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Oman second most food-secure country in GCC
November 29, 2017 | 8:00 PM
by Gautam Viswanathan/[email protected]
 
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Muscat: Long-term planning and stringent policies by the Oman government have seen the Sultanate maintain its place as one of the most food-secure nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

The 2017 Global Food Security Index, jointly published by the Economist Index Unit and American company DuPont, ranks Oman second for food security among the six GCC nations, and 28th globally, among the 113 countries listed in the report.

Although this does bode well for Oman going forward, the Sultanate is set to improve its food security apparatus even further, with agricultural expansion being a key priority of the nation’s Tanfeedh programme for economic diversification.

“Food security is one thing; Oman is also heading towards maintaining the quality of the food provided,” said Arvind Venkataraman, Scientific Director of Water Farmer Aquaponics, which is collaborating with Muscat



Horizons to develop Al Arfan Farms, the country’s first aquaponics farm.

“There is now a push towards quality, which will make a big difference when it comes to other countries pursuing just quantity to limit the number of imports; it is good to see Oman following good practices as well.



“Zucchini, summer squash, okra, beans, rock melons, watermelons and eggplants do really well in the summer. All the vegetables in the cucumber family love the heat, because they have a high tolerance,” he added. With projects such as Namaa Poultry and Mazoon Dairy Farms now taking root, Oman is looking to cement its long-term plans for food security in the nation.

“Dairy, eggs and vegetables form the majority of food products consumed anywhere in the world. Oman enjoys better environment than the other Middle Eastern nations, because we do not have harsh winters like they do in Bahrain or the UAE,” maintained Venkataraman.

Economically viable

“If Oman can make this economically viable, then agricultural expansion is definitely the way forward, because the effort that goes into agricultural production is more or less the same, irrespective of the economic output. Currently, 12 per cent of Oman’s imports are fresh food, and then you have the packaged goods that you find on the shelves of counters,” he pointed out.

Dr Omar Al Jabri, who is Assistant Dean for Training and Community services at Sultan Qaboos University’s College of Agriculture and Fisheries, observed, “Any food business is a successful business, because these are things we need on a daily basis, and any food security report will also look at the variety of food offered, because the tastes of people are always changing. We must also remember that promotion of junk foods and sugary drinks is not considered to be positive food security.”

Oman is also ramping up awareness programmes to educate the public about the importance of eating healthy food, as well as informing farmers about sustainable and safe agro practices.

“We are trying to promote a cooperative extension where universities and researchers now need to reach out to the local people, especially in the countryside and the remote areas,” remarked Al Jabri.

“The Ministry of Agriculture does have its own outreach programmes, but there must be collaborations, and that includes help from researchers, civil societies and private organisations, because if farmers do not know about the dangers of pesticides, this will then go back into our bodies and cause health problems such as cancer.”

Oman did exceedingly well in terms of food safety net programmes, ensuring the nation had enough food reserves and people all over the nation had good food accessibility. Oman scored a 100 per cent in the sector, showing an annual improvement of 34.5 per cent. “The government is realising the importance of food security, and this is part of the national strategy,” stated Al Jabri. “There is a cycle for food: Good, nutritious food means good economies, because you will then have productive people who have good nutritious food.”

Among the other GCC nations, Kuwait was ranked first in the region and 26th in the world, while Qatar came in third (29th globally). Saudi Arabia (33rd), UAE (34th) and Bahrain (37th) were ranked lower down the order.

Food production

According to the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI), Oman yielded about 1.87 million tonnes of produce last year, of which 25,600 tonnes were vegetables, and a further 972,800 tonnes of fodder crops, as well as 457,660 tonnes of fruit. In addition to these, Oman has imported about OMR221 million worth of live animals and animal products, OMR224 million worth of prepared foodstuff and beverages, as of the end of June 2017.

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