Focus on food security projects essential

Haider Al Lawati – haiderdawood@hotmail.com – Omani imports still account for a significant chunk of annual balance of trade (BOT), with a value of nearly RO 9 billion ($23.4 billion) in 2016. This requires a replacement of part of these imports either through local investments or attracting more direct foreign investments for setting up factories in Oman for products imported from abroad.
Food products constitute a big part of imports despite some projects being implemented in this important sector to achieve food security. Here, private sector involvement is required in such projects as well as facilitation of both Omani and foreign companies that wish to invest in these vital areas.
Also required is the minimising of bureaucratic systems that ward off investments and elimination of inefficient procedures that have led to the loss of investment opportunities in various projects.
Attention needs to be given to food security projects. We commend the experience of Oman Food Investment Holding SAOC, one of the firms contributing to the achievement of a part of the Sultanate’s food security needs.
Oman’s investment experience in food security dates back to the 1970s when Oman Flour Mills Co. (SAOG) was established, followed by Salalah Mills Co. and Oman Fisheries Co. SAOG in the 1980s. The government continued alongside the private sector to promote investments in the sector and turn it into a leading player in the field of food security.
As for the future projects in this sector, they are numerous, which will help in achieving 100 per cent food security by 2040-end. The current ratio ranges from 30-35 per cent and expected to increase to 70-80 per cent by 2020. The remainder is to be achieved in the years leading to 2040 through various projects implemented in the sector.
We believe the private sector is increasingly seeking to invest in the food sector. Local food companies have achieved good results and massive profits, and have now accumulated Omani expertise and achieved successes that attract more investment.
There is a huge demand from investment funds and financial groups in the sector as well as qualitative initiatives of a strategic nature, with opportunities available within the Sultanate in this sector.
In the past, investment experience in food sector was initially received with rejection by the Omani banking sector because of its high risk and long wait, which discouraged banks from putting their money.
However, some banks such as the Oman Arab Bank took the initiative to venture into this sector, paving the way for the other financial institutions to become major supporters.
Oman’s governorates and wilayats can specialise in the establishment of food projects due to their distinction from one another.
For example, Wilayat Barka can become a global logistics centre specialising in refrigerated and processed food products, while Suhar can be a regional centre for grains, vegetables, fruit and food processing. Duqm can become a centre for fish landing and logistics activities related to storage and redistribution of fish and food products.
As for the interior governorates, it can be a national centre for assembling, filling, packaging and marketing dates and their derivatives, while Salalah can become a regional centre for red meat, milk, white meat and green fodder.
Wilayats of Ibri, Adam, Al Mudhaibi and Haima and desert areas can produce poultry, eggs and green fodder because of distance from humidity that prevails in Al Batinah Governorate.
Oman’s future vision for the food sector aims for companies operating in this sector to be leading strategic investors in this sector in order to contribute to the country’s food security, and their mission to invest individually or with strategic partners in food projects of importance to the Sultanate, whether at locally or abroad, to contribute whenever possible to the country’s self-sufficiency and food security.