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Saudi Arabian Green Oil: Old Meets Modern as Jouf ‘Smart Farmers’ Reap Rich Harvest of Olives

JOUF: Olive oil, the green elixir and a staple in Saudi households, increases production as farmers in the northern Jouf region – the “Kingdom’s food basket” – adopt methods of high technology to make the most of their olive grove tradition.

Olive trees have their roots in the cradle of civilization. Cultivated even before the invention of the written language, distinctive tree varieties have spread to Iran, Syria and Palestine, and throughout the Mediterranean basin.

With its fertile soil and temperate climate, the Jouf region in the north of the Kingdom has become Saudi Arabia’s largest olive oil producer and is home to vast orchards containing millions of trees.

Throughout history, the humble olive has been associated with prosperity. But olive oil has always been more than a delicious part of the daily diet, and is a precious and intrinsic part of Arab culture and heritage.

Arab News traveled north and visited Busita Farm, also known as ‘Million Tree Farm’, whose owner, Nasser Al-Hamad, recounted his story of exchanging a career as a teacher of Islamic studies in Riyadh against a life in the world of agriculture.

Al-Hamad studied and planned his agricultural project for years before planting 160,000 olive trees imported from Spain through the company Agromillora.

His efforts paid off and he is now considered one of the best farmers in the region.

Throughout history, the humble olive has been associated with prosperity. But olive oil has always been more than a delicious part of the daily diet, and is a precious and intrinsic part of Arab culture and heritage.

“I grew up on farms and in a family full of farmers, so I already knew the planting methods for many crops,” he told Arab News.

Al-Hamad decided to grow Spanish olive trees in high density groves, a more economical and productive model that also provided high quality harvests and flavor.

“When my family started their farming business in Jouf, the quality of the olive oil caught my attention. We did not depend on Spanish olive oil for everyday use, and it was only used for medical prescriptions. However, I found it to have a nutty, richer fruity flavor and a sweeter taste than the other types, ”he said.

“When you eat it early in the morning, it gives the body a boost for the day. “

The journey to Million Tree Farm began with one step.

Nasser Al-Hamad at his Busita farm in Al Jouf. (a photo)

“I started with a small orchard of available olive trees, then I started my research, including visiting international farms and agricultural experts all over Europe,” Al-Hamad said.

In 2018, 160,000 trees, all of the Arbequina variety, were planted in the first stage of the “Million Tree” project.

“The trees are watered by pressure regulated irrigation systems for four years, resulting in significant growth, heavy branches to support fruit and excellent productivity,” he said.

“I have been to China, to different countries in Europe and I have met some of the biggest dealers in the field. It turned out that Busita is the best, in terms of quality, production and cost, thanks to different factors, such as the weather.

INNUMBERS

160,000 – the number of trees planted in the first stage of the “Million Tree” project

10 kg – every 10 kg of olives yields one liter of high quality olive oil

He added: “In other countries, rainfall during the harvest season can damage crops or increase the moisture level of fruits, but not here. “

Al-Hamad said that every 10 kg of olives yields one liter of high quality olive oil.

“This whole orchard is managed by an irrigation pump and only requires one worker due to the use of modern technology,” he said.

The farm uses a smart irrigation system that distributes water in equal amounts to reduce wastage. (a photo)

Al-Hamad’s success prompted him to launch another project, with plans to plant 700,000 trees in the next six months. Three types of Spanish olive trees – Arbequina, or “Queen of Arabia”; Arbosana, which translates to “Arabs of Sinai”; and Olea europaea, the European olive – will be used in the plantation.

With a long-term goal in mind, the “Smart Farmer” is focusing on ways to conserve water, cut costs, and transform the way olive oil is produced in the Kingdom in accordance with business principles modern.

“While having a career in the agriculture industry, I discovered that the farming process is easier now. My trip to Spain taught me that agriculture can also adopt more feasible technology than standard methods used in other countries.

Al-Hamad’s methods result in lower costs, reduced water consumption, and minimal labor use, but the result is consistently high-quality olive oil.

Olive trees thrive with little water, unlike palm trees, which require intensive watering.

Al-Hamad’s methods result in lower costs, reduced water consumption, and minimal use of labor. (a photo)

Differences in tree size can be observed in some orchards due to variations in watering or uneven terrain.

However, Al-Hamad said, “I am using a smart irrigation system that distributes water in equal amounts to reduce wastage. This system only consumes two liters of water in one hour, regardless of the pressure level. Therefore, each tree has a single sprinkler unit to ensure that all trees grow evenly.

Harvesting olives is generally labor intensive and labor intensive. The quality of the harvest can also be affected if the olives are left in the sun before being harvested.

Harnessing modern techniques, Al-Hamad relies on a mechanical olive harvester – or as he calls it, the “one-mission machine” – to realize his vision.

“Instead of 500 workers harvesting the harvest, I bought a high density olive harvester that provides smooth handling and seamless transportation of the olive to the container and then to the olive pressing station. “

A high density olive harvester ensures smooth handling and flawless transport of the olive to the container and then to the olive pressing station. (a photo)

The olive harvest begins at the end of September and ends at the beginning of January. The harvester combs the olive trees and collects 50 tonnes of harvest every day.

To allow the harvesting machine to operate between each row, the olive trees are pruned to a standard width of three meters and a height of 1.5 meters. The crop is then transported through a conveyor belt while dusting and washing are carried out.

The olives are then “cold pressed” at room temperature to extract the juice, resulting in the olive paste, which is kneaded for 30 minutes until the oil is secreted. The liquid is then separated from the olive mixture and the extracted juice is separated into water and oil.

Pure fresh oil is filtered and immediately stored in cans and bottles with a volume of 1 to 16 liters.

“With persistence, planning and hard work, nothing is difficult,” Al-Hamad said. “In this project, I made sure to benefit from the climate, land and farming methods, all studied and well planned.

In 2021, Al-Hamad won the award for the best farmer in the Jouf region. His “Million Tree” brand, created to mark the success of his project, also won the silver prize in the Dubai Olive Oil Competition.

“I am proud of myself, my family and my country with this huge accomplishment in producing the best olive oil in the world,” he said.

“The government’s appreciation for the success of my project has encouraged me to think about transforming agriculture into industry and becoming the most advanced olive oil manufacturer in the world.”


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