How would you evaluate the development of the agricultural sector over the last year and what are the major projects you have been running during this period?
We have been continuing with our five-year development plans. As 2015 is the final year of this strategy, we have been completing some of the ongoing projects. Besides that there is an important development. We have established a company called the Oman Food Holding Investment Company, which is the investment arm of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. This company has already embarked on a number of strategic projects aimed at bridging the gap between Oman's production and the country's requirements, including in the areas of poultry, table eggs, dairy farming, and red meat production. We also have a date palm project nearing completion in terms of the consulting work. The company has made good progress in mobilizing these projects during 2015 and is close to the implementation stage. This is the main development that has occurred over the past two years
Which products are demonstrating potential in Oman's agricultural sector?
All the products I have highlighted demonstrate potential either because they are important for food security or there is potential to add value to the production. Take for example our date palms. At the moment there is minimal processing of this crop and I believe we can do much more given that we have approximately 8 million palms in Oman. Again, we are emphasizing bridging the gap between food production and requirements, as well as adding value to what we produce. The room for improvement is there. We produce around 20 red meat products and 50 other items including the table eggs and dairy products. We hope we can increase production; however, we also have to meet demand from our fast population growth, which is rapidly driving up domestic consumption.
What is your strategy to balance agriculture and fisheries exports?
Other than fisheries, we export a number of crops particularly to neighboring countries, although some of these products go as far as Japan and Europe. This is an indication of the quality of the food we produce and the demand for it in different countries. Now it is time to focus more on the products that add value for Oman. Hence, for the next five-year plan we would like to concentrate on important products that have a comparative and competitive advantage. In terms of fisheries, we currently export 55-60% of what Oman catches or produces. Again, it mostly goes overseas in raw form without processing, and we can add considerable value to what we do by processing.
What new opportunities do you foresee for foreign investors?
The fact that we are attracting outside investment shows confidence that the investment environment here is favorable. It is being reflected in FDI in the area of the food industry. Oman has political stability plus it is a liberal society in terms of conducting business, including the tax holiday and repatriation schemes. There are not really many restrictions on investment in Oman. We are emphasizing more and more the quality aspect and we want to retain a niche for Oman at the higher levels rather than competing across the board. It is more difficult to do this; however, we believe we can and it will give us a good reputation with the partners we deal with. For example, some of our agricultural companies made deals with international companies to market their products before they were even at the operation stage, which means we are already reaching that level. The Japanese market, where some of our agricultural products go, is the most sophisticated. It is a very quality-aware market and we have to meet that standard. Of course, we also have to increase production to export more to Japan.