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Agriculture

Introduction

Agriculture is one of the main pillars of the national economy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. However, the agricultural sector uses about 90% of the total water consumed in the Kingdom.

Introduction

The agricultural sector receives direct and indirect support from the government through loans, agricultural land and petroleum derivatives. But despite that, Saudi Arabia imports most of its food from abroad amounting to around 100 billion riyals.

Although the Kingdom has made great leaps forward in agricultural production, the type of agricultural production carried out uses technologies that consume huge amounts of ground water. This is a serious threat to water security. It is therefore necessary to re-consider the agricultural development strategy taking into consideration the importance of national food security. Agricultural technology researchers at KACST aim to develop environment-friendly competitive agricultural technologies, and localize and develop them to allow sustainable agricultural development, and protect the food security of the Kingdom. KACST will support the Saudi agricultural economy to continue to provide various food sources via the following:

Production of crop breeds of high productivity and quality and of limited water consumption by development of genetic technologies.

Development of technologies that contribute to water consumption rationalization in agriculture such as a new design of greenhouses.

Working with the concerned bodies to develop agricultural policies which contribute to the best consumption of water in the agricultural sector.

Production of barley fodder of high production and quality, and limited water consumption through aqua agricultural technologies and tissue agriculture.

To accelerate work on these projects and to obtain quality outputs within a short period, a food security program has been launched for agricultural technologies in desert areas. This program aims to develop agricultural technologies to realize sustainable food security for the Kingdom, and to enhance economic development in collaboration with several government bodies, universities and agricultural companies.

Projects

Despite the great leaps that Saudi Arabia has achieved in agricultural production, the technologies used still need a lot of underground water. This depletion may threaten the national water security. Therefore, it is essential to create a new agricultural developmental strategy considering the importance of food security.

The objective of this program is to develop agricultural technologies that will guarantee sustainable food security for the Kingdom. Among the challenges facing Saudi Arabia towards the attainment of food security is that the Kingdom consumes 40% of the world production of barley for the country’s livestock industry.

To attain food security, it is crucial to search for agricultural technologies that consume limited quantities of water for animal fodder such as barley. This will guarantee the durability of agricultural development. Studies indicate that soilless farming or hydroponic farming for fodder production consumes limited quantities of water whilst giving high production rates. However, this technology needs big quantities of barley seeds. The conversion factor of barley is 1:8 (e.g., 1 kilogram of barley seed gives 8 kilograms of fodder). To lessen the use of barley seeds in each production cycle, a new tissue culture technology will be induced to the hydroponic fodder technology. This technology will allow the production of big quantities of fodder using less quantities of barley seeds.

The objective of this project is to secure food while preserving ground water. This will be attained through the implementation of the following programs:

Development of fodder crops with high quality and production rates while consuming limited quantities of water through biotechnology.

Developing technologies that will contribute to the rationing of water consumption in agriculture such as greenhouses and irrigation technologies.

Working with the concerned sectors to develop the agricultural policies that will contribute to the optimum water consumption in the agricultural sector.

The production of high quality barley with limited consumption of water through hydroponic farming and tissue culture.

Due to the steady increase in barley prices in recent years, and in order to achieve food security in the Kingdom, and to reduce reliance on imports, KACST has had to search for new technologies based on using limited quantities of water, to replace traditional methods of agriculture. An example of this is hydroponics, a technique using biotechnologies. It works by rotating water in closed rooms and a tight environment that is not affected by the external environment. It is solar powered and characterized by the abundance of production for the area used, while needing only a small amount of water and energy.

The study aims to achieve food security in the Kingdom without prejudice to water security. It also aims to develop the agricultural sector by innovating technologies that contribute to the rationing of water consumption and increase agricultural production.

There are manufacturing methods for producing green fodder that do not require agricultural land or soil, nor occupy a large area. They rely on the use of heat, humidity and light-conditioned rooms containing ponds placed at a distance above each other, where grains are grown (such as barley and oats). They are irrigated with water containing dissolved elements of fertilizer which helps to accelerate the growth of seedlings, so that they can become about 20-25 cm long in a week, and produce a large amount of green fodder in a small area.

It is possible to organize the cultivation schedule so that a daily output of green fodder is obtained. This technique is called hydroponics. The capacity of the units to produce fresh green feed is one ton per day throughout the year under any climatic conditions. Its consumption of water and fertilizer is very low compared to the consumption required to produce this quantity under normal field conditions. However, the high cost factor remains an obstacle against using this technique, yet it is very suitable in arid dry areas such as the Arab region.

Cultured barley is of great importance in animal feeding, as it contains a higher content of protein than dry barley. The proportion of protein in cultured barley is 10% , and it is easily digested and absorbed by the animals. In addition, cultured barley contains a variety of nutrients that improve the quality of the animal feed and increase the digestion rate, and the rate of utilization by 95% compared to other feed varieties. Cultured barley has stored energy that is characterized by easy flow in the body and therefore does not cause animals to suffer from acidity problems.

As a result of the correlation between the prices of raw materials used in manufacturing, concentrated feed, and the world prices of these materials, as well as the high prices of other materials used in animal feed, it is necessary to consider using non-conventional feedstock as an alternative to concentrated feed. This would help reduce cost and achieve an appropriate profit margin, thus encouraging the continuation of the production process. The cultivated barley is the most suitable alternative since it saves about 50% on the cost of the animal feed.

This project aims to propagate the so-called advanced mutants, which are the results of irradiation on the original genetic source of AlTaifi roses. Certain radiation doses produced from radioactive sources have been used to cause random changes or induce mutations at the genetic level. In previous phases of this project, 5 mutagenized plants were produced and they are completely different from the original plant in terms of flower size (radius), number of petals, plant length and life cycle.

In the year of the report, a patent application form was submitted to the US Patent Office with a product code KACST491-1. Three greenhouses were prepared in the Agricultural Research Station in Al-Muzahmiya to host approximately 10,000 mutant adult plants for propagation. Distillation and oil pressing units were selected to be purchased and a workplan was developed to market the final product, which are diluted rose water and rose oil. This project will benefit companies and international experts interested in natural perfumes and fragrances.

Protected agriculture is an advance agricultural method for providing water and food securities, increasing productivity and growing vegetables all the year around. This type of agriculture has become one of the most important sectors of agriculture in the Kingdom. The project focuses on the optimal utilization and conservation of natural resources by applying the latest agricultural technologies. These would contribute to the water preservation and food security. Specifically, the goals of the project include the following:

Design and test closed system greenhouses in which water can be condensed and recycled in hot climates.

Apply new technologies that can be manufactured in the Kingdom for cooling and reuse of water.

Work on standard design for greenhouses in the Kingdom.

Inject carbon dioxide gas (CO2) in the closed system greenhouses. The studies suggested that the production may increase by 200% under the sunny conditions of Saudi Arabia compared to production in traditional greenhouses. In addition, injecting greenhouse with CO2 is an important source for disposing of CO2 which is produced by Saudi Aramco in a commercial manner. This reduces the impact of CO2 emission on the environment.

Reuse the condensed water from the wet air inside the closed greenhouse to feed the cooling system pads. The extracted water is characterized by the fact that it is free of salts and this would solve the problem of salt build-up on cooling pads.

Utilize the relatively cold air inside the closed system greenhouses after economical dehumidification processes to feed the cooling system. This would improve the efficiency of the cooling system for greenhouses.

Reuse the irrigation and cooling water.

Connect the closed system greenhouses with desalination and heating systems driven by solar energy and cooling systems operated by solar absorption. The combined systems represent a design that does not require the availability of an electrical network or a source of abundant water for cultivation. This technique will contribute to the preservation of many of the water resources that are wasted in other methods of agriculture.

The aim of this project is to develop environment-friendly super absorbent materials for agricultural use. Hence, organic and inorganic polymeric materials will be designed to absorb water and synthesized. During the project, the evaluation of commercially available materials for the same purpose will be performed in order to gain additional information and use for future comparison studies. Prepared super absorbent materials will be characterized using sophisticated analytical techniques and will be evaluated under different environments to improve properties.

Technology transfer through advance training on the preparation, characterization and evaluation of these materials will be considered.

The project is expected to have an extreme impact on knowledge about the manufacturing of super absorbent materials, which will then be applied in different type of plants to maximize water conservation during irrigation. Many organizations and authorities are expected to benefit from this project such as the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture as well as the private sector.

The Red Date Palm Weevil (RPW) project aims to develop an acoustic device capable of detecting the RPW’s presence inside the date palm trunk. In addition to implementing a smart trap to monitor the RPW in the field. The project has accomplished the following:

Detailing the hours that the adult RPW were present in the field, which helps in scheduling the pesticides treatments.

Building a database for the RPW sounds inside the trunk of the palm under a wide range of conditions. This can be utilized to create algorithms for the acoustic device.

Utilizing the gene silencing technology to develop a control tactic for RPW in the field.

This project helps provide practical tools for controlling the RPW and protecting date palm production in the Kingdom. The Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, MEWA, and KACST, are establishing a direct project for controlling the RPW, in cooperation with universities and research centers.

The Red Palm Weevil is an agricultural pest with traits and abilities that are hard to be eradicated as of now. The RPW can cause severe harm to palm trees within a short period.

It infects the inner palm trunk, where it is shielded from environmental conditions such as high temperatures, low external humidity, biological enemies, pesticides and from being seen by human beings.

A palm tree suffering from a RPW infection shows no obvious symptoms, making it hard to be discovered at the beginning of the infection. RPW has spread to many areas in Europe, Asia and some regions of the United States of America within 30 years.

The ability to hide, the high destructive ability and the fast spread makes RPW a very dangerous pest that affects palm trees around the world. The rate of infection reached 1-5% in various regions of the Kingdom. The importance of this issue is the wide spread of infection and the difficulty in combating it. Several efforts were made internally and externally to find the best way to control or to eliminate the RPW but this requires more time, concentration and support.

KACST in coordination with the Ministry of Agriculture provided the necessary attention to this pest. It supported various projects and held several symposia and workshops at universities and research centers in the Kingdom.

These workshops included one on RPW: modern technologies and future dimensions on 14-15 Rabie the 1st 1428H, corresponding to 2-3 April 2007 in the presence of H.E. the Minister of Agriculture.

KACST has also supported several symposia on palm trees at King Faisal University in Alahsa, and supported several local research projects carried out by local researchers.