By TBY | Oman | Feb 02, 2014
Fields of Endeavor
The Omani economy has historically been firmly supported by its agriculture, livestock, and fisheries. As part of the Sultanate's economic diversification, these traditional industries are set to arise in high-tech splendor.
Despite government attempts to bolster the local agriculture sector, the number of farms in Oman has been in decline. The Times of Oman indicated that, while back in 1973 over 60% of Oman’s population worked in farming, the rapid development of other sectors of the economy, such as oil resulted in urbanization, as was the case in other emerging markets. By the mid-1980s, the figure had fallen to 40%, dropping to 25% by the new millennium. Today, the figure is at just 15%, and, according to Central Bank of Oman (CBO) data for 2012, agriculture accounted for just 1.5% of GDP, with industry at 51.3% and services at 47.2%.
Well-located land has increasingly been sold off for property development to meet rising demand for residential and commercial space, and accommodate a growing workforce. The net result has been a dent in the government’s plan to reduce the Sultanate’s dependency on imported food. Yet, the news is not all bad, as improved farming methods have meant a rise in more productive agricultural enterprises. A 2012 report released by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries citing the 2004/2005 agricultural census indicates that in the crop sector, the total area of agricultural holdings in the Sultanate was around 324,000 acres compared to 241,000 in 1992/1993, up 34.4%. Meanwhile, the cultivated area was at 44.2% of the total.
Agricultural and fisheries exports combined contributed 7.9% to the non-oil export total on average in the 2009-2012 period. The value of these exports was roughly 38% of net imports of assorted agricultural products for the same period. Agricultural and fisheries exports rose from OMR176 million in 2009 to OMR257 million in 2012 on annual average growth of 13.5% for the period. Self-sufficiency in fruits was 72%, vegetables 62%, eggs 48%, milk and dairy products 41%, and poultry meat 31%. The report confirmed that at 23% red meat had the lowest self-sufficiency rate. Local agricultural and fish production covered 39.5% of Oman’s total food consumption on average for the 2009-2012 period. The report also revealed a rise in the total value of agricultural and fish production from OMR362.2 million in 2009 to OMR 462 million in 2012, with an average annual growth rate of 8.5% for the period.
CHECK THE DATE
Oman has 5 million fruit-bearing date trees, and 70% of total production derives from just 10 cultivars. A royal proclamation from HM Sultan Qaboos from 2009 required an additional 1 million seedlings be planted over time. Oman today exports just 1% of its total date crop. The production of this traditional staple, centered on the Al Batinah region, rose to 285,464 tons in 2010 from 258,572 tons in 2009.
The 2012 Ministry report indicated that the livestock sector is seeing constant growth. In 2011, the total number of head was at 27 million including 3.5 million cattle, 4 million sheep, 1.8 million goats, and 13.5 million camels. Average livestock production of 17.3% was registered for the 2009-2012 period. To preserve natural pastures and conserve water resources, the Governorate of Dhofar has reduced camel numbers and the area of land devoted to grazing and fodder production.
ECONOMIES OF SCALE
Prior to the advent of hydrocarbons, fishing had long been a staple Omani occupation. Sitting on the Arabian Sea, the Sea of Oman, and the Gulf, the government is to channel OMR500 million into fisheries to safeguard stocks for the future. Trawling was banned in 2012, and in 2013 the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries temporarily banned the export of six species to ensure supplies for the local market. The export of five other species was curbed to 50% of the locally available volume of catch every year.
The Eigth Five-Year Development Plan (2011-2015) safeguards the Sultanate’s aquatic resources, fishing grounds, and coastal areas through strict regulation. Hussain Hutaith Al Bathari, Managing Director of Al Bahihi International explained how, “As an exporter, we are limited in terms of the quantity we can sell to the international market. There are different rules for different fish. For kingfish and tuna, exporting is banned—those fish are exclusively for the local market.”
In 2012, nine new harbors were penciled-in for construction, with four fishing harbors in Barka, Taqah, Liwa, and Al-Masanah. Bids were received by the State Tender Board for the harbor at Duqm, while proposals for four other fishing harbors in Mahoot, Al Showaimiyiah, Sadah, and Rakhyut. Existing harbors of Diba, Al Khabourah, Kimzar, Masairah and Mirbat were also earmarked for renovation.
Today, around 300,000-400,000 Omanis depend directly or indirectly on fishing. There are around 45,000 Omani fishermen, with a further 10,000-12,000 people employed in support industries. Within the next 20 years, the government plans for the number to rise to 50,000-60,000 people. In the 2009-2012, period the growth rate of the volume of fish production on average was 6.3%. Today, the total catch of ocean fish in Oman, valued at $355 million, is 191,000 tons per year. And by 2030, Oman seems set to produce around 200,000 tons of fish in total, with an estimated total value of around OMR1 billion. Around 50% of Oman’s annual catch is destined for export to regional and diverse international markets, but predominantly to the Gulf states and the Middle East.
A CULTURED BREED
Omani aquaculture today has a production capacity of 191 tons but the government targets 200,000 tons by 2030. Investors have noticed, and as a financial sweetener, those stumping up 70% of project financing enjoy 100% ownership of the enterprise. The government has itself budgeted $100 million for hatcheries, feed production sites, and support facilities. An Omani enterprise has signed joint ventures with companies from Thailand and New Zealand for the construction of state-of-the-art aquaculture plants in a combined investment of $233 million. The New Zealand company is set to produce sea bass, while the Thai enterprise predicts 3,000 tons of shrimp production annually from an investment of $70 million.