A SHORE SOLUTION

Oman 2015 | AGRICULTURE | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Hamed Said Al-Oufi, Undersecretary of Fisheries Wealth at the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries Wealth, on the role fisheries wealth can play in diversification and boosting the sector through technology.

How is the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries Wealth contributing to a diversified economy in the Sultanate of Oman?

The Omani economy is passing through the diversifying process by focusing on other renewable resources. In the next five-year plan, the government will include fisheries and mining along with tourism, oil, and logistics. One of the components of Oman's diversified economy is fisheries, which includes both sea fishing and aquaculture. We feel that we should utilize the opportunities and optimize production from the seas and also accelerate the growth of aquaculture by expanding production. Of course, this will, by extension, contribute to food security and provide a healthy protein source to the nation and further afield as we export 50% of our production. We are the largest market in the GCC, and Europe is also a key export destination. Over the next four or five years, we are trying to focus on the quantities exported to Europe as these are more lucrative value-added products.

The development strategy adopted by the Ministry is supported by a budget of $1.3 billion. What will be the main projects executed within the scope of Vision 2020?

We are of course primarily interested in expanding infrastructure, and work is being done to bring ports in all coastal towns to the required level of readiness for business. By the end of this period we will have around 30 multipurpose fishing ports that will not only serve the fishing sector, but also the tourism and trade sectors. We expect these multipurpose ports to greatly assist the fisheries and tourism enterprises to be developed as there is wide scope for development. In addition to the new ports, we are also modernizing eight fishing ports built 10-20 years ago. We will enlarge them and develop more facilities to receive the fishing and tourism fleet. Funds have also been allocated to build wholesale fish markets as well as retail markets in all cites of the Sultanate in order to create an efficient marketing system. Fleets will be renewed, while we have also allocated funds for aquaculture development. We are trying to ensure that the processing sector generates value-added to maximize the income or value of the fisheries and export processed products to the optimum markets. These are really the main components: infrastructure, fleet development, fisherman training, the development of aquaculture, and a focus on post-harvest activities to reduce waste and optimize the value of production.

“The Omani economy is passing through the diversifying process by focusing on other renewable resources."

How do you promote entrepreneurship among the population?

The social component features within our plan: when you build a port or a fish market, people work there as there is a reduced need to migrate from villages to the capital city. We are maximizing the value of this sector by also creating employment for nationals. Fishing is an appealing sector today, and the sector currently employs more than 45,000 Omanis, including the Ministry's staff itself. Some of those are part-time workers, but others are full-time employees. What attracts them to the sector is the prices on offer for a good product, which reflects in their income. We feel that with the high surge in fish prices and global demand for fish, people will choose to remain in this sector.

The experiences of many countries confirm the potential of aquaculture as an industry to diversify sources of income. What will be the impact of aquaculture for the development of fisheries in Oman?

We expect to produce around 200,000 tons of fish products by the year 2030, which is the equivalent of our current production from the sea. This means that Oman can double its production over the next 15 or so years from the current 200,000 tons from the sea, although we are aiming by 2030 to have reached close to 500,000 tons of sea-fishery and aquaculture products. Aquaculture will play an instrumental role in boosting production, increasing the income from the seas of Oman, and also creating thousands of jobs for nationals, especially graduates from universities and training schools, and other Omanis. This is the objective we are trying to achieve by promoting this sector. We are basing our plan on the experience of Norway, Turkey, Chile, Scotland, and other Mediterranean countries—those are the pioneers in this area. We invite investors from these countries to explore the opportunities in Omani waters. We are building on the experience of others, and that is why we are aggressively promoting the sector in Oman. We also promote our aquaculture and fisheries sector internationally by attending key trade shows in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

Investment represents a crucial factor for the development of these sectors. What incentives are you promoting to attract international investment?

We provide incentives to investors by streamlining the process of doing business in Oman. The FDI law in Oman is highly transparent and attractive, and the government is providing incentives to bring in investors. Most such incentives have traditionally gone to the petroleum industry, but we are trying to shift investor attention to other sectors by promoting a range of sectors. We provide land at what may be the lowest lease terms in the region. We also streamline the process by reducing the time needed to obtain permits. We have a one-stop shop here within the Ministry to help investors obtain permits, environmental and otherwise. Furthermore, we supply trained labor from local universities. The financial system in Oman is extremely robust and, again, transparent. Meanwhile, the legal framework in Oman safeguards investors.

Regarding FDI, what are your latest achievements?

We started promoting aquaculture early last year. We have received over 30 applications for the aquaculture business, but only permitted 19 schemes with a total value of OMR130 million. This investment is a joint venture between Omani investors and foreign investment from Asia, the US, Europe, South Africa, Australia, and elsewhere. There is a collection of investors and investment coming from different parts of the world. Now we are gearing up to work with the first four companies to start their construction phase, probably within 2014.

What role does technology play in this sector?

Our fishermen and people employed in the sector are undergoing training to adopt modern technology to improve the efficiency of fishing gear and vessels as well as to maximize the output of the aquaculture sector. We have companies in the US transferring state-of-the-art technology to Oman, and we may in fact be the first recipients in the region. Moreover, we want to become a leading player in aquaculture by leveraging every opportunity that our location provides, namely clean seas and suitable locations for aquaculture.

What is the Ministry's vision for the future?

We want to create a world-class, sustainable, and competitive fisheries sector. By 2020, that will bring benefits to society and is what our citizens deserve from their natural resources. Of course, sustainability is essential for a world-class, competitive fishery sector. We are also supporting the development of other infrastructure—airports, ports, and roads—all of which will be of benefit to the fisheries sector. Ultimately, we envisage being able to export directly from the area of production. This will allow Oman to become the hub for the food and fishery industries.

© The Business Year - May 2014