How does OFIC manage a balance between domestic production of crops and imports?
The major governing factor that affects our hay production is water. Oman faces water scarcity and good quality water is typically used for municipal consumers; what OFIC has to look at is marginal water. There are marginal water aquifers in parts of the country where certain types of crops can be grown. However, a proper assessment has to be carried out and resources managed wisely to make sure that we do not deplete the aquifers. There are areas in Oman where green fodder is currently being produced and the big question is to what level we want this to continue and to what extent the country's current agricultural areas can be expanded. We have to work closely with suppliers to maintain an equilibrium whereby we can address our fodder needs, but still preserve the ecosystem. Some areas in Oman can freely produce some of our needs; however, we see imports of feed as a major and important aspect of OFIC's operations.
To manage and understand this from a value chain point of view, we have to address the sources for imported green fodder. We are currently looking at various options including South Africa, the Americas, Spain, Australia, and elsewhere to check the viability, availability, and price. For example, for North American or Spanish sources, it is important to check freshness, moisture, protein, and nutrient levels; it is vital to make sure that cows are receiving the right feed. Afterward, it is equally significant to look at the whole value chain from the sources to where the fodder is delivered. This is a massive operation that involves working closely with various types of freight movers and logistics companies to ensure we get the right product. Oman currently imports meat from across the world, and OFIC is addressing that by setting up a big operation in Thumrait, Dhofar through Al Bashayer Meat, a company that specializes in producing red meat. Similarly, that operation has to be assessed from the value chain perspective because the sources where these animals are available in abundance are places such as East Africa, Brazil, Argentina, and Australia. The transportation involves sensitive issues like animal welfare, choosing the right feed, herd management, disease control, and quarantine systems. We have to ensure that whatever is produced in the market is produced to the highest standards and can compete with imports. You also have to address local tastes, such as meeting proper Halal Supply Chain (HSC) and animal welfare standards. Overall, it is a highly complex and multifaceted operation.
In 2018, OFIC signed an MoU with Oman Global Logistics Group (Asyad) to collaborate on transportation within Oman. What initiatives are you hoping to see as a result?
Under this collaboration between Asyad and OFIC, we are working to address Oman's food security and export goals from a multifaceted perspective. Together, we look at Oman's competitive and comparative advantages and how it can benefit as a food hub. We see the Gulf as an immediate market, but beyond that Oman is connected with various maritime routes, especially countries around the Indian Ocean, East and North Africa, and Russia, and China through the Silk Road. Moreover, since Oman is located close to India and Sri Lanka, it is well positioned to address their food needs and serve as a storage facility for their food.
What future projects is OFIC considering?
There are a number of studies being conducted now for the creation of new projects, including a study on a food technology park, a project on fish canning for tuna and sardines, and a project on vaccinations that is nearing completion. We would like to see these project ideas converted into legal entities by YE2018 or early 2019. In 2019, we might be at the stage of recruiting the right people to manage these companies and prepare the blueprints for building various projects at various sites. OFIC's success in promoting major food projects and recent rise in competitiveness index of Oman confirm the attractiveness of the investment ecosystem.