(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) One of Oman's most popular fruits, the locally grown pomegranate, is missing from shelves of fruit shops and supermarkets in the city. The shopkeepers say that there is a high demand for the fruit but there isn't enough supply to cater to the large number of customers.
Due to its semi-arid climate and high altitude, the Jebel Akhdar area in northern Oman is ideal for the cultivation of high quality pomegranates, the harvesting of which takes place between July and September, with August being the peak month.
The low volumes and high demand translate into high prices which consumers are willing to pay, but so far this year the sought-after fruit hasn't reached many fruit shops and supermarkets in Muscat.
According to Hassan Moha-mmed, a Muttrah-based fruit and vegetable vendor specialising in local crops, Omani pomegranates sell for RO3 to 4 per kilo, while imported fruit sells for below RO2 per kilo. ''We haven't been able to source any local pomegranates this year and it is getting late in the season,'' he said.
Mohammed believes an increase in tourism at Jebel Akhdar is contributing to the shortage. ''The youth in pomegranate producing areas sell their fruit by the side of the road, and tourists from Oman and other GCC countries are prepared to pay extremely high prices for the fruit.''
Ashraf Aziz, store manager, The Sultan Center, said that even though prices are high, there usually is a good response for locally-grown fruits. ''We're hoping to get our hands on local pomegranates this year as they're very sought after. However, it is impossible to get enough to meet our customers' needs, so like everyone else, we're forced to import them from countries like India, Jordan, Egypt, Iran and Yemen.''
Rashid al Yahyai, assistant professor of horticulture at Sultan Qaboos University's department of crop sciences, said, ''The traditional cultivars that are commonly grown in Oman include Helow (sweet), Qusum (hard-seeded, Malasi (soft skin), and Hamedh (sour). The most prized variety is the Helow, which is larger and sweeter than others.''
Yahyai said that even though the annual yield is up to 180 fruits per mature tree, ''limited trees mean limited production, which forces Oman to import pomegranates over US2mn every year.''
He said that local pomegranate production is facing challenges due to a variety of reasons. ''We should give our full support to the remaining pomegranate cultivators. The tree is an important part of Omani history. The peel was used as a dye in traditional remedies while the wood was used as fuel for co