After three years of preparation and construction, the Saudi Agricultural Information Centre has gone public to report its progress. LEI personnel have supported the development of the centre every step of the way. After the presentation, key players in the world of Saudi agriculture said they were proud and impressed. The transferred LEI methods and standards for the collection and management of information seem to have reaped deep admiration in Saudi circles.
On 1 October 2011, Saudi project leader Dr Hussain Al Salman and Dr George Beers from LEI embarked on an adventure that would lead to the development and implementation of an Agricultural Information Centre (AIC) for Saudi Arabia. It was to be an AIC that fitted in with the priorities of the agricultural policy of the Saudi government, spearheaded by the need to provide a good and dependable food supply for the rapidly growing population and to deal efficiently with water, always a scarce commodity. A good and reliable information supply is key to monitoring the effectiveness and progress of the agricultural policy. This is the task of the AIC.
Starting with nothing
The two pioneers started out with virtually nothing. The office space was about as modest as the Saudi information infrastructure. But there was no shortage of ideas and plans. With ‘Reliability of information’ as its credo the AIC applied itself to the task of setting itself apart and focused on the development of three datasets – starting with a farm register to get a better idea of the number of farmers and the farming segments they belonged to. The second step was to build a farm accountancy data network to provide insight into what the farms bought and sold. The third step was establishing a price monitor that supplied information on the prices of agricultural products.
Roll-outConsiderable strides have been made in recent years. The AIC now has its own office with a 25-strong core team and 20-25 employees on temporary contracts, who collect data and manage the three datasets. These are all Saudis who were trained by LEI. Around 40 LEI experts were galvanised over the years for this purpose.
The farm register has matured into a register of core data and satellite photos of all the farms in twenty villages in the region of Kharj, which belongs to one of the larger agricultural concentration areas. This is also where the first regional office will be opening soon and where a complete farm register is being compiled in order to build an information network for around forty farms in the pilot phase. Once these have been added to the current ten farms, the next step will be a bigger register for several hundred. The Kharj model will be rolled out to other regions and around 20 regional offices with nationwide cover will be opened in the next two years. By then, all the right conditions will in place for the realisation of a national farm register.
The price monitor contains information on the daily prices of forty products (twenty types of vegetables and twenty types of fruit) at five wholesale markets over a period of forty-five weeks. A database comprising approximately 120,000 observations is the result so far. The intention is to turn this data collection into a permanent operation called ‘E-gate price’. The daily price data will also be disseminated via internet and text-messaging services.
ComplimentsThe presentation of the progress report at the 33rd International Trade Show for Agriculture, Water & Agro-Industry, held on 7-10 September in Riyadh (www.saudi-agriculture.com) was greeted with an enthusiastic response from key players in the Saudi agricultural sector. The Saudi Minister of Agriculture, Dr Fahd Balghunaim, commented that he found the presentation and working method of the AIC very ‘Dutch’. This is a huge compliment from someone who is well acquainted with LEI and its quality standards. A similar compliment came from the Chair of the Agricultural Development Fund, Abdullah Rubayan, who suggested a new name, Manar, the Arabic word for a guiding light or beacon.
Inspired by such compliments, the pioneers and their teams are dying to flesh out the plans for the future. LEI will apply and develop the knowledge and experience that has been gained from setting up the information system in new projects.