25 January 2016
Muscat - The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is studying the feasibility of establishing a dedicated agency tasked with helping Omani fruit and vegetable farmers earn higher returns on their produce through investments in modern logistics, cold storage and related market support infrastructure. The initiative, according to a key official, is proposed to be implemented in collaboration with the state-owned Oman Food Investment Holding Co (OFIC), which is investing upwards of $600 million in a raft of strategic food security-related ventures.

Salim bin Saif al Abdali, Business Development Manager at OFIC, said the proposed agency will be modeled on the erstwhile Public Authority for the Marketing of Agricultural Produce (PAMAP), which played a significant role in getting Omani farm produce to market before it was eventually phased out in the late 1990s.

"What we have in mind is a government-owned commercial agency that will invest in end-to-end transport, logistics and supply chain infrastructure to help Omani farmers earn optimum returns on their fruit and vegetable produce," said Al Abdali.

"The goal is not only to help drive the commercialization of Oman's agro output through improved market access, but to also explore opportunities for investment in processing and value-add activities that in turn will open up new revenue streams for farmers," he added in remarks to the Observer.

At present, for want of subsidized cold storage and logistics infrastructure, farmers are typically forced to sell their fresh produce at prices dictated more by wholesalers and middlemen than by market factors, it is generally argued.   Particularly at risk are small farmers operating on shoestring budgets.

By taking marketing and logistics off the hands of the farmers, the proposed agency will leverage its vast supply chain, infrastructural wherewithal and market reach to secure better margins on the produce it offtakes, according to Al Abdali.   Importantly, the proposed agency is expected to operate akin to a marketing cooperative owned or controlled by the farmers themselves.  This will ensure that it functions strictly in accordance with the commercial interests of the farmers, he stressed.

The official envisions a proliferation of such marketing cooperatives taking root in the different governorates of the Sultanate once the initiative is green-lighted for implementation.

Each of these cooperatives is expected to invest in temperature-controlled warehousing and logistics infrastructure for the collective benefit of the ago farming community in the respective governorate, he added.

© Oman Daily Observer 2016