop protection, the partnership clearly shows how it is possible to sustainably intensify agriculture production while conserving and managing scarce natural resources” he adds.
The technical co-operation between FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture started in 1950 and since then has slowly but constantly contributed to the transformation of traditional agriculture in Saudi Arabia into a modern industry that plays a significant role in the economy of the country.
"The strong commitment of our government to make agriculture a key contributor to the national GDP, together with the inter-sectoral expertise of FAO, have been the main ingredients of this partnership that, through the years, has been successful in finding sustainable solutions to the many challenges agriculture development faces in the Kingdom”. says Dr. Khalid Al Fuhaid, Undersecretary of the Ministry for Agricultural Affairs, Kingdom of Saudi
“Now the country has almost achieved self – sufficiency in the production of dates and milk, while the sufficiency rates in the production of vegetables (80%), fruits (60%) and fish (59%) are very high, we all know that this has been possible also thanks to the solid collaboration with FAO” he comments.
Few examples of a fruitful cooperation
Integrated farming systems generate incomes for small farmers
“About 80-85% of water supplies in Saudi Arabia comes from groundwater, a non-renewable resource that is currently deteriorating due to salinity increases. An efficient management of water is essential for the sustainable agricultural development of a country that essentially depends on irrigation to grow its crops” says Dr. Abdallah Oihabi Coordinator of the Program in Saudi Arabia.
It is for this reason that integrated farming systems developed under the partnership have been equipped with fully fledged irrigation systems that farmers and extensions have been trained to thoroughly use and manage.
High added-value crops and horticulture products with comparative advantage, such us citrus, olive, tropical and sub-tropical fruits, are now grown to be marketed in the local and international market, diversifying the contribution of the agriculture to the national economy.
Mass rearing units of biological control agents have been introduced to produce local parasites and predators to reduce pest risk and avoid the use of chemical plant protection products that put at risk the safety of the produced food.
Increasing the production of the aquaculture sector
Though a relatively new field, aquaculture is gaining increasing economic importance in the Saudi Kingdom that has defined it as a priority area, second only to the oil and gas sector.
The aquaculture sector has witnessed a steady development under the FAO-KSA partnership with enhanced marine cage culture, further expansion of the marine hatchery and fish production, and strengthened capacities of national aquaculture research centres.
The partnership foresees to reach 100,000 tonnes of fish production in the coming years with the support of FAO in assessing environmental risks and ensuring sustainability to this project and vision.
Genebanks to align with international technical and quality requirements
To preserve genetic resources of commercial crops, well protected gene banks have been established.
The Date Palm Research Center (Al-Hassa) hosts a gene bank that includes all date varieties from the different parts of the Kingdom in addition to commercial international ones.
Currently the research at the Centre is helping to develop pollination methods and to determine water requirements through the use of Lysimeters.