The Al Baydha Project is helping settled bedou develop an abundant desert community. "Greening the Desert" on steroids.
Introduction to Phase 1 of Al Baydha Project
Al Baydha is a 700 square kilometer area approximately 40 kilometers south of Makkah, with a settled population of nearly 5000 inhabitants. Citizens of Al Baydha face an impending collapse of their culture and way of life due to an imbalance between themselves and their environment. Economically, their two main activities are animal husbandry and cutting wood to be sold in Makkah, both of which depend entirely on the local ecology. Between their animals’ grazing and the woodcutting, Al Baydha has experienced large-scale degradation and rapid deforestation.
The deforestation has progressed enough that now the people must supplement their animals’ feed with imported barley and hay. As the deforestation continues, there will come a turning point where they can no longer afford to keep their flocks, and then they will have to move to the cities to seek work. If this happens, over the next two or three generations the local heritage will be lost.
Further, deforestation exacerbates the deadly floods of the rainy season, and leads to the loss of fertile desert soil through erosion.
2. Harvesting Water
The Al Baydha Project is implementing an alternative economic system that preserves the people’s heritage, enables them to stay on their land, and reestablishes balance between them and their environment. Moreover the people are being taught every aspect of the system so they can be self sufficient and continue once the project is over.
The foundation of the Al Baydha Project is a water system that uses low-tech earthworks to change flash floods into rivers. This system replenishes aquifers, enables desert agriculture, and eliminates the damage caused by flash floods to human and animal life, as well as to infrastructure. Because its main components are earthworks, the water system is simple to learn, and requires only the cost of labor, some machinery work for moving heavy rocks, and 3-5 years of irrigation. If correctly implemented the system can last for hundreds of years.
3. Desert Agriculture
The agricultural system of the Al Baydha Project builds on the water system to establish food forests that provide forage for the people’s flocks, as well as fruit, fuel, timber, honey, meat, medicine, herbs, mulch, and shade for the people. Rather than planting one or two crops, the project will plant entire ecosystems that can thrive without human intervention, but in which every plant is beneficial to people.
4. Dairy Production
Once the water and agricultural systems are in place, the Al Baydha Project will work with the people to establish a dairy company, selling traditional cheese and butter, but with uniform production, and good hygiene, branding, and marketing. Part of this dairy program will be introducing a new cross-breed of goat that produces more milk but is still suited to the climate. As a result, the people will be able to sustain themselves on skills they already have, and will preserve their culture of animal husbandry in a sustainable way. The project has asked the help of goat-breeding expert, Dr. Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, professor of animal genetics at King Faisal University, to help with establishing the breeding and dairy program.
5. Successful Test of Water System
The Al Baydha Project water systems were the first systems implemented on the demonstration site. This was in order to maximize preparation before the typical rain season in the area, and to develop past experience for future water system works in the Al Baydha Village Complex. The 65 check dams, and 15 kilometers of terraces were hand-build by the 34 locals who have been trained in the water system to date. In addition there are 7 kilometers of swales which were dug by excavator. The water system’s first test was a flash flood on 24 Muharram 1432. According to local tradition, this was the largest storm in nearly 20 years. 80% of the water system held completely in-tact, and water level analysis estimates the water system initially soaked up between 10 and 14 million liters of water on the 160,000 square meter site.
The Al-Baydha Project is a pilot project with immense implications for the people in al-Baydha, and enormous poten- tial for the rest of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This is an opportunity for The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to become an example to the world in sustainable development, to improve the lives of its poorest citizens, and to make the deserts green.
Benefits to the people of Al Baydha
• Increased employment in the short and long term.
• The dignity of independence and satisfaction from hard work.
• A more diverse economy that rejuvenates the environment, with marketable products ranging from cheese to honey to incense to education and consulting on similar projects.
• Rising water levels in the aquifers and wells.
• Fewer losses to flash floods.
• Small-scale food independence.
• A second chance for adults to get schooling and vocational training.
• Reclamation of native traditions and heritage.
Impact on Greater Saudi Arabia
• • • • • • •
•Low-tech, inexpensive flash flood control that stores fresh water in the ground and reduces deaths and damage to infrastructure throughout the Kingdom.
•Proof that the Hijaz can be reforested and serve as a large area for domestic food production.
•Become a model of sustainable development for the Arab World.
•Reduce people’s economic dependency on the government.
•Help reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on importing foods.
•Improve public health in rural areas.
•Reduce dependence on government and private charities for survival.
•Reduce strain on city centers by creating incentive to withdraw from major metropolitan areas.
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