Layan Faisal Al Saud, Head of Solutions Mapping, UNDP Accelerator Lab
Jazan Development Trip – Celebrating Agricultural Knowledge and Progressing for Future Generations
June 18, 2023
The UNDP Saudi Arabia’s Accelerator Lab has partnered with Balad AlKhieer Endowment Foundation to support raising awareness on social solidarity, address local development challenges, and enhance sustainable development.
As part of this partnership, the Saudi Accelerator Lab has joined the “Development Trips” initiative. These trips include visiting different regions in Saudi Arabia to better understand what their contributions are in terms of development and sustainability and to document and learn from the abundance of local knowledge and efforts made in each region. The participants in these trips come from a variety of sectors and are brought together by a shared interest in sustainable development.
In December 2022, I joined the Jazan Development Trip to have a better understanding of how governmental entities and local communities are taking positive steps toward developing their region, especially in the fields of rural tourism and agriculture. One of the organizing partners of this trip was Hyaak, which is a local tourism platform whose founding partners include two sisters from Al-Ahsa. Hyaak has won the first place in the third round of the Tourism Trailblazers Program held by the Ministry of Tourism.
Our first stop was the Jazan Heritage Village, a touristic destination funded by businessmen aiming to give visitors a full experience of the different, natural terrains and architecture of Jazan in one spot. What drew me were the shops dedicated to local craftswomen. While speaking with these productive women, several patterns stood out. Many of those craftswomen expressed that their reason for going into this field was to provide a source of income for their families, especially with the “absence of a partner’s support”. These women were able to be more financially independent by using their aptitude and skills to make and sell local crafts that appeal to visitors. For instance, Om Maki started selling crafts and food spices 10 years ago to provide a stable income for her and her family after the passing of her husband, while Om Elshoyoukh has learned the skills of creating oud and bukhour incense from her mother, and further enhanced these skills by joining several trainings in Saudi Arabia and abroad, which gave her the capacity to train others in order to benefit and support a larger number of women. Currently, she has conducted about 15 training sessions with at least 10 trainees per session. We were also introduced to the wedding customs and preparations for the Jazani bride by Salon 3 Sisters, which is a family-owned business led by female members. Huda Ahmad, a female entrepreneur at the Salon, explained how they learned the tradition of using local flowers during wedding ceremonies from their mother and how they modernized that tradition.
In addition to the driven and vibrant craftswomen, we met with Afrah AlFeqaihy, who is an adventurous local tour guide aiming to change the stereotypical perspective of women who wear niqab like herself and demonstrate that they are capable of doing anything, whether it be climbing mountains, camping, or engaging in other adventures activities. Another local tour guide who is taking the lead in Jazan is Sara AlMalki. Sara is passionate about the development of her community through the promotion of agritourism and supporting rural women. She started her initiatives on her own and eventually became a program manager at Refana, which is a cooperative agritourism and rural association. She also manages rural inns in Jazan and creates accompanying touristic experiences.
We also met with members of the Association of Jasmine and Aromatic Plants, including the chairman, Mohammad AlHobany. The Association, which officially became a cooperative association after three years of individual efforts, aims to unify farmers’ efforts and promote farming in the area by providing training sessions for the local community and other activities, such as creating floral accessories and other products by local craftsmen and women. Our local tour guide shared that although jasmine and aromatic plants do not have as high of an economic value as other resources (such as coffee grains), Jazanis continue to treasure them due to their social and cultural value as they are a part of the local traditional weddings and the traditional costume.
Jazanis are truly proud of their farming roots. “I am a farmer, a son of a farmer who’s a son of a farmer,” one local described. We visited local farmer and chemist, Ahmad Jibran AlMalki, who was also proud of his farming background, introducing himself as “a teaching farmer and a farming teacher”. He has a family initiative which aims to develop farming and make products from coffee and honey. His family are engaged in this initiative in different ways. His daughter, for example, develops local products such as soaps, lip balms, and candles. He is also interested in agritourism as their farm (AlSherqa Farm) offers a full agricultural experience where spaces for workshops, tours, residence, and a farm lab are available. Ahmad described the core of his and his local community’s efforts as “developing talents and spreading the culture at the local level”.
During the trip, we also had the opportunity to see how local authorities are supporting the local capacities and capitalizing on the natural resources to develop the region. The Jazan Mountains Development Authority supports farmers and collaborates with universities and research centers in pursuing their mission. The Authority also offers spaces for experimentation and testing, such as testing soils that promote better growth, and then shares the results and insights with the local farmers. Moreover, it provides free coffee seedlings to local farmers to spread more awareness on coffee farming.
The importance of preserving traditions and celebrating the local culture was evident throughout the trip. There was also a palpable sense of community and pride in every location we visited. This trip allowed us to see how each part of the community, whether at an individual, association, or institution level, plays an essential role in sustainably developing the region and empowering the local communities. It was especially promising to witness the growth of family and women-owned businesses and female entrepreneurship in the region. All these positive local efforts should be documented and shared to encourage more development in the region and beyond.