• Sustainability
    • General Sustainability

Food security: Oman expands capacity

  • Article

By building a strong agriculture and fisheries base, the sultanate hopes to reduce dependence on imports, create jobs, and attract investments.

Underscoring the importance of food production in the country, the Omani government has earmarked the fisheries sector as an area of accelerated development.

Fisheries is among the five industries expected to spearhead the sultanate’s diversification programme, Tanfeedh, which was launched in 2016. Other sectors were manufacturing, tourism, transport and logistics, and mining.

The fisheries proposition is compelling: Oman has an impressive 3,000-kilometre coastline overlooking the Arabian Sea.

The government is hoping to sustainably capitalise on the ocean’s food riches and develop a robust fisheries industry that will create jobs, feed the domestic population, and even emerge as an exporter to markets across the Gulf states, Asia and Europe.

Last year, the Omani government rolled out the Live Aquatic Wealth Law [1], which aims to strengthen commercial fishing and attract investment in seaports, maritime infrastructure and seafood production.

Revenues from fish production grew 5% to OMR 579.2 million last year, compared to the same period in the previous year, according to the National Centre for Statistics and Information.[2]

Construction is ongoing on 10 fishery projects in the sultanate at a cost of nearly half a billion Omani Rial, according to the government body Implementation, Support and Follow-up Unit [3] (ISFU), which is tasked with tracking the projects’ progress as well as the targets set out in Tanfeedh. The fishery projects are focused on aquaculture farms to shrimp farms, abalone farming, fish hatchery, algae cultivation and a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS).

“Fishing, and the vital industries associated with it, plays an important role in Oman’s economy and shows massive potential opportunities for the future,” ISFU noted. “The sector also received considerable support from the government who recognises it as a pillar of economic development due to its renewable sources, especially with the activation of a scientific management system of these”.

International firms are also eyeing investments in the fisheries and agriculture sector.

FeedAlgae,[4] a British firm, is investing OMR 167.5 million to produce 100,000 tonnes of algae annually, making it the largest in the world. The project, located in Al Sharqiyah, will see its first harvest in 2022.

A Norwegian aquaculture specialist, AquaSite,[5] is investing OMR 46 million into a fins salmon project in Quriyat, which aims to produce 20,000 tonnes of salmon annually with a start date of 2021.

The country’s 2040 Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development Strategy has an overarching plan to promote sustainable agriculture, attract investment, create jobs and limit structural imbalances in the agricultural sector. The strategy is focused on assessing food demand, developing local food production and securing imports.


The agriculture and fishing sector was the best performing industry last year, rising 7.4%, even as Oman’s GDP [6] at current prices fell 4%, with nearly 166,000 people employed by the sector, an 11.7% [7] increase over nearly a decade.

Oman’s ambitions to boost food production go beyond fishing. The country’s 2040 Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development Strategy has an overarching plan to promote sustainable agriculture, attract investment, create jobs and limit structural imbalances in the agricultural sector. The strategy is focused on assessing food demand, developing local food production and securing imports.

The country is ranked 46th among 113 nations in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Food Security Index.[8] Oman’s overall food self-sufficiency in local production versus food imports stood at 79% in 2018, according to the Supreme Council for Planning. [9]

That was possible thanks to US$ 4.9 billion in agriculture and fisheries-related infrastructure projects during the eighth five-year economic development plan of 2011-15. The Tanfeedh diversification plan has built on that momentum.

“Food sector has consistently been growing and developing in the sultanate, resulting in a large amount of self-reliance across many areas. Dairy production has been at the vanguard of this self-reliance and this initiative sees further development with the establishment of Mazoon Dairy Company, which will meet almost 90% of Oman’s needs,” according to the ISFU’s [10] latest annual report.

The government is aiming to raise the headcount of cows from 4,000 currently to 25,000 by 2026, and expand milk capacity to 985 million litres by 2040, nearly a fivefold rise from current levels. The Oman Food Investment Holding Co. [11] (OFIHC) a government-owned entity mandated to boost the country’s food security, is working on a number of projects.

These include, A’Namaa Project in Ibri, which will also boost meat production capacity by 60,000 metric tonnes per annum. Osool Poultry Plant aims to increase Oman’s egg self-sufficiency by as much as 85%, and serve as an export plant for neighbouring GCC states.

Other initiatives, such as Al Bashayer Meat Project and Oman Oilseeds Crushing, are either planned or under way.

Some of the OFIHC’s other planned projects include a private equity food fund in partnership with the Public Authority for Stores and Food Reserves to enhance food security and generate returns.

An Oman Commodity Platform will establish an online commodity trading platform as a sole procurement window for OFIHC [12] subsidiaries and other food sector players who subscribe to the platform.

“Developing a digital platform for B2B online trading for physical commodities will allow for competitive deals, better pricing, transparency, and higher efficiency,” according to the company.

A food logistics company and an integrated coconut farm are some of the other projects planned.

In addition, a food techno park is also being considered to utilise latest technologies such as aquaponics and innovations in sustainable agriculture in desert conditions. The economic zone will promote innovation in food processing, nurture small and medium enterprises and encourage venture capital companies to participate.

Scientific and development research on aquaponics and integrated aquaculture, conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing and the Sultan Qaboos University, have also contributed to the development of these sub-sectors.


Still, Oman’s ability to meet its domestic food needs are limited. The country lacks suitable agriculture land, with nearly two-thirds of the landmass covered by desert.

“Batinah is the country’s most agriculturally important region, accounting for almost 60% of production,” according to the Oxford Business Group. [13] “A low-lying alluvial plain that runs 240 kilometres north of Muscat to the UAE border between the Hajar Mountains and the Gulf of Oman, Batinah primarily supports the cultivation of dates, fruit, alfalfa and vegetables.”

A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [14] noted that Oman’s improvement in integrated agri-aquaculture and aquaponics faces many obstacles such as limited skilled workforce and technical equipment.

But OFHIC’s many projects are expected to eliminate these deficiencies over time. The arrival of greenhouses in the country – which currently stand at around 4,700 – and focus on developing technological solutions to address water shortages, has allowed Oman to turn into a promising agriculture producer.

The focus on scientific research in food cultivation is also leading to new innovations and solutions for the wider economy.

According to Dr Jamilla Ali Al Hinai, [15] director of The Research Council’s Strategic Research Program for Food Safety and Quality in Oman, saline water can be used to cultivate crops in the desert.

“The statistics show that for each oil barrel extracted in Oman, ten barrels of non-drinkable water is extracted,” Dr Jamilla wrote in a periodic newsletter. “Could this excess water be used for growing saline-resistant crops? Is it possible to treat saline water, which is three times higher than the amount of sewage water, into potable water?”

Turning excess water from oil extraction into a valuable resource could help the economy tap into revenue streams.

“This could contribute to eliminating many challenges such as water scarcity, job creation and creating alternative economic resources,” Dr. Jamilla said.

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