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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - MAKKAH: Saudi businesswoman Zulekha Al-Kaabi has started a banana farm in Damad, in Jazan, southern Saudi Arabia, with more than 100,000 banana trees that offer an annual production of 20 tons.
“These projects guarantee local sufficiency, in addition to creating economic balance,” Al-Kaabi told Arab News, adding that the projects are similar to banana plantations in Ecuador but are cultivated by Saudi hands.
Her project was launched a year ago, and the part of it that is cultivated now occupies about 500,000 square meters. “The project focuses on the cultivation of bananas and papayas. The bananas are the usual yellow ones, but we also grow red bananas.”
She pointed out that red bananas will be produced in about two months, and preparations are being made to cultivate blue bananas later.
“Bananas are harvested when they are green. After the filling stage, they are placed in cooling refrigerators for 24 hours before they are sprayed with ethylene gas for another 24 hours,” she explained. “The gas aids the ripening process. The bananas are then cooled until they turn yellow.”
She pointed out that previously, there used to be large pits in which banana leaves were placed. Bananas would then be placed in the leaves and covered until the next day to provide appropriate temperatures and gas for ripening. “However, this method is not necessary now in light of industrial progress,” she said.
Banana cultivation has an excellent economic return, Al-Kaabi explained, as the tropical fruits are produced on a daily basis over the course of six months, with profits of up to SR 12 million ($3.2 million) annually.
Al-Kaabi said that her travels around the world and experiences in aquaculture refined her economic thinking.
After successfully growing strawberries on a farm in Makkah, she determined that bananas would be the best product to cultivate now, adding that the climate of Jazan is similar to that of Kenya and Uganda.
One of the businesswoman’s biggest challenges in initiating her project was the lack of organization on farms, in addition to the limited opportunities for Saudis — from farming to sales outlets — due to the presence of foreign workers.
She has leased a large area in Jazan over a period of 20 years, where every tree and tool on the farms will be granted to the farm owners at the end of the period, along with packaging factories, production lines and machines.
Al-Kaabi’s goal is not only financial revenue. She also seeks to serve all farmers in Jazan “as they sell their products below the average rate and cannot offset their losses, while those same products are sold for huge sums.”
She currently has her name and logo printed on boxes.
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