How small-scale farmers in Saudi Arabia are preserving a cultural treasure

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How small-scale farmers in Saudi Arabia are preserving a cultural treasure

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes
© Jihad Al-Jazayerli

Saudi coffee beans are a cornerstone of Arabian coffee culture. Prized for their light roast and golden hue, they are traditionally offered to guests with cardamom or ginger as a sign of respect.

But in the mountains of south-eastern Saudi Arabia, where the beans have been grown for centuries, climate change is taking its toll. Droughts have become more frequent, threatening the livelihoods of coffee-growing communities.

Despite the challenging conditions, small-scale farmer Hassan Ali Yahya Al-Ezzi has built a thriving coffee farm with the right support.

Preserving a family's legacy

For Hassan, coffee cultivation is not just a livelihood: it's a cherished tradition handed down through generations. From a young age, he watched and learned as his parents and grandparents tended diligently to their land.

When they relocated and the land fell into neglect, Hassan never stopped believing in the family farm – and his passion for coffee cultivation never faded. That's why when he got the opportunity to return and revive the barren land, he didn't think twice before taking it.

Through the Reimbursable Technical Assistance (RTA) project – a joint initiative of IFAD and the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture – he received 150 coffee seedlings. He was also supplied with a shade net and what is known as a fertigation system, whereby plants are given dissolved fertilizer through an irrigation system.

Saudi coffee beans are grown by small-scale farmers in the country’s mountainous Jazan province. © Jihad Al-Jazayerli

Making each drop go further

The RTA project supports coffee and mango farmers across Jazan province, where agricultural productivity is increasingly under threat. Crucially, it optimizes the use of scarce water resources – in Hassan's case, a groundwater tank secures his farm's success.

Even when severe drought struck the year after he started farming, Hassan was able to make it through to the rainy season thanks to the tank. Once filled with rain, the reservoir allowed him to double his coffee tree count and harvest 300 kg of beans.

Hassan also received training in harvesting and agronomic techniques to tackle a wide range of challenges. Now, he's sharing his knowledge with neighbouring farmers, inspiring them to revitalize their own land like he did.

A young farmer in Jazan province tends to his coffee plant, protected by a shade net. © Jihad Al-Jazayerli

Pride in tradition brings prosperity

Saudi coffee cultivation is woven into the cultural fabric of Jazan, and Hassan wants to ensure it remains so. When they're not at school, Hassan's children join him on the farm, learning the time-honored tradition from their father like he did from his own parents.

And Hassan hopes the land they inherit will be even more fruitful than it is now. With the RTA project's support, he aspires to cultivate the remaining land, transforming the entire farm into a green and productive space.

His story demonstrates the motivating power of tradition for sustainable rural development. The cultural significance of coffee farming in Jazan transcends economic value: it's a national treasure that farmers feel proud to pass on to future generations.