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Agriculture in the Sultanate of Oman


INTRODUCTION

In 1970 the Sultanate's economy, which was virtually a subsistence economy, was entirely based on agriculture and fisheries. It was not until the discovery of oil in commercial quantities in 1964 and its production in 1967 that the country was able to embark on its development. Even so, after the initial construction phase is completed, an oil industry is not labour intensive. Over half the total Omani population is still engaged in the agricultural and fisheries industry. 787,300 people hold cultivable land, according to the most recent survey, and the total number of agricultural workers is around 187,820. A large per centage of the Omani population live in rural villages. However, the stimulus to the national economy derived from the exploitation of oil and gas has also benefited the development and modernisation of agri culture, so that the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries was enabled to achieve nearly 50% self-sufficiency in food production by the end of last year, with a goal of 100% by the year 2000. The value of agricultural and fisheries production rose from RO 17 million in 1970 to RO 156 million by 1994. Agriculture and fisheries are Oman's main non-oil exports, representing 70% of the country's non-oil exports. Last year, agricultural production totalled around 802,000 tonnes, of which livestock was about 23,000 tonnes and fish production 114,300 tonnes. The Sultanate of Oman lies in an arid region of the world, but ow ing to its size and topography it has considerable variations of climate. The backbone of the country is the Hajar range of mountains extend ing from the tip of the Musandam Peninsula in the north to the south east corner of the Arabian Peninsula in the south. The northern end of the range is largely porous limestone rock, which is the source of water used for irrigation purposes on either flank of the mountains. The southern part of the range is of igneous or volcanic rock. The Hajar range, rising to over 10,000 ft at its highest points, attracts the most rainfall of the Sultanate, much of it as heavy localised thunderstorms during the summer months, and from depressions crossing the Arabi an Peninsula from the west during the winter. However, as elsewhere in the Sultanate, except in the extreme south, it is very sporadic, and is subject to considerable annual variations. The coastal plain and sea ward-facing slopes of the mountains in Dhofar in the extreme south receive regular light monsoon rains from June to September. Much of the Interior of the country is desert or semi-desert.



The Cultivated Food Crops of Oman

The coastal Batinah plain extending north-westwards from just north of Muscat to the border with the UAE, and to the east of the Ha jar range, is the most densely populated and heavily cultivated region of the country. Agriculture is totally dependent on irrigation from fresh-water wells sunk into the aquifers, which in turn derives from the rains that fall over the adjacent mountains. High-quality dates are the major product of the Batinah plain, while limes are grown in quan tity, dried and exported. Mangoes, bananas and other fruits are also grown, as well as tomatoes, onions, aubergines and tobacco, for local consumption. The area under cultivation on the Batinah coast has in creased greatly in the last quarter of a century. The introduction of the diesel pump in place of the donkey as a means of raising water from wells has resulted in many more wells being sunk and more water be ing drawn from the aquifers. The result has been the overdrawing of water from the aquifers and the intrusion of salt water from the sea in the coastal regions. Salinity in the well-water increased to such an extent in some areas that cultivation of the land became impossible. Urgent measures are being taken to bring this situation under control, and is dealt with further in the chapter on Water Resources .


Agricultural Production

Inland on both flanks of the Hajar mountains there are considerable areas of cultivation in the wadi beds dependent on water supplied by aflaj (plural of falaj), which are described in detail in the chapter on Water Resources. Dates are the major product of the cultivated areas in the Interior, in addition to other fruits and vegetables. In years of good rains corn is grown as well. Altogether, 35,000 hectares of land are planted with date palms throughout the Sultanate, and 28,000 hectares with other crops, including 11,000 hectares planted with rotation crops. In the south, on the coastal plain around Salalah, coconut palms are grown in place of date palms, which are not suited to the local climate. Bananas thrive in quantity on the coastal plain, with papaya and other fruits. Cattle fodder is also grown, but there are plans to transfer fodder cultivation to the inland side of the coastal range, in view of increasing pressure on water resources on the coastal plain.



Live Stock Production

The coast-facing mountain slopes behind the coastal plain are traditional cattle-breeding areas of the Jabali tribesmen, the only ones in the Sultanate. Until recently, the Jabali reared cattle only for their milk; now, with good road communications with northern Oman, where beef is in increasing demand, the Jabali are being encouraged to export their cattle to the north. This will not only profit the local population, but also relieve the pressure on the grazing lands. This pressure has been building up recently, not only due to overstockiny with cattle, but also to the grazing habits of camels, of which there are a large number on these lands. Camels not only graze on the pastures, but destroy them by consuming the roots of the grasses as well. The Sultanate is now the leading livestock producer in the Gulf region, with half a million head of cattle, goats, sheep and camels. Latest figures indicate that there are 213,120 cows, 854,060 goats, 240,260 sheep and 98,550 camels, reflecting the high priority given to livestock production since the early 1970s. It is the Government's policy to in crease local goat production and reduce dependence on imports. Mod el sheep production units are being set up, and the latest technology is being applied to improve fertility, lower death-rates and increase growth-rates. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is supplying breeders with concentrated feed, as well as fertilisers and seed for the production of fodder. A Ministry project aims to increase the production of milk and oth er dairy products, give dairy farmers marketing assistance and equip ment, and introduce them to modern herd management techniques. Artificial insemination is to improve local cattle through cross breeding with selected imported strains, while the beef production project is to produce economically feasible, good quality beef the whole year round. Protection and immunisation are clearly of great importance. The Ministry has introduced a nationwide programme to immunise all livestock against common animal diseases. This huge project, which began in April 1992, is due to be completed this year, and will have cost more than RO 4 million. It aims at immunising about 7 million an imals. Projects due to be implemented include a veterinary quarantine station in the Wadi Jizzi, on the route of the overland trade between the Sultanate and its neighbours, which is increasing. Agricultural centres with veterinary clinics are being opened in Haima, Wadi Bani Khalid, Al Oqbah and Madha. A veterinary clinic is also being built at Sint in the Wilayat of Bahla.


The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Programs

The Ministry has recently carried out a programme to improve, develop and diversify the cultivation of field crops and fodders, with the aim of identifying the best local strains and improving them. Under the programme, new types of field crops and fodder were evaluated and introduced to the Omani environment. Other objectives included the preparation of programmes aimed at increasing the grain produc tion of the field crops and improving field crop cultivation methods. The programme covered wheat, barley, fodder, lucerne and silage. Research has been advanced in the study of pests and of plant dis eases. Particular attention has been given to diseases which attack limes, date palms, coconuts, bananas and tomatoes. Programmes have also concentrated on biological prevention methods. The Ministry provides the Omani farmer with a number of services which he is unable to undertake on his own, and which require high technical and other facilities. Spraying teams from the Ministry have been operating over large areas of date gardens against a damaging date palm grub (mataq). They have also been assisting farmers in protecting their fields with the use of general pesticides. The Ministry also offers farm ers ploughing services for nominal hire charges at its agricultural development centres. New regulations on agricultural and livestock subsidies were is sued in 1992. The Ministry subsidises the cost of agricultural mechanical equipment to encourage farmers to use it. Items covered include ploughs, reapers, binders, chemical sprayers, mechanical saws and small agricultural implements. Other subsidies cover chemical fertilisers, seeds, pesticides, fruit seedlings, plastic covers, cloches and compost. The Government has also reduced unit prices of electricity and diesel used for farming and agricultural industry projects. The policy of the Oman Agriculture and Fisheries Bank is to provide loans for all categories of farmers, with priority being given to small farmers and productive agricultural projects. The Bank also ad ministers some agriculture and fisheries loan programmes, and grants loans in cooperation with the relevant departments of the Ministry. Until responsibility was transferred to the Ministry of Water Re sources at the beginning of last year, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries was responsible for the maintenance of aflaj and the con struction of recharge dams. The Ministry continues to work closely with the Ministry of Water Resources in making the best use of available water resources. During the current Five-Year Plan the Ministry has implemented a number of projects, including a programme to de termine which land is suitable for agriculture, a study of the south Ba tinah, where particular irrigation problems have arisen, and a study of the Salalah Plain in the south, with a view to introducing modern methods of irrigation on farms. One of the Sultanate's major, and most promising, programmes is the introduction of greenhouse technology. The Ministry has begun subsidising projects of this types, and intends to concentrate on green house agriculture in its next Plan.



Agricultural Projects

During the decade 1991 /2000 the Ministry has the target of increas ing production of poultry meat, eggs and fresh milk by 100%, and meat from grazing animals by 48%. The ultimate aim is total self-sufficiency in all these products, through expert advice and subsi dies. In 1992 a livestock research station was opened in Rumais on the Batinah Coast, containing a number of modern research units, includ ing a laboratory for analysing foodstuffs, fodders and dairy products. It also has enclosures for cows, sheep and goats, a mechanical work shop, a dairy unit, a training unit, a library and auditorium, as well as accommodation. Also, in the same year, a new livestock research sta tion was opened in Wadi Quriyat with similar facilities and a veterinary clinic. In Dhofar, there is a livestock research station which in cludes a cattle research establishment, a dairy research unit and an abattoir. In 1989 the Ministry began an intensive programme of analysing ruminant and poultry feeds, involving experiments in the use of agricultural and animal wastes for animal feeds. The programme has already produced many positive technical and economic results. The Ministry's veterinary laboratories carry out comprehensive studies of endemic animal diseases with the aim of eliminating them. These include infectious pneumonia, diseases in goats and camels, rodent parasites and rabies. It also promotes the artificial insemination of cattle, and modern methods of combating animal diseases. The Ministry has a project for small-scale poultry farmers, which has been in operation for several years. It provides 200 egg-laying chickens, feeding and drinking troughs, nesting boxes and veterinary and advice services. For farmers of meat-producing chickens, it provides a gas-heated hatchery, feeding and watering troughs for chicks and adult birds, wire enclosures, and six batches totalling 3,000 chicks.



PAMAP

The Public Authority for Marketing Agricultural Produce (PAMAP) was established in 1981 with the aim of encouraging Omani farmers to increase the production of fruit, vegetables and other agri cultural crops by creating a body to market the produce, to make it available in the local markets at reasonable prices, and to improve the produce in terms of quality, quantity and availability. PAMAP began commercial operations in the second half of 1985, with a comprehen sive network consisting of six distribution centres and 12 collection centres, established in the Muscat area and the regions. Activities at the centres are controlled by the Headquarters at Ghala, near Muscat, which is manned by trained professionals. All the centres have built in cold storage facilities. Refrigerated trucks are used to transport produce from collection centres to distribution centres and marketing outlets. PAMAP has taken over the operation and management of the banana-ripening and packing factory at Salalah and has established a banana receiving unit at Suwaiq on the Batinah Coast. It has also taken over the collection, processing and marketing of Omani frankincense, which is famous for its quality and aromatic properties, and in creasingly popular as an export and tourist attraction. A quality-control laboratory has been established to handle prob lems relating to fresh produce after harvest. Tests and analysis are carried out at this laboratory to determine safety and acceptability of fresh product and processed items. This facility is also available for private and public sector undertakings and for individuals who may wish to take advantage of it. Market response to products supplied by PAMAP is currently sat isfactory, but PAMAP is always looking for new markets. It has been concentrating on exporting Omani produce, especially during the peak production season, and the results have been encouraging. Seminars and technical training programmes for farmers are organ ised by PAMAP in different parts of the country to inform them of developments in the agricultural sector, and to encourage them to use modern techniques in order to improve quality and increase produc tion. As a result of all these measures, dependence on imported produce has been substantially reduced. PAMAP has been phased out and now marketing is carried out by the private sector in Oman.

 

* Adapted from Oman'95, Ministry of Information, All Rights Reserved to The Ministry. Nizwa.NET is not responsible for errors.


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