Haider Al lawati –
Oman’s food security experience dates back to the 1970s when Oman Flour Mills, Salalah Flour Mills and Oman Fisheries companies were established in 1980s.
The government continued to support the private sector to boost investment in this sector, which now plays a leading role in food security. As for as future projects in this sector are concerned, there are numerous ones, which will help achieve the Sultanate’s food sufficiency by 100 per cent by the end of 2040, whereas the current rate ranges between 30 and 35 per cent.
This is expected to increase from 70-80 per cent by 2020, so as to achieve the set target by 2040. This is what Saleh Mohammed al Shanfari, CEO of Oman Food Investment Holding, said in a lecture at a weekly gathering attended by businessmen, economists, bankers, journalists and other parties concerned.
Al Shanfari spoke about the company’s experience, noting that the issue was addressed by the Foodstuff Committee at Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry nine years ago, and concluded with a recommendation followed by government action to establish this company to promote food security in the Sultanate.
The official believes that there are many challenges facing the sector, whether in the Sultanate or the rest of the GCC, due to the needs of our countries to provide food in this important sector, which prompted some GCC countries to invest abroad by purchasing agricultural lands in other countries. Various initiatives at the GCC level were taken, along with acquiring lands in Africa, Australia and Latin America, which today turned into a political issue in some of these countries which are discussing them in their parliaments and imposing taxes on products exported from them to the region.
As for as the GCC countries are concerned, they lack a joint collective initiative in this sector, according to the official. Instead, each country is establishing special projects to enhance food security.
Al Shanfari noted that the Sultanate, thanks to the projects it implemented in this sector, ranks 26 on the global scale in food security, and second or third at the Arab level.
Omani food products are known for their high quality and adherence to international specifications, which enjoy high demand in GCC and other countries to which Omani food products are exported. This contributed in turning the Sultanate into a regional and global hub for food production owing to its strategic geographical location on one hand, and its potential in various other disciplines and logistic capabilities on the other.
The Sultanate’s experience in investment in food security is a successful and promising one in this sector, which helps in improving the living conditions in the Sultanate and the rest of the GCC.
Meanwhile, demand for food, particularly proteins, is on the rise and the food gap is clearly widening in many countries around the world, with bigger food import bills, whereas there are countless opportunities to replace imports.
Oman’s private sector is seeking further investments in food industry. Local food companies have achieved promising results and profits, amassing experience and successes that attract even more investments, whereas there is a huge demand from investment funds and financial groups in this sector, along with qualitative initiatives of strategic nature and ample opportunities available in the Sultanate in this sector.
Research indicates that the investment experience in the food sector was initially met with reluctance from the Omani banking sector compared to trade, real estate and equities as the risks are high and it takes years to get back any returns.
Therefore, banks’ interest in financing the food sector was at its lowest.
However, Oman Arab Bank took the initiative in bearing these risks and began financing this sector, turning banking institutions today into a major supporter for the food sector in Oman.
The future vision of Oman’s food sector aims at turning companies operating in this sector pioneers in strategic investments in food sector to contribute in achieving food security in the Sultanate.
Moreover, its mission is to invest alone or with strategic partners in various food projects of interest to the Sultanate and to contribute whenever possible to achieve self-sufficiency and food security for Oman.