The Red Sea Project: A sustainable incubator of native flora

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RIYADH — "We want to provide locally sourced native seed for large-scale habitat enhancement, habitat restoration and revegetation projects within The Red Sea Project," said Chel Hauschildt, associate director - horticulture at TRSDC.

"Native plant materials are increasingly required for this type of project, particularly on public lands."

Native plants are particularly valuable and preferred as they are fully adapted to the climate and conditions around the Red Sea destination, both coastal and inland.

Additional desert-dwelling species may be included, after ensuring that any imported species will co-exist comfortably with the local flora and fauna.

The nursery that spans over one million square meters will grow predominantly native species, and will propagate groundcovers, plants, shrubs, trees, and palms to help meet the demand for over 15 million plants in the destination’s landscaping by project completion in 2030.

Masad Alfaidi is working with The Red Sea Development Company and was trained through its pioneering Red Sea Nursery Program, which began in September last year.

He has more than 9 years’ of experience working in local agricultural preserve areas, and now serves as a supervisor of the green houses and shed houses at the nursery.

"We collected 38,600 seeds of the Acacia Tortilis tree from the mountainous areas around Umluj, and we are currently growing 15,000 native plants in the nursery,” said Alfaidi.

Acacias are considered the most dominant tree species in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has 97 tree species altogether, with the genus Acacia containing the highest number at ten species.

They are considered one of the most important tree components of the desert wadis in the region and in the mountainous areas in Umluj, and central to the preservation of the delicate ecosystem.

The seeds were collected from the same region in which they will eventually be planted, and as such tend to have a similar genetic makeup as the native plants that occur throughout that region.

They are adapted to local climate and soil conditions, and so may have a better likelihood of establishing and surviving when planted as part of the project.

The Red Sea Nursery Program is led locally by NGO Sakan, Umluj Municipality, and the University of Tabuk, in partnership with TRSDC.

The Team of 44 Saudi employees were hired from Umluj and the surrounding communities and received comprehensive training and exposure to the industry-leading processes that are used in modern nurseries around the world today.

The team officially joined the business as full-time employees earlier this year when the nursery build was completed.

Typically, many young people in Umluj and the surrounding areas, have hands-on experience working on family owned farms.

They are drawing from this prior experience at the Red Sea nursery, with the project helping local farmers to take this practical home-based knowledge and apply it on a commercial scale.

The nursery is one of the largest in the region and is equipped with modern machinery and green houses, applying practices that are not usually found in homebased Saudi agricultural activities.

For the local hires, this training and experience is invaluable as they start their careers, with the modern approaches and technology applicable to other commercial entities and projects within the region and internationally.

“It’s a positive thing for me to have a team from Umluj. They have unique experience of how the plants grow in this region, purely from their own observations growing up in the area with access to farms and the surrounds.

“Their knowledge, combined with our international experience and work across Middle East nurseries has proved to be a successful strategy so far,” added Hauschildt.

Hauschildt is an Australian native with a career in landscaping, horticulture and Document and Process Engineering spanning more than three decades.

He spent the last 7 years focusing on native plants of the Middle East, and how these can be cultivated in nurseries and ultimately utilized within the landscaping industry.

Applying local knowledge on a commercial scale is allowing TRSDC to successfully operate the largest nursery in the Middle East in a truly sustainable fashion, providing training and job opportunities for those living in close proximity to the project.

It is cultivating plants in high volume for the project and potentially, in the future it will supply other projects too. Such initiatives will have a positive ripple effect that extends beyond a single organization, through the wider industry supply chain.

TRSDC will continue to create new growth prospects across multiple industries and sectors, and transfer much needed knowledge and know-how to the Kingdom. — SG


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