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RIYADH: A renaissance in almond cultivation is taking root along the scenic route between Taif and Baha, marking the revival of a practice deeply embedded in the cultural fabric of this part of Saudi Arabia.

Fahd Al-Zahrani, director of the local branch of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, said almonds are once again a common sight in the landscape.

“Almond cultivation has spread to several areas, including Baha, Baljurashi, Al-Mandaq, Bani Hassan and Al-Qura,” he said.

There is a growing demand for products derived from almonds, including butter, sweets and ice cream, says the expert. (SPA)

Almonds, members of the Rosaceae family, are mainly grown on agricultural terraces in the Sarawat Mountains, he added. They cover about 67 hectares there and are considered an alternative crop in the region.

“The average yield is 1 ton of green fruit per 3.6 hectares,” Al-Zahrani told the Saudi Press Agency. He said the ministry is offering investment opportunities in two “almond cities” covering an area of ​​more than 1.5 million square meters and working to improve farmers’ skills through workshops.

It supports the growth and sustainability of tree farms through initiatives such as an organic farming program and Saudi Reef, also known as the Sustainable Agricultural Rural Development Program, which supports environmental sustainability and agricultural diversification, supporting the development of rural communities and efforts to obtain food. Security.

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Almonds hold a special place in Saudi society, where offering nuts to guests is seen as an expression of generosity and high respect for visitors.

Fawaz Al-Thaqafi, a third-generation almond farmer who recently attended the My Country Grains and Almonds Festival in Al-Mandaq, shared some insights into this burgeoning industry.

“Our century-old almonds produce some of the best quality almonds,” he told SPA.

The cultivation process, while rewarding, is not without its challenges, he added. Farmers battle pests such as the almond fly, which can kill the tree’s fruit, and threats from local wildlife, especially monkeys.

The trees require constant care and attention throughout the almond’s life cycle, from white flowers in February to mature nuts in July. By July, the almonds are firm and in a stage known as ‘labab’, during which people often consume the fruit before it is fully ripe, when it is called ‘qadim’.

Al-Thaqafi spoke of his family’s three-generation heritage of almond farming and the depth of knowledge passed down over the years. He said every aspect of almond farming, from planting to harvesting, is a lifelong learning process and described the intricate process of cracking open almond shells, known locally as ‘ghadarif’. a task that requires patience and continuous effort.

Different types of almonds are grown in the region, he added, including sweet, bitter and other mountain varieties. Of particular interest is a rare Al-Thaqafi variety called “type T”. It’s grown under specific conditions, he said, resulting in a distinctive flavor profile and superior quality.

Its orchard consists of more than 400 trees, including 300 almonds, and plans to expand it to more than 1,000 trees by 2028, given the growing demand for almond-derived products, including butter, sweets and ice cream, in local and international turn. consumers.

Nadia Said Al-Zahrani, a food and nutrition specialist at Al-Baha University, praised local farmers for their efforts to diversify their almond products, moving into the production of products such as organic almond butter and tahini.

She highlighted the health benefits of almonds, which are full of monounsaturated fats, fiber, protein, magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc, and essential vitamins like E and K.

“Almonds are also rich in biologically active compounds such as flavonoids, contributing to numerous health benefits, including improving immunity, preventing cancer, bone health, wound healing, supporting kidney function, and lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels Al-Zahrani added.

Every year, the almond blossom paints a panoramic picture that captivates the onlookers as it spreads across the mountain slopes. The spectacle, akin to scattered pearls, begins to emerge in the waning days of winter.

A single almond can produce about 200 kilograms of nuts each season. In Baha, the price of a bag of almonds ranges from SR 300-500 ($80-133), with some varieties commanding even higher prices.

The market follows a predictable seasonal pattern: prices rise at the beginning of the season, fall in the middle, then rise again as the harvest draws to a close. Almonds from the area are very popular, attracting buyers from all over the Kingdom and beyond.

Almonds hold a special place in Saudi culture, often presented as a gesture of hospitality. Offering almonds to guests is seen as an expression of generosity and a symbol of the esteemed position visitors hold in Saudi society.

Baha owes its soil fertility to abundant water resources and a moderate, temperate climate throughout the year. The almond tree, known for its resistance to a variety of climatic conditions and low water requirements, is particularly suitable for Baha because its production season aligns with the rainy season in mountainous regions in late winter.

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