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Unbelievable but possible: How Saudi Arabia is reforesting the desert

Written by Roberta Souza
Published 29/05/2024 às 08:48
Reforestation, Saudi Arabia, Agriculture, desert
Photo: Canva

Center pivot irrigation initiative revolutionizes Saudi sustainable agriculture, but sustainability challenges persist

Saudi Arabia, the 13th largest country in the world with more than 34 million population, is widely Known for its vast oil reserves. However, a significant transformation is underway: the desert reforestation through an ambitious irrigation project. This project, located in the Al-Ahsa depression in the northwest of the Arabian Peninsula, is revolutionizing Saudi agriculture.

Natural challenges and innovative solutions for reforestation

With 95% of its territory covered by arid deserts and temperatures reaching 50°C in summer, Saudi Arabia faces enormous agricultural challenges. Historically, the country depends on imports for 70% of its food consumption. However, thanks to center pivot irrigation, once infertile areas are becoming productive.

The center pivot irrigation system for reforestation in the Saudi desert

The center pivot irrigation technique, invented in the 1940s, involves sprinklers mounted on galvanized steel or aluminum tubes, which are moved by wheeled turrets in a circular pattern. Each system covers around 50 hectares, allowing efficient irrigation of large areas. This method, refined over the years, minimizes water losses through evaporation, a crucial factor in arid regions.

Since the 1960s, the arable land area in Saudi Arabia grew from 400 km² to more than 35.000 km². The Al-Ahsa basin alone represents 7.800 km² of this total. Satellite images show the desert transformed into green fields, growing alfalfa, barley and corn.

Sustainability Challenges

Despite the successes, the reforestation project faces significant challenges. Intensive irrigation is rapidly depleting groundwater reserves, which are not replenished due to low precipitation. Experts warn that aquifers could dry up in 50 to 60 years, threatening the long-term viability of agriculture in the Saudi desert.

To address these challenges, the Saudi government is implementing the Vision 2030 plan, which aims to diversify the economy and reduce dependence on oil. Among the initiatives are the ban on wheat cultivation, due to its high water consumption, and the adoption of agricultural monitoring technologies to optimize the use of water resources.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has invested in purchasing agricultural land abroad, guaranteeing food production reserves in countries such as the United States, China and Senegal. The country is also promoting tourism, issuing visas to foreign visitors since 2019 in a bid to diversify its sources of income.

The future of Saudi agriculture with reforestation

The adoption of advanced irrigation systems has brought significant benefits, but the Depletion of water resources highlights the need for sustainable solutions. Saudi Arabia is at a crossroads: either it adapts to new environmental and economic realities or runs the risk of seeing its agricultural projects become unviable.

The Saudi effort to transform deserts into farmland is a notable example of innovation in the face of extreme conditions. However, long-term success depends on the country's ability to sustainably manage its natural resources and diversify its economy. With the right measures, Saudi Arabia can continue to be an agricultural powerhouse, even in a global scenario of growing concern about environmental sustainability.

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Roberta Souza

Petroleum Engineer, postgraduate in Commissioning of Industrial Units, specialist in Industrial Corrosion. Get in touch to suggest an agenda, advertise job vacancies or advertise on our portal. We do not receive resumes

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