Food security is a matter of national concern and the government is going all out to ensure that all fronts are strengthened on a priority basis
Strengthening the country’s food security has been a matter of great focus for Oman government in recent years. In a move to sustain the development of agricultural sector and to ensure food security, several steps on various front have been taken by authorities. These measures include formation of new companies to strengthen local availability of food products, measures to build an agro-terminal in Sohar, new food storage facilities in different wilayats and introduction of an insurance scheme for farmers for the first time. Plans are afoot to form a date processing venture, which is aimed at improving production of Omani dates, enhance quality and increase exports. The Sultanate has eight million date palm trees and the government has decided to improve production of dates to international standards, enhance exports and compete with other producers. Another move is to form a commercial company supported by the state for marketing vegetables and fruits, similar to the erstwhile Public Authority for Marketing Agricultural Produce (Pamap).
To bring in price stability and to ensure fair price for farmers, the company will set up procurement centres in select wilayats for packing and grading agricultural products. Yet another project, which is to support livestock farmers in Dhofar region, is a socio-economic venture. The government wants to support livestock farmers in Dhofar. The government is also developing mega projects to boost self-sufficiency of dairy, red meat and poultry. These projects, undertaken by state-owned Oman Food Investment Holding with an investment of OMR270 million are expected to commence production over the next three years. To meet the growing local demand for dairy, Mazoon Dairy Company is expected to start operation of a $260 million dairy project in Buraimi, substantially reducing the country‘s import dependency.
A bulk agro-terminal, which will support the establishment of a flour mill and a sugar refinery, is another major initiative to achieve food security. As part of the whole scheme, Sohar Port and Freezone have signed an agreement with Sohar Flour Mills for the lease of a 10-hectare plot within the port area for the construction and management of 12 grain storage silos, each having a storage capacity of 13,000 tonnes. Aligning with Oman’s National Food Security Strategy, Sohar port plans to set up a dedicated ‘Food Cluster’ within Sohar, which essentially forms the basis for an entire up-stream and down-stream food production, packaging and distribution ecosystem. The construction of these large capacity grain silos certainly highlights the rapid growth and development of the food and agriculture sector in Sohar, and aligns with the country’s continued economic diversification efforts.
In its first phase, the facility will have a wheat milling capacity of 550 tonnes per day with a potential to expand to 2000 tonnes per day later, which depends on demand. The mill will also be capable of producing all types of specialty flours to cater to the different regions of Oman as well as developing exports to the GCC and other international markets. Sohar port also plans to build Oman’s first agro bulk terminal at the port, which will be complemented by the new grain silo complex. The terminal will be dedicated to the import and export of agricultural bulk — wheat, rice, barley, and other grains. Regulated by the Public Authority for Stores and Food Reserve, the new grain silo complex will be located next to the flour mill and will include 12 silos, each with a capacity of 13,000 tonnes.
With a dedicated agro bulk terminal and the adjoining agro cluster, the Sohar Port food cluster is a first-of-its-kind cluster dedicated to the food and agro sector in the region. The aim of the cluster is to promote the entire value chain of food processing and logistics support within the expanding multi-billion dollar regional food industry. In addition to the new flour mill and grain silo complex, the Sohar food cluster will also house of a sugar refinery; with added-value food production, packaging and distribution facilities planned to follow.
In another move to support farmers, an insurance policy for the agricultural sector was launched by the Capital Market Authority (CMA) in October, 2017.
The agricultural insurance policy now covers mainly the risks of farmers, who cultivate vegetables and fruits. The whole scheme will be implemented in three phases and the policy will be extended to cover the livestock, bee-keeping, date cultivation, poultry and fisheries sectors at a later stage. Majority of the holdings in Oman are tiny, and farmers are able to derive marginal surplus only in certain good years and incur heavy deficits in the bad ones. Four insurance companies—National Life and General Insurance, Dhofar Insurance, Al Madina Takaful and Arabian Falcon Insurance Company—are offering insurance cover for farmers and these insurance schemes are reinsured with Oman Reinsurance (Oman Re).
All major risks associated with cultivation, including natural fire and lightning, flood, landslide storm, hailstorm, cyclone, typhoon, tempest and hurricane are covered under the scheme. Further, damage due to pests is covered only when it affects a large area. Also, losses to farmers due to drought and areas frequently affected by strong winds are not covered under the scheme. Oman has two types of farmers—full time farmers and part-time farmers. The new technology in farming is going to help farmers expand cultivation. All these measures are part of a clear strategy to reduce dependence on overseas markets, thereby achieve self-sufficiency wherever possible. More than 140,000 Omani families depend on agriculture and fishing. Agricultural sector development is important for checking migration of youths from rural areas to urban centres.
As part of a strategic move to revitalise the agricultural sector and raise farmers’ income, Oman government has devised several plans, which include plans to extend areas under cultivation and crop insurance for farmers. The country’s main agricultural hub is centred around Batinah and Dhofar regions due to water availability and climatic condition suitable for farming. Batinah region is home to many of the country’s farms and orchards, while the Dhofar region gets rainfall for farming. The Sultanate’s agricultural production includes dates, fodder crop, tomato, vegetable, sugar cane, wheat, barley, banana, watermelon and mango. Oman government’s efforts on strengthening irrigation facilities have already resulted in extending land under cultivation.