Minister of Agriculture and Water Dr. Abdullah Ibn Abdul Aziz Ibn Mu'ammar recently reported that the agricultural sector, now one of the largest productive non-petroleum sectors in the Kingdom, benefits from sound scientific bases and the advantages derived from the experiences of leading agricultural countries, saying: "The Kingdom's agricultural development is entering a new phase with greater emphasis on studies, research and planning".
Highlighting the most important projects and the concern for conservation and the development of natural resources, Dr. Mu'ammar said that 184 dams have been constructed, with a total storage capacity of 775 million cubic meters, adding that no digging of wells is authorized without a license from the Ministry. As for desalination, Saudi Arabia produces almost one third of the world's desalinated water, with a capacity of 572 million gallons per day, produced in 24 plants run by the Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC), and providing 70 percent of the Kingdom's drinking water as well as contributing 3,600 megawatts of electricity, representing 30 percent of the total electric power requirements.
Turning to the Saudi government's efforts to conserve forestry and rangeland, Dr. Mu'ammar said there are not only national preserves for wild life but also 29 plant nurseries, which in 1995 produced a total of 850 million seedlings. Another 10 million seedlings have been planted as sand dune stabilizers.
Dr. Mu'ammar went on to praise the role of the Saudi Arabian Agricultural Bank, with 13 main offices and 57 branches, which encourages farmers to invest in agriculture and assists them with long, medium and short term interest-free loans. Up to the end of 1995, the Bank had extended a total of U.S. $ 7.5 billion. In addition, the Kingdom's policy towards agricultural subsidies and pricing supports now accounts for almost U.S. $ 3 billion. The government encourages in particular the planting and expanding of the production of certain crops that are of strategic or nutritional importance, such as wheat, dates, rice, corn, and millet. Also worthy of praise is the Grain Silo and Flour Mill Organization, which purchases, stores, and processes crops, as are the support services which offer guidance, training, pest control, and veterinary facilities.
The area of land now under cultivation in the Kingdom rose from 150,000 hectares in 1975 to 1.6 million hectares in 1995, and Saudi Arabia is now self-sufficient in wheat, dates, eggs and fresh milk, products which are also exported.