EAT UP

Oman 2015 | AGRICULTURE & FISHERIES | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Fuad Jaffer Al Sajwani, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Wealth, on the sector's role in diversification, encouraging international investment, and ensuring stable prices.

Dr. Fuad Jaffer Al Sajwani
BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Fuad Jaffer Al Sajwani graduated with a degree in Economic and Political Science from Kuwait University, later receiving a Master’s in Policy Analysis from the American University in Washington, DC, and finally obtained a PhD in Management from Sheffield Business School. Before being appointed Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Wealth in 2011, he was a member of the Shura Council from 2007 to 2011. Previous positions have included stints at the Central Bank of Oman, the Union Bank of Oman, and the Development Council.

How are you supporting the creation of a diversified economy in Oman?

Agriculture is a traditional sector and has been the basis of the national economy since long before the discovery of oil. More than half of the country's population is connected directly and indirectly to the agriculture and fisheries sector. The Omani economy is passing through the diversifying process by focusing on other renewable resources. This includes agriculture, fisheries, and mining along with tourism, oil, and logistics. Today, agriculture and fisheries contribute to almost 33.5% of total food consumption in the country, and its contribution to GDP grew by 8.6% in 2013. Almost 33.3% of its production was exported in 2013. Agricultural production increased by 19%, livestock production increased by almost 15.6%, and fisheries production increased by nearly 7.8% in terms of tonnage in 2013. The agriculture sector is creating more employment opportunities in the farm and non-farm (including agro-industry) sectors for the rural youth as well as rural women. This is also expected to increase agricultural output in real terms, increase value added, and provide an adequate source of livelihood for the rural areas. The sector is capable of significantly increasing the exports within the region as well.

How is the Ministry encouraging international investment in Oman's agriculture and fisheries?

Oman has an investment regime that is favorable to foreign investors in the agriculture and fisheries sector. These include: tax exemptions on the repatriation of investments and income; a stable political and legal environment; excellent infrastructure connecting Oman to all major international destinations; major government investments in internal infrastructure in Oman, including new ports, airports, highways, and communications; support from the Public Authority for Investment Promotion and Export Development (PAIPED); no restrictions on sectors where investments may be entered into by foreigners up to a 70% ratio; active promotion schemes to match FDI with local investment fund sources; and potential for “cross investments" with Omani funds also going to the incoming investor's company in other countries. The Ministry has also dedicated staff and departments to assist potential investors, find partners, and negotiate contracts in Oman supporting new projects.

Food imports to Oman are set to grow to $5 billion by 2020. How will you ensure that the price of food will remain stable?

The FAO estimates around $4.8 billion of food imports to Oman by 2020, a quantum jump from 2010 estimates of $2.1 billion. This is expected mainly as a result of population growth, increasing income and expenditure levels, and an increase in tourism. Oman's food imports include mainly grains, seasonal fruits, dairy products, poultry, and meat. To counter the vagaries of price fluctuation arising from external dependence on supplies, the Public Authority for Stores and Food Reserves (PASFR) works toward streamlining the procurement and supply of essential food commodities for the country. This includes sourcing optimal quantities at the right time, from the right sources, and at the right price. Plans are afoot for the construction of food storage silos across the country. In parallel, with increased production of domestic farm output, the dependence on imports will be reduced. We have set up a Food Investment Holding Company as well as other companies that will invest in projects aimed at promoting self-sufficiency and food security for Oman, in partnership with strategic investors from and outside of Oman. The focus will initially be on dairy, the processing of fruit, vegetables, and poultry and meat for increased shelf life as well as value addition for exports. We work closely with other departments in continuously monitoring the market prices to protect the consumers' best interests. Our current levels of inflation are one of the lowest in the region. This gives us the confidence that we will be able to rein in the price spikes.