Muscat: Omani farmers need to better understand crop rotation patterns to strengthen food security in the Sultanate in the long term, according to the project manager of Al Arfan Farms in Seeb.
“A major priority is the presence of a certification body,” says Arvind Venkataraman. “Farmersmust have some sort of auditing process for food production, as well as international safety procedures. We are looking at crop insurance programmes as well.
“There is a need for state-sponsored insurance for farmers taking up specialised crop production, as opposed to one person growing one crop and everyone else growing that crop as well,” he added.
“(Crop insurance) programmes are usually bought from a firm for growing one crop and given to farmers who receive training only in that crop,” Venkataraman said.
“For example, if one farmer is growing cucumber, and the training is only for (growing) cucumbers, everyone ends up adopting that and growing only cucumbers. From January to March, cucumbers are sold in farms for about eight baisa a kilo, so the farmers will suffer.”
“Traditionally, agriculture has not been a means of livelihood in the Middle East because the standard practice has always been animal rearing, so there is no knack for agriculture. There is a need for investments to promote agriculture,” he continued.
“Technology will need to be brought in from outside the country, and not from places such as Denmark or the Netherlands but from a place that has similar climatic conditions.”
Oman is currently ranked 26th in the world and 2nd in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as far as food security is concerned, according to the latest Global Food Security Index.
In addition, a report from the US Department of Agriculture’s Global Agricultural Information Network states that Oman currently follows the food security protocols of the GCC Standardisation Organisation, which are currently in line with measures set by the International Organisation for Standardisation.
Oman currently imports about 60 per cent of its food requirements, and products imported into or manufactured in Oman must carry details such as country of origin, ingredients, origin of animal fat, production and expiry dates, name and address of the manufacturer, and special storage, transportation and preparation instructions.
Mustafa Al Riyami, who is the coordination and follow-up specialist for the Public Authority for Stores and Food Reserve, believes Oman’s current food storage capability would be more than capable of handling the agricultural expansion being implemented in the nation.
“We have five warehouses around Oman, which are located based on the population density in the country,” he revealed. “They are in Muscat, Sohar, Nizwa, Salalah and A’Sharqiya Governorate. These warehouses are required to store the most important foods in the nation, such as rice, wheat, lentils, oils and so on.
“Lentils and sugar are kept in chilled facilities, and there is a rotation plan for all these warehouses based on the age and requirements of the communities,” added Al Riyami.
“To succeed, though, the government has to involve the private sector to help store things such as wheat, milk oil and tea.”
“We have enough food reserves in the country, and there are many private sector companies such as Lipton and Oman Flour Mills that have their own rotations plans and storage. Without that, we would not be able to successfully store food,” he added.