Insight | Coffee

Protecting tradition: Saudi Arabian coffee

For many, the Jazan region in the south of Saudi Arabia is probably best known for the Saudi Aramco Jazan Refinery and Terminal, a major oil & gas project.

But aside from the energy sector, the region is also growing into a key area of coffee production for Saudi Arabia  with estimates that farmers in Jazan will produce over 300 tonnes of coffee this year.

In January, the Saudi Heritage Preservation Society (SHPS) called on UNESCO to protect traditional Khawlani coffee cultivation techniques in Saudi Arabia.

"Khawlani coffee beans are described as the green gold of Jazan,” Rehaf Gassas, project manager at the SHPS said at the time.

Farmers in the region have been cultivating Khawlani coffee beans for over 300 years, passing the traditional techniques down through generations.

The SHPS hopes that a decision will be made by UNESCO by the end of 2020, and are openly optimistic that the application for protection will be a success. 

Dr Saeed Khan, senior lecturer in Global Studies at Wayne State University, offers some context to the farming practices in the region and the efforts being made by the Saudi government to protect them.

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The Saudi government is not resting on its laurels and has taken a proactive approach to coffee farming.

A few miles away from the Al Solameen farm is one belonging to Ahmed Al Malki. His family owns the land, preserving the terraces for trees, which number over a thousand. 

Al Malki began his coffee production less than two years ago and has already exceeded expectations of output and efficiency, producing beans in one year that normally would take three years as his first crop.

The Al Malki farm is 100% organic and self-sufficient. All of the soil and nutrients needed for growing are produced within the farm through an ambitious composting effort, creating a truly self-sufficient operation.

Nothing goes to waste, including food waste from the farm’s kitchen that is repurposed to the soil. 

Similarly, most of the water required to irrigate the trees comes from collected rainwater. Additional water is obtained from once abandoned wells on the property, digging over 400 feet in places to extract a vital resource in the coffee-making process.

Al Malki is proud of his farm as one of the epicentres for the preservation of Khalwani coffee. This variety is unique to Saudi Arabia and the kingdom is seeking UNESCO protected status for the crop.

However, the Saudi government is not resting on its laurels and has taken a proactive approach to coffee farming.

Recognition from the government has led to increased support 

The Minister of the Environment has held three workshops at his Al Malki’s farm, highlighting the techniques for planting and growing beans, the overall organic process implemented as well as the rain technology being used. 

The farm is now a recognised training centre in all three areas. Researchers and investigators from around the world have come to the farm to learn about coffee growing. 

The Saudi academic community and private sector are offering their resources to the Al Malki farm to further enhance its coffee-producing technology. The farm has a Memorandum of Understanding with King Saud University and Sabiq Company, as well as with Fakhim University.

The coffee planting season in Jazan province is effectively a year-round effort. The flowering season lasts 4 months, beginning in January/February, and coincides with the Jazan Coffee Festival. 

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sends representatives to the festival and is enthusiastically engaged in supporting the coffee heritage of Jazan. The Ministry of Environment works closely with coffee farmers through the Governor of Addayar, Naif Nasser bin Lebdah.

He is astounded by the passion of the local people to return to their coffee-growing heritage and has been eager with his office’s response to help them achieve their aspirations.

The Governor confirmed the Ministry’s support for farmers, who last year had a yield of 336 tons of coffee. The government has ambitious goals, seeking an annual production level of 5,000 tons by 2030, the amount where Saudi Arabia will be self-sufficient for its own coffee consumption.

By 2040, it is forecast that Saudi Arabia will be producing coffee at export levels.

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