Saudi youth-led initiative aiding local economy

Walid Khadduri
Walid Khadduri
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While participating in a petroleum seminar in Riyadh, I was privileged, along with some colleagues, to receive a dinner invitation at a fellow participant's house. The seminar was held several months ago (just before the "COVID-19" outbreak, back when it was possible to attend seminars and interact with colleagues in person).

Also attending the dinner was the host's eldest son, a young Saudi holding a degree from an American university. I listened as the young man spoke passionately about an initiative him and his friends, American and Chinese university graduates, are launching.

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The initiative involves founding a Saudi based industrial sustainability company called "Estidama Industry" that specializes in transforming organic waste into compost and protein feed used in the fish feed industry.

The primary objective of the young company is to promote food security in the Kingdom, and enhance natural resource recycling activities, hoping to ultimately expand its export activities into the Indian and Chinese markets. It employs cutting-edge technologies which are used to produce these environment-friendly proteins. The company is currently in the investment fund-raising phase, in preparation for the commencement of the construction of its factory.

Food being thrown outside a hotel in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)
Food being thrown outside a hotel in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

Listening to the on-going discussion between the fresh graduate and the rest of the oil industry peers present, I couldn't help but think about the importance of encouraging our youth to build private companies that use modern technologies. This will be the best vehicle we can use to overcome the challenges our countries face, such as food security, in addition to the added benefits such companies will provide, such as reliance on local expertise and manpower, which will prevent the pile up of graduates in bureaucratic government, and reducing unemployment in the labor market.

Such companies typically target world markets to help gradually increase non-oil exports, especially with the expected decline in oil prices over the coming years, along with the growth taking place in sustainable alternative energy industries, and the increased legislation by OECD countries to reduce cars and power plants' carbon dioxide emissions to zero.

This transformation is inevitable, and it is just a matter of time, as it was probably always going to take place during this century. Such transformation will mean a sharp drop in the demand for, and the prices of oil. These global industrial developments will force our societies to diversify their economies away from oil-dependency, which has been the pivot of Arab economies since the mid-twentieth century.

Established in 2018, the aim of the company is to take advantage of Saudi Arabia's massive food waste output; through manufacturing concentrated protein powder used in the fish, poultry and shrimp feed industries, providing an alternative to dried fish powder. It is also used in compost production. Saudi Arabia is a major food waste generator, as the average Saudi wastes 250 kg of food per year, compared to the world average of 115 kg per year. Around 50 percent of Saudi Arabia's food is wasted, valued at around SAR 49 billion, with 14 million tons of food wasted annually. The cost of transporting and burying such a massive amount of waste in landfills can reach as high as SAR 360 million per year.

The company also aims to establish a local finance company specialized in recycling, focused on investing in private recycling companies. It will hopefully be able to achieve an increase in the local recycling rate from the current 10 percent to 90 percent in the future.

Through the business the company conducts, it will achieve a sustainable, friendly environment; while reducing both air, ground, and water pollution, the company also aims to increase the volume of fish grown in Saudi Arabia from around 30,000 to 600,000 tons per year. It also plans on entering international markets, especially the Indian and Chinese markets, in the future. Such plans are based on the high, constantly increasing demand of such markets, caused by the constant rise in population and living standards in these countries.

Through this business, the company looks forward to achieving many of the Kingdom's 2030 Vision objectives, in addition to those of the United Nations Sustainability Development Initiative.

This piece was originally published in, and translated from, Asharq Al-Awsat.

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