Food ventures swell Oman Tech Fund’s portfolio

Local and international start-ups backed by Oman Technology Fund (OTF), the Sultanate’s leading venture capital investment fund, have ballooned to over 120 ventures – a growing portfolio boosted in recent months by technological innovations fuelled by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Eng Yousef bin Ali al Harthy (pictured), CEO, food-related start-ups represent one of the fastest-growing segments within the portfolio, reflecting the state-backed fund’s – and indeed the Omani government’s – ambitions to build the nation’s food sector, as well as strengthen food security.

Of over 120 start-ups supported by OTF, fourteen are related to food and agriculture – the fastest growing of 11 different segments supported by the Fund across its portfolio, said Al Harthy. Other ventures backed by OTF are distributed across Enterprise, Lifestyle, Logistics, Media & Content, Healthcare, Finance, Education, Manufacturing & Smart Cities, Retail and Tourism.

The CEO shared details about OTF’s growing role during a webinar hosted by The Business Year (TBY) on the theme, ‘Fisheries and Agriculture: Technologies Opportunities’, last week. Fellow panelists included Dr Saoud Hamood al Habsi, Under-Secretary of Fisheries Wealth – Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries; and Eng Saleh Mohammed al Shanfari, CEO – Oman Food Investment Holding Co (OFIC).

“Of particular interest to us is fish farming because it will account for 60 per cent of Oman’s fish production by 2040,” said Al Harthy. “Presently, fish farming accounts for just around 1,000 tons out of a total annual fisheries output of 850,000 tons; but fish farming supersede conventional farming, and we are taking a big interest in this. OTF has so far invested in one Omani fish farming tech start-up in collaboration with the Ministry, which has given them test-beds for their venture.”

Another Omani venture supported by OTF aims to enhance honey production in the Sultanate. The start-up, which harnesses drone technology to support the pollination of date palm trees, is working with the government-backed One Million Date Palms Project. The drone-based pollination technology is being tested over 10,000 trees as part of this initiative, he said.

OTF was recently credited with facilitating the speedy roll-out of an eCommerce platform that helped Omani fishermen access wholesale customers when the pandemic forced the closure of a number of markets across the Sultanate.

Behar – an initiative of young Omani entrepreneurs backed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries – enables fishermen to auction their fresh catch using this first-of-its-kind platform. Between 10,000 – 20,000 tons of fresh fish offloaded every day by fishermen at the Central Fish Market in Al Fulaij are bought up by wholesale in these online auctions.

The CEO credited Oman’s unique characteristics, coupled with the groundswell of tech entrepreneurship being witnessed among young Omanis, with the success of these start-ups. Also playing a supportive role is the leadership in government agencies that has done away with bureaucracy in support of the national agenda, he noted.

The pandemic has had a positive side to it, said Al Harthy. It has helped bring together the country as a whole – encompassing the government and private sector, as well as the citizens and youngsters in particular – in finding solutions amid the crisis.  Young Omani tech entrepreneurs have emerged as the “real players”, with OTF just an instrument in the successful rollout of some of these applications, he added.