Cenomi Centers secures $1.39bn Shariah-compliant, sustainability-linked financing

RIYADH: Saudi entrepreneurs are set to be increasingly empowered in establishing innovative startups in the Kingdom’s agriculture sector through the introduction of the new Sonbola program. 

Launched by the Minister of Environment, Water, and Agriculture Abdulrahman Al-Fadley, and Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah Al-Sawaha during a ceremony in Riyadh, the program aims to cultivate an entrepreneurial community in agriculture.  

It endeavors to support startups, attracts venture capital, and provides initiatives such as business incubators, rural development, and food technology programs, the Saudi Press Agency reported. 

The overarching goal is to boost economic growth and inspire Saudi youth to pursue entrepreneurship, it added. 

“Sonbola” translates to “ear of wheat” or “spike”, referring to the cluster of seeds at the top of the cereal plant’s stem where grains develop.

The ceremony, attended by leaders and entrepreneurs in the sector, marked the launch of the Agricultural Development Fund’s startup financing program.  

During the event, three memorandums of understanding were signed. These agreements were formalized between the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture, the Agricultural Development Fund, the National Research and Development Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Co. 

These agreements aim to foster collaboration in supporting, developing, and enhancing the entrepreneurship system within the agriculture sector by implementing initiatives and programs associated with the Sonbola program.  

The objective is to maximize economic impact, diversify and sustain growth, and achieve leadership. They aim to create an attractive investment environment within the agriculture sector. 

Additionally, the agreements facilitate collaboration in designing and developing joint projects and initiatives in the field of entrepreneurship. 

During his speech at the ceremony, Deputy Minister of Environment, Water, and Agriculture Mansour Al-Mushaiti highlighted the ministry’s commitment to addressing challenges in environmental sustainability, natural resources, and achieving water and food security. 

The ministry’s efforts encompass enhancing the quality of life, boosting economic impact, diversifying income sources, and cultivating national capabilities through innovative solutions. This includes supporting entrepreneurs to establish foundational pillars for an innovation-friendly environment. 

Al-Mushaiti noted that the ministry has developed an executive strategic plan to build an integrated entrepreneurship system. 

He highlighted that the government recently set up an agency for research and innovation and unveiled its executive strategy, which includes programs to foster entrepreneurship.  

Currently, enterprises in the environmental, water, and agricultural sectors represent only 1 percent of Saudi Arabia’s total startups, falling short of the global average of around 10 percent.  

The ministry aims to exceed this global average and anticipates these sectors to contribute about SR4 billion ($1.07 billion) to the non-oil gross domestic product by 2030. 

Three main programs have been launched. Sudrah focuses on developing entrepreneurship in the environmental sector, commencing operations in the second quarter of 2023.  

Sahabah aims to foster entrepreneurship in the water sector, with a planned launch in the third quarter of this year, while Sonbola focuses on developing entrepreneurship in the agricultural sector. 

Additionally, Abdulaziz Al-Malik, the ministry’s undersecretary for Research and Innovation, confirmed that entrepreneurship programs in environmental, water, and agricultural sectors play a vital role. Specifically, programs like the Sonbola contribute significantly by providing technological solutions for sectoral challenges, aligning with the ministry’s innovation strategy. 

The agriculture sector has been the focal point in recent events, with key government entities working to boost investments in its activities.  

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