RIYADH: The National Fisheries Development Program plans to attract more than $4 billion in foreign and local investment into the Saudi fishing industry as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 program aimed at diversifying the economy.
The man responsible for making this happen over the next eight years is NFPD CEO Dr. Ali Al-Shaikhi. His organization is mandated by the government to develop the country’s seafood industry, strengthen food security and increase agricultural exports.
Al-Shaikhi told Arab News: “It was an idea that turned into an initiative in 2010. A steering committee has engaged KPMG to study the potential of the Kingdom’s seafood sector.
“The committee also visited many countries to study aquaculture, and they put the potential production of Saudi seafood at more than one million tons. A market study revealed that the consumption of seafood per capita was less than 50% of the world average – 11 kilos instead of 24.
“Four years later, the committee’s report set out a clear strategy: to improve our aquaculture production facilities and increase production capacity. This was approved by the Royal Court, which assigned a program to implement the strategy.
Al-Shaikhi joined the NFPD in 2017 after serving in the National Aquaculture Group and Almarai Food Company
He said, “The NFDP works with government and the private sector. We have a very good team and we have evolved quickly.
“We are focused on creating jobs, protecting local markets, and improving and promoting our seafood industry.”
He added, “We are preparing the investment platform. We have spent close to SR300 million ($80 million) in the last three years on research alone – conducting feasibility studies, measuring environmental impacts, identifying the right species to grow, calculating consumption rates food, etc.
“We have established fish and fish feed hatcheries and are developing feed processing techniques. Once all of these critical elements are in place, the investor or farmer will have all the knowledge required and can focus solely on production.
“Now we are working with the private sector to achieve our goals. We identify investment opportunities and facilitate and accelerate investment in terms of new regulations and government support. »
Fishing is a centuries-old tradition in the Gulf, but aquaculture — the farming, harvesting and artificial processing of marine products — is an increasingly “smart” industry that requires a range of specialized skills. How is Saudi Arabia preparing to meet this challenge?
“Currently, more than 3,000 Saudi technicians are employed in our aquaculture sector,” Al-Shaikhi said. “We do not yet have any aquaculture-specific university colleges in Saudi Arabia, so we will help young Saudis to study aquaculture abroad.
“We are launching an initiative to develop a hundred [citizens] as leaders in aquaculture – with 70 percent of funds coming from the private sector and 30 percent from government.
“And we have just signed an agreement with a local academic institution to train 3,000 Saudis for the aquaculture and fisheries sector. Foreign academics are coming, so we will have knowledge transfer from them as well as from international governments. with whom we cooperate.
Al-Shaikhi noted, “Aquaculture is one of the fastest growing areas in the food sector. Worldwide, it is increasing by 6% per year. It contributes to food security, job creation and rural development — and it’s environmentally and climate change sustainable.
“Aquaculture is one of the key things that will improve the quality of life in many countries, and of course we want that to happen in Saudi Arabia.”