Food security projects are market driven with no state subsidy

The substantial portfolio of food security projects spearheaded by state-owned Oman Food Investment Holding Company (OFIC) – the government’s food sector investment and development arm – has been conceived and developed as commercially viable ventures with zero government subsidy, according to a key company official.

Eng Saleh al Shanfari, CEO, said projects worth nearly $1 billion in capital investments are currently in various stages of development, execution, and operation at various locations around the Sultanate.  Underlying all of these investments is one strategic objective: securing Oman’s food requirements.

Participating in a recent online panel discussion on the theme, ‘Oman AgroFood Webinar: Technology and Innovation in the World of Agriculture’, officially noted all of these strategic investments are market-driven.

“The reality is we are competing very fiercely in the market. While Oman has never gone through any protectionist means, we allow the market to function competitively based on quality, pricing, and so on — it’s a free market. The government has neither interfered nor regulated the market. Of course, there are organisations monitoring overpricing or quality concerns, but Oman was able to provide quality-driven projects to support the local demand.”

Set up in 2013, Oman Food Investment Holding Company – now part of the Oman Investment Authority (OIA) – has been mandated by the government to nurture an environment conducive to investments in food security initiatives.

“The vision of OIFC is to be the recognised leader for promoting strategic investments in the food sector domestically and internationally to improve food security in Oman. The mission is to invest in food projects individually and in partnership with various strategic investors inside and outside Oman aiming to promote self-sufficiency, where possible, and food security for the Sultanate of Oman.”

Exemplifying this mandate is Mazoon Dairy, set up in the Buraimi desert with an investment of around $250 million, said Al Shanfari.  OFIC owns 20 per cent of the company, the rest shared by private sector companies, pension funds and investment houses.

Underlining the business rationale behind the structuring of its projects, the CEO stated: “The way we promote (Mazoon Dairy) is driven by the market. There was no subsidy here. We are competing in the market bottle to bottle with the other dairy companies. The reality is whatever we do today in the food security of the country is not driven by any kind of subsidy. We are driven by market competition, it is quality, it is pricing and the way you present yourself in the market.”

In the seven months since it commenced operations, Mazoon Dairy has garnered a 30 – 40 per cent share of the local market for dairy products.  Starting with a production of around 20,000 litres per day of milk around nine months ago, the farm has ramped out daily output to 200,000 litres, he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic situation, the CEO noted, proved to be something of a blessing in disguise for the company. He explained: “We utilised COVID 19 in our favour in terms of direct imports, focusing on local production, strengthening the process that we do a better job in terms of quality, security and safety of our workforce and making sure that we deliver the best, because we know that sometimes imports are quite risky.”

He further added: “Various production units and companies, along with Asyad and the Oman Aviation Group, we worked together to ease up the process of direct import to the country without depending on other neighboring countries. Because of the need, we are able to utilise and seize the moment to create a breakthrough in the way we produce, import and distribute food. We worked with different organisations to make sure that food reaches the tables of every home here in Oman, swiftly, safely and abundantly at the right price.”

Also taking part in the panel discussion were: Ahmed Kelani, Host, IFP Group; Philip Higgins, Moderator, Director, Ventures Onsite; Redha Said Khalfan Bait Faraj, Assistant Director-General of Fisheries Marketing and Investment, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries; and Mohammed Amer al Mashani, CEO, Omani National Livestock Development Company (ONLDC).