Muscat: Oman plans to set up farms in Sudan and Tanzania in order to reduce its dependence on food imports.
“We are also going to do external investments in Tanzania and Sudan,” said Mustafa Al Riyami, coordination and follow-up specialist at the Public Authority for Stores and Food Reserve. “We will have wheat farms and animal farms. This is the plan for the future in order to have food security.”
“The output for these farms will not be the same as in recent years,” he added. “It will take time for sure, but it is a strategic plan we have in place. It will take at least 15 to 20 years to start producing from these farms.”
“We are not expecting to increase our income from these farms very soon,” Al Riyami continued. “The second thing is that we might invest these crops outside as well. We might sell these to some other countries and we may make money from that.”
“The investment will be from both sides: either to get our own commodities or to invest this outside and get money from it.”
Investing in Africa will see Oman follow a development path taken by China, which has steadily built up massive businesses overseas. The Chinese have invested more than $1.3 trillion overseas since 2005. Oman’s plans to become more secure on the agricultural front are part of the nation’s plans to raise agricultural contribution to 3.1 per cent of the GDP by 2020. It is currently pegged at 0.7 per cent, totalling OMR224 million. As part of Oman’s Vision 2020 plan, an organisation has been set up to invest in food security.
“There is a semi-government company, the Oman Food Investment Holding Company that acts as an investor for Oman, both inside and outside the country,” Al Riyami told the Times of Oman.
“There are many projects it is working on. One of these is to build a big farm in Buraimi to produce milk and white meat. I am sure you have heard of the one million date trees project in Oman. It is one of the long-term projects designed to promote food security in Oman.”
Currently, about 60 per cent of the Sultanate’s food products are imported, but Al Riyami is hopeful that the new wave of agricultural investment will that bring figure down sharply.
“We are importing about 60 per cent of our food right now, but if, and I say if, our targets are met with this investment, this importing will be very less,” he explained. “Local production will be about 80 per cent and imports will be about 20 per cent.”
Arvind Venkataraman is currently the project manager at Al Arfan Farms, an organic farm located in Seeb. “Growing local produce will help offset a lot of the costs for purchasing produce, and it’ll also help keep the currency within the country,” he said. “It’ll be rotated in the economy itself, as opposed to having it leave the country. It’ll boost the economy within the country.”
“The quality of food that you get in the market will definitely increase. European produce is supposed to be the best in the market, but it costs about seven to nine rials a kilo to buy. The difference now will be that you can buy that quality for a much lower value.”
Research is underway to find out what crops can be grown in Oman itself, and plans to enhance irrigation systems in order to improve local production are being drawn up.
“We’ve grown kale, Swiss chard, rock melons, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and okra,” Venkataraman explained. “We’re looking to deliver about 200 tonnes of food a year, bottom line. Our goal is about 230 tonnes, and our estimation is 247 tonnes.”
“There will be a better transfer of technology to help farmers grow more diverse crops,” he added.
“We will then get into the realm of crop assurance and crop insurance, and that’s another services market that will teach the farmers about the value of their product. We’re not an agrarian economy and any development is only influenced by economic forces.”
“When a very low portion of one’s economy is affected by it, you are not going to add to it, because it doesn’t affect your GDP significantly.”