(MENAFN - Times of Oman) Oman government is taking several new measures to enhance both food reserves and storage facilities to ensure food security and thereby maintain price stability within the country.
As part of the move, 52 new warehouses will be set up in different wilayats with an envisaged investment of RO42 million to ensure availability of food reserves even in remote villages, which can be used in the aftermath of natural calamities like cyclone, said Maqbool bin Ali Sultan, minister of commerce and industry.
There is no reason to worry about availability of essential food grains. There are enough food grains within the country, Maqbool said while addressing an open forum organised by Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI).
The minister elaborated that the country now has reserves of 200,000 tonnes of rice, 70,000 tonnes of sugar and 250,000 tonnes of wheat. Rice reserves are enough for two years consumption, sugar for one year and wheat for nine months, he added.
This is against the normal reserve practice of essential food items for three months in other countries. We are stocking more because we are not producing these food grains, OCCI Chairman Khalil Abdullah Al Khonji told Times of Oman, on the sidelines of the forum.
Other food grain producing countries like Russia are in a position to ban exports to enhance domestic availability in the eventuality of an unforeseen crisis.
Khonji said one of the challenges faced by the government now is how to circulate reserve food grains like rice in the market.
Maqbool said wheat prices in the international market soared to 340 per tonne, from 211 a tonne three months ago. This was mainly due to a ban on Russian exports, after the drought there. However, wheat prices are settling down now, he added.
Plans are also afoot to build a 200,000-tonne capacity silo facility at Sohar Port and enhance storage capacity of the existing silo in Salalah from 40,000 tonnes to 140,000 tonnes. This will help Oman to maintain a strategic reserve of essential food grains.
Two agencies " an Australian consultancy firm and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) " have recently conducted separate studies on how to ensure food security in the country.
As part of a comprehensive plan, the Australian firm recommended for investing in agricultural fields in a country from where Oman can easy import its produce.
However, UNCTAD said the Sultanate should invest in Cambodia. The Australian firm also recommended in setting up more food processing industries (like processing of tuna) to ensure availability. The Cabinet will study all these proposals and will take a final decision, he added.
Khonji said one of the hurdles faced by the government in investing in agricultural fields in other countries is that there is no guarantee the agricultural produce will be exported back to Oman.
There are no free zones for agricultural cultivation. And that is why the government did not rush to invest in agricultural fields in other countries, Khonji added.
Responding to a question from the participants, Maqbool said a move by Gulf Cooperation Council states to jointly place order for food grains in the international market did not succeed.
Each country wants a separate grade of rice.
Referring to the measures taken by the government to stabilise prices in 2008, the minister said the government bought food grains at high prices and were selling at a discount to wholesale merchants to ease the pressure.
By A E James