The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the largest Arab country located in Western Asia. It is bordered in the west by the Red Sea, and by the Persian Gulf in the east. Saudi Arabia’s population is over 28 million, and the name of its capital is Riyadh. There are hundreds of thousands of foreign workers in the country. The Kingdom has the world’s second largest oil reserves and the world’s sixth largest natural gas reserves. Saudi Arabia has well-developed infrastructure, and is globally considered as one of the few fast growing countries with high per capita income. The Kingdom has been a generous donor for several multi-lateral development organizations. The cities of Mecca and Medina, which are considered as holiest Islamic cities are located in Saudi Arabia, and as such, the country enjoys an extreme respect among the Muslims all over the world.
The Kingdom is administratively divided into 13 provinces. Each province has a capital, which enjoys the status of municipality and is headed by a mayor. Provinces are sub-divided into 118 governorates, which are further sub-divided into sub-governorates.
Saudi Arabia’s landscape comprises vast deserts, dry mountains, a central plateau, shrubs, and patches of fertile land in oases and basins. There are no permanent rivers or lakes. The climate is typically desert, with extremely high temperatures during the day and very low during the night. Yearly rainfall is nominal, but lately some deadly flash floods caused by heavy rains have been observed.
Although Saudi Arabia’s economy is essentially petroleum-based, the government has spent billions of dollars on developing and modernizing its agricultural sector in spite of desert conditions and severe water constraint. Although at great expense yet some truly impressive agricultural breakthroughs have been made in the Kingdom. The country that was importing most of its food till 1977, not only achieved self-sufficiency in food, but also started exporting commodities like wheat, dates, watermelon, poultry, fresh eggs and milk. That does not mean, however, that all food and beverage imports, which reportedly run in billions of dollars, have been totally halted. Major crops grown in Saudi Arabia include cereals (wheat, sorghum, barley and millet), vegetables (tomato, watermelon, eggplant, potato, cucumber and onions), fruits (dates, citrus and grapes), and the forage crop of alfalfa. Recently, some initiatives have been taken to promote organic agriculture. Exceptionally high expenditure incurred on enormous agricultural interventions in the Saudi Arabia’s desert eco-system and their long-term environmental impact remain a cause of concern for economists and environmentalists, underlining the need for vigilant monitoring and meaningful evaluation studies.
Key Statistics and Indicators
Agricultural land (sq. km)
Agricultural land (% of land area)
Arable land (hectares)
Arable land (% of land area)
Arable land (hectares per person)
Fertilizer consumption (kg per hectare of arable land)
Agriculture, value added (% of GDP)
Food production index (2004-2006 = 100)
Food exports (% of merchandise exports)
Food imports (% of merchandise imports)
GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$)
Literacy rate, adult total (% of people ages 15 and above)
Literacy rate, youth female (% of females ages 15-24)
Literacy rate, youth male (% of males ages 15-24)
Ratio of young literate females to males (% ages 15-24)
Ratio of female to male secondary enrollment (%)
Mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people)
Internet users (per 100 people)
Population density (people per sq. km of land area)
Rural population (% of total population)
Agricultural population (% of total population)*
Total economically active population
Total economically active population in agriculture*
Total economically active population in agriculture (in %
of total economically active population)
Female economically active population in agriculture (% of
total economically active population in agriculture)*
History of Extension and the Enabling Environment
The history of agricultural extension in Saudi Arabia is basically tied with the country’s agricultural development and establishment of relevant institutions. In ancient times, agriculture comprised the farming of dates and some vegetables in widely scattered oases and in a tiny strip of coastal land in the southwest. The small-scale farming fulfilled local communities’ food needs while any extra production was sold to passing caravans. Armed camel raisers depended on this food, and the Bedouins obtained some of their necessities through tribute in return for their protection of farmers and craftspeople. Terracing has been practiced since long in the mountain areas of the southwestern region for capturing rain water and soil conservation purposes. The city of Al Kharj, which has reddish sand to the north and the Rub Al-Khali, the largest sand desert in the world, has impressed the visitors for centuries by its vibrant farms and groves of date palm trees flourishing in its fertile soil, irrigated by a network of deep ponds and natural aquifers. This location, which has now become the center of modern agriculture in Saudi Arabia, has been providing since long the products like flour, cheese, yoghurt, eggs, vegetables, dates, watermelon and meat to the dwellers of neighboring cities like Riyadh.
In 1963, the Saudi Arabian Agricultural Bank (SAAB) was established with the mandate of providing loans and subsidies for agricultural projects, farm machinery and other production requirements. In 1965, a College of Agriculture was established at Riyadh University (renamed as King Saud University in 1982), in Buraydah. The same year, another College of Agriculture was founded, at King Saud University, located in Riyadh. Both of these colleges started offering academic degree programs in various agricultural disciplines. The colleges also undertook agricultural research activities.
The 1968 Public Lands Distribution Ordinance allocated 5 to 100 hectares of fallow land to individuals at no cost, up to 400 hectares to companies and organizations, and up to 4,000 hectares for special projects. The land recipients were required to develop a minimum of 25 per cent of the land within two- to five-year period to earn full ownership. This led to the expansion of the cultivated area from 435,000 hectares in 1980 to more than 1.5 million hectares in 1990.
In 1972, the Grain Silos and Flour Mills Organization (GSFMO) was established in Riyadh. In 1975, King Faisal University was founded along with a College of Agriculture and Food Sciences and a College of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Resources at Hofuf. These colleges started academic degree programs in various disciplines. Research in agricultural disciplines was also carried out.
In the late 1970’s and early 1980s, the government embarked on an ambitious, multifaceted program aimed at modernizing its agricultural sector. Huge subsidies and interest-free loans were given to individuals and private companies as incentive for reclaiming the land for raising crops and livestock. Dams and drainage systems were constructed to capture water. New crops and varieties, sophisticated technologies and modern farm machinery were introduced. Rural areas were electrified and green house industry was promoted. About 7,273 special agricultural projects covered about 860,000 hectares.
Sometime during the 1970s, the government established a formal public agricultural extension service within the then Ministry of Agriculture and Water. The provision of free-of-charge extension services were provided to the farmers through a national and several provincial general directorates for agricultural affairs. Agricultural extension agents have Bachelor’s degrees in agriculture.
The Seventh Saudi Development Plan (2000-2004) emphasized several specific areas for development. One of the areas emphasized was the intensification of agricultural extension programs to raise awareness among farmers regarding the significance of water conservation.
In 2009, the Qassim Agriculture Research Center was converted into the first Organic Agriculture Research Center in Saudi Arabia. The mandate of the new center is to deliver advice on organic agriculture to a broad farming community, and to provide farm-based consultancy. In the Ninth Saudi Development Plan (2010-2014), the objectives for the agricultural sector are mentioned as follows:
- Enhance the role of agriculture in the process of socio-economic development
- Improve efficiency of utilization of natural resources to achieve sustainable agricultural development
- Increase the size of investments in agricultural activities abroad
- Boost regional and international cooperation in agriculture
- Maintain, develop and diversify fisheries resources
In 2013, the government’s Agricultural Development Fund launched a seven-point initiative, with the expectation of changing the whole face of country’s agricultural sector. The initiative includes the establishment of an agricultural information center, emphasis on water conservation in irrigation except for wheat and fodder, the establishment of an entity for handling and marketing vegetables and fruit and another entity for fish, cooperative insurance for livestock sector along with poultry, marketing of dates, and a cattle breeding company.
In terms of financial and technical assistance for developing the agricultural sector in Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom has not received any financial assistance, but has provided its own funds to bi-lateral and multi-lateral organizations and development agencies for obtaining technical assistance. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has designed and implemented several Saudi-funded projects in the Kingdom in technical areas such as strengthening of agricultural training, animal diseases and vaccine production, irrigation water management, integrated plant health management, sustainable management of natural forests and rangelands, horticulture, olive production and processing, etc. FAO also received a Saudi allocation of $66.7 million in 2012 to implement technical assistance projects in the Kingdom. Similarly, GIZ provided technical assistance in the area of organic agriculture. Saudi Arabia is a generous, regular donor for organizations like International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Islamic Development Bank (IDB), Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Fund for International Development and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)
Major Institutions Providing Extension/Advisory Services
The Ministry of Agriculture
The Ministry of Agriculture has an elaborate network of centers, branches and facilities located across the country that provide various agriculture-related services to the farmers and other stakeholders in line with the mandate of the Ministry. The network comprises the following:
- 13 General Directorates for Agricultural Affairs, located in main provinces.
- 12 Directorates.
- 119 Branches.
- 26 agricultural plant and animal quarantines.
- 13 veterinary units.
- Seven (7) agricultural research centers.
- 13 centers and branches for fisheries services.
- National Research Center for Combating Locusts.
- A veterinary vaccine production center.
- Four (4) agricultural training centers.
- Eight (8) veterinary laboratories.
- Six (6) national parks.
The Ministry of Agriculture has overall responsibility for providing public agricultural extensions services to the farmers. The Extension and Agricultural Services Division , located in the Directorate of Agriculture and Water, performs this function in collaboration with the extension staff located in the Provincial General Directorates for Agricultural Affairs. No information on the number of agricultural extension staff is readily available, but there are seemingly hundreds of field extension workers as noticed from the reports of various research studies on agricultural extension conducted by universities.
Universities in Saudi Arabia do not provide direct agricultural extension services to the farmers, but they do play an important role in preparing future agricultural professionals including that in extension, and through occasional in-service training of the extension staff. They are also involved in agricultural research, and also serve on various government bodies on agricultural development. The following public academic institutions of higher learning offer academic degree programs in agricultural and livestock sciences:
King Saud University (KSU), Riyadh
KSU was founded in 1957, but the university’s College of Food and Agriculture was not established until 1965. The College has an Agricultural Extension and Community Development Center, and is the only institution in the Kingdom that offers Master’s degree program in agricultural extension and rural society. The college produces printed agricultural extension materials like leaflets and bulletins that may be used by the field extension staff. The College organizes short training courses for the extension staff. The KSU also has a College of Food and Environment Technology (CFET) , located at Buraydah.
King Faisal University (KFU), Hofuf, Al-Hasa
KFU was founded in 1975 along with four scientific colleges, and two of them were College of Agriculture and Food Sciences, and College of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Husbandry, both located at the main campus in Al-Hasa.
Qassim University, Al-Qassim
The Qassim University was established in 2004. It has a College of Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences
Agriculture-related research institutions
Although no research institute in Saudi Arabia provides direct agricultural extension services to the farmers yet they are important in terms of technology generation and transfer, and serving on development organizations. Many institutions’ work directly relates to agricultural development, and some of them do perform extension-related activities. The main agriculture-related research institutions in the Kingdom are as follows:
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)
founded in 2009; located in Thuwal; mission involves research, education and economic development; economic development programs include KAUST Industry Collaboration Program (KICP), Research Park and Innovation Cluster (RPIC), Technology Transfer and Innovation (TTI), New Ventures and Entrepreneurship (NVE), Technology Application and Advancement Group (TAAG), and Policy and Strategy (P&S).
Plant Stress Genomics Research Center (PSGR)
located within the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology; conducts studies on mechanisms by which plants are able to tolerate salt and drought conditions, and create greater understanding of these mechanisms in order to increase the percentage of total arable land and permanent crop land.
Prince Sultan’s Center for Environment, Water and the Desert (PSCEWD)
established in 1986; located in Riyadh within King Saud University; conducts research studies related to arid areas, environment, water, and the desert; active in environmental application of remote sensing technologies.
King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST)
established in 1977 originally as Saudi Arabian National Center for Science and Technology; located in Riyadh; comprises seven institutes and 26 research centers including National Center for Water Research, Technology Development Center, National Center for Biotechnology, National Center for Agricultural Technologies and National Center for Environmental Technology.
Agricultural Research and Experimental Station (ARES)
a part of the King Saud University’s College of Food and Agriculture; founded in 1976; located near Riyadh; involved in agricultural research, extension and training activities.
The agricultural modernization initiative of the Saudi government has actively involved the private sector from the very beginning. Two main public institutions that have been playing an important role in promoting commercial agriculture are the Grain Silos and Flour Mills Organization (GSFMO), created in 1972, and the Saudi Arabian Agricultural Bank (SAAB), established in 1963. The encouragement of large-scale mechanized agriculture was mentioned in the Third Saudi Development Plan as a priority for investment in the Kingdom’s efforts to induce structural change in the economy. The positive investment response from the private sector to a high level of government support exceeded even the high expectations of the Plan. Substantial funds were channeled to agriculture, motivated by almost guaranteed profits, particularly in activities like wheat production. Many large-scale farms were established that used the latest technology, machinery and equipment.
The government has also signed partnership agreements with commercial companies in certain countries, such as with AgriNurture, Inc. in the Philippines for commercial plantation of pineapple, banana, rice and corn, along with processing facilities. The Saudi Star Agricultural Development Company is growing 10,000 hectares of rice in Gambella, Ethiopia. Saudi Arabia is also organizing the 33rd International Agriculture, Water and Agro-Industry Trade Show from 7-10 September, 2014 at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center (RICEC), an event which is considered as the Middle East’s largest agriculture show.
Most commercial farming operations, including manual labor on farms, in Saudi Arabia are run by foreign workers. Managers of commercial farms use their own sources for obtaining technical information and advice locally or from overseas. Although there are virtually hundreds of private companies in the country involved in various aspects of agriculture, yet none of them provides extension and advisory services to the Saudi farmers. Their operations are strictly run on business lines mostly by foreign employees. Example of a big Saudi company is as follows:
- Hail Agricultural Development Company (HADCO)
engaged in the production of agricultural and animal products, including wheat, alfalfa, yellow corn, dates, grapes, chicken, poultry feed and animal feed; has eight branches in Saudi Arabia; also has an organic fertilizer plant and processing plants for dates, olive oil and meat; exports various varieties of dates to the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Turkey.
Names and locations of some other companies randomly selected from a list of 1,316 agricultural companies http://www.saudiayp.com/category/Agriculture for the sake of giving examples are as follows:
- Agricultural Development Company, Nazlah, Jeddah.
- Al Akhawain Company, Riyadh.
- Ahmed H Al Saleem Agriculture Est., Unaiyza, Qassim.
- Al Othman Agricultural Production and Manufacturing Company, Mubarraz, Alhasa.
- AlSanie Agriculture Investment, Riyadh.
- Baghanem Agricultural Nursery, Nazlah, Jeddah.
- Green Crown for Agricultural and Veterinary Service Est., Al Khobar.
- Hamed Al Aberi Agricultural Equipment Est., Sulaymaniyah, Jeddah.
- Khalifah Agricultural Est., Hail.
There is only a handful number of NGOs in Saudi Arabia. They are engaged in non-agricultural activities, and depend on government funding. Examples of such NGOs are Arab Amateur Athletic Federation, Arab Bureau of Education for Gulf States, Arab Handball Confederation, Federation of GCC Chambers, and Asia Amateur Swimming Federation. No NGO is presently involved in agricultural extension type activities.
Farmers-based associations, cooperatives and societies
As the Saudi government generously supports its farmers in all aspects of agriculture, there are not many farmers-based organizations or agricultural cooperatives. Examples of two currently active and one potential associations are:
- Saudi Organic Farming Association (SOFA) www.sofa.org.sa/english/ : founded in 2007 with the assistance of GIZ; although enjoying a private and non-profit organization status, it works under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture; represents organic farmers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and importers; presently has 142 members.
- Al-Butain Agricultural Cooperative Association (BACA): founded in 1987 in Buraydah City of Al-Qassim region; registered with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs; has 246 members; offers a variety of services such as supply of inputs, farm machinery maintenance, marketing of products, and the provision of field, administrative and technical consulting services to the member farmers.
- Association for Livestock Farmers: According to an announcement made by the Minister of Agriculture in September 2012, the formation of the association was awaiting the approval of the Council of Ministers. There is no information available on its present status.
List of Extension Providers
The following list shows an excerpt from the GFRAS Directory of Extension Providers for Saudi Arabia. Some of these entries may be specially marked for having more detailed information in the database of the Worldwide Extension Study WWES.
Training Options for Extension Professionals
Pre-service education in agricultural, livestock and veterinary medicines and fisheries may be pursued at any of the universities mentioned earlier in a previous section. King Saud University offers both undergraduate and graduate programs in agricultural extension. Extension staff may receive in-service training at the following institutions:
- Agricultural Extension and Community Development Center at the College of Food and Agriculture, King Saud University, located in Riyadh.
- Agricultural Training Centers, located in various provinces such as Riyadh, Al-Qassim, Al-Hofuf and Jizan.
- Agricultural research stations located in various parts of the country.
- Private companies such as Hail Agricultural Development Company.
Info-mediaries and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Agriculture and Extension
According to the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, with over 27 million consumers and a number of global enterprises, Saudi Arabia is the largest ICT market in the Middle East. The Kingdom’s telecommunications and information technology industries represent over 55 per cent and 51 per cent of the total Middle East markets respectively. In spite of this, the Saudi IT market remains relatively under-developed. The official launching of the Internet services in the country was done in 1999. According to the World Bank, in 2012, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people) in Saudi Arabia was 184.67. During the same year, the number of Internet users (per 100 people) in the Kingdom was 54.
The government is keen to develop its ICT sector. A comprehensive study has been conducted on the state of ICT market development in Saudi Arabia. The country has embarked on a 20-year ICT plan that will support widespread technology and telecommunications adoption across the Kingdom’s households and enterprises. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has been providing assistance for the introduction of various e-initiatives in the government.
There is no evidence of any specific application of ICT in agricultural extension apart from radio and television programs or the use of IT equipment in training. In 2011, a study was conducted on the use of computers by agricultural extension workers in Riyadh and Qassim regions of Saudi Arabia. The study identified the following major obstacles to the use of computers: a lack of computers; non-availability of computers at the workplace; lack of incentives from the management; lack of knowledge of computer operation; lack of interest in learning about the computers; difficulties due to poor knowledge of the English language; lack of training programs; technically weak training programs; and low technical level of trainers.
Resources and References
Al-Hazmi, A.S. 1997. Plant Nematode Problems and their Control in the Near East Region: Saudi Arabia. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Al-Shayaa, M.S., M.S. Al Shenifi, and H.S. Al Abdu Al Hadi. 2011. Constraints to use computers among agricultural extension workers in Riyadh and Qassim regions of Saudi Arabia. The Journal of Animal & Plant Sciences, 21 (2): 2011, Pp. 264-268.
Al-Shayaa, M.S., M.B. Baig, and G.S. Straquadine. 2012. Agricultural extension in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: difficult present and demanding future. The Journal of Animal & Plant Sciences, 22 (1): 2012, Pp. 239-246.
Al-Subaiee, S.S.F., E.P. Yoder, and J.S. Thomson. 2005. Extension agents’ perceptions of sustainable agriculture in the Riyadh region of Saudi Arabia. Journal of International Agricultural and Extension Education, Volume 12, Number 1, Pp. 5-14.
Al-Turbak, A.S. (no date; probably 2000). Introduction [of] efficient use of rainwater in irrigation in Southwestern Saudi Arabia. Riyadh: Department of Civil Engineering, King Saud University.
Asiry, K.A., S.S.M. Hassan, and M.M. AlRashidi. 2013. Factors affecting agricultural sustainability- a case study of Hail region, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Asian Journal of Agriculture and Rural Development, 3 (10) 2013: Pp. 674-687.
Bakri, M.S. (no date). Effect of Relationship between Agricultural Extension Agents and Wheat Farmers in Medina Region, Saudi Arabia, on the Adoption of Appropriate Wheat Production Practices: A Summary Report of Research Department Information Bulletin 91-3. College Station, Texas: Department of Agricultural Education, Texas A & M University.
Clean Development Mechanism, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.2010. Agriculture Sector in Saudi Arabia [a short information sheet] .
Communications and Information Technology Commission, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (November, 2013). ICT Indicators Report; Q3-2013.
FAO (1999). Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Agricultural Census 1999 – Main results. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Hartmann, M., S. Khalil, T. Bernet, F. Ruhland, and A. Al Ghamdi. 2012. Organic Agriculture in Saudi Arabia. Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (German Society for International Cooperation - GIZ; Saudi Organic Farming Association (SOFA); Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL); Ministry of Agriculture of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Khan, G.A. 2013. Pioneering Saudi farm techniques bear fruit. Article published in the Arab News on 23 September 2013.
Lawton, J. 1978. Farming in the Sand. Saudi ARAMCO World, Volume 29, Number 3, May/June 1978.
Ministry of Economy and Planning, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 2010. Brief Report on the Ninth Development Plan; 1431/32-1435/36 (2010-2014).
Salter, B. (no date). Al Kharj: The agri capital of Saudi. Articles – Tawasol.
Zaharani, K.H., M.S. Al-Shayaa, and M.B. Baig. 2011. Water conservation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for better environment: implications for extension and education. Bulgarian Journal of Agricultural Science, 17 (No. 3) 2011, Pp. 389-395.
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- Authored by M. Kalim Qamar (January 2014)
- Edited by Burton E. Swanso