CULTIVATING THE AGRO-ECONOMY

Oman 2018 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Eng. Saleh M. Al Shanfari, CEO of Oman Food Investment Holding Company (OFIC), on Oman's competitive advantages in food, growing demand for diverse food products, and becoming a regional food hub.

 Eng. Saleh M. Al Shanfari
BIOGRAPHY
Eng. Saleh M. Al Shanfari, in addition to being CEO of Oman Food Investment Company, is also Chairman if A’Namaa Poultry and EC Mazoon Dairy. He is also a member of the Advisory Committee of the College of Agriculture and Marine Sciences, the Omani Economic Society, the Food Security Committee of the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Omanization Committee within the Ministry of Labor. One of his main areas of focus is agro-investment. He received his education in agronomy from Iowa State University in the US.

Some 90% of food in the GCC is imported. How can OFIC, the government, and the private sector incentivize people to produce and consume food locally instead?

The major drivers for investors to invest in new projects will come from their analyses of market demand. Basically, most food projects are driven by consumer demand. It is a case of doing a supply-and-demand analysis of the quality, quantities, and tastes that local producers can meet. Once international investors understand that this is a major driver, they will find it more attractive to do this here. The second factor is Oman's competitive and comparative advantages as a hub for imported food and value addition. Oman's location works to attract international players that want to unload their products here and redistribute them to the rest of the region. For example, products like rice and wheat can be brought here for sorting, re-bagging, and re-branding to fit local consumer demands. We can also use smart water management techniques to ensure available water is not undermined. We focus on smart technologies in order to preserve our water for high-value projects. These competitive and comparative advantages allow us to focus on developing major projects that at times require vast amounts of land. For example, we recently identified 60sqkm of uninhabited, marginal desert land for poultry farming because dry land is the best place to develop poultry projects. This is where we should see major projects in dairy, poultry, and red meat that we are able to produce here at a competitive price.

How do you see Oman's red meat, poultry, and dairy markets performing in the coming years?

Dairy and protein products are in demand. With the growth of the middle class, people tend to drink more milk and consume more meat. This is our function as a company; OFIC is focused on producing food security-related products. For products we cannot produce locally, there is another government arm, the Public Authority for Stores and Food Reserve, which works in tandem to provide the country with enough grain to survive in an emergency situation. Oman is one of the leading countries in the region in terms of our ability to feed everyone in the country during emergencies and crises. Oman is ranked 26th in the world and number two in the Arab world in terms of food security. This is what countries should plan for because food security is not only about producing food; it is also about logistics and the ability to move food to the right place, at the right time, at the right cost, and accessible to everyone. That is our role working in tandem with the other agencies like the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Ministry of Trade and Commerce, and the Public Authority for Stores and Food Reserve, to ensure we are all following a common national strategy to provide food security for Oman.

What are OFIC's main goals and objectives for 2017-2018?

We want to complete the projects we have started in the dairy, poultry, and red meat sectors. We want to finalize our soy and date projects. We also have a milk collection project in the south of Oman to collect milk from subsistence or small farmers in the dairy sector. We want to do these projects by YE2018 and perhaps see production in the market before mid-2019. Besides these goals we want food security as a theme to become part of every organization and government institution. Beyond that, we aim to see Oman as the food hub for the entire region and the partner of choice internationally for FDI. We want foreign investors to choose Oman as the right place for starting food-related projects. OFIC, along with other government institutions, will be able to provide support, help, and advice to FDIs looking at agribusiness as an option to do business.