Growing More by Growing Smarter

Smart farming

Not content to rest on its laurels, the Omani Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Water Resources, along with other agencies, has inaugurated a new vision for smart and sustainable agriculture in the Sultanate.

In keeping with the nation’s shrewd and discerning approach to development, policymakers have begun investing significant resources in smart agricultural initiatives that can improve resource allocation while stimulating yields and fostering food security. Given the realities of Oman’s geographic position and a changing climate, the public and private sector actors are working diligently to ensure Oman’s agricultural sector is modern and sustainable.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Water Resources (MoAFWR) is pursuing a number of projects focused on smart agriculture and innovative growing solutions. MoAFWR recently signed an agreement with the Agricultural and Fisheries Development Company (AFDC) to develop a smart agriculture project in Al Kamil Wa Al Wafi. Budgeted at OMR5.6 million, the project is focused on improving the productivity of local vegetable growing, lengthening growing seasons, and improving vegetable quality and safety. The project is one of numerous initiatives between the public and private sectors, and officials are confident that such cooperative agreements will support the long-term goals of Oman Vision 2040. This project includes programs aimed at developing soilless farming methods, open field cultivation, general mechanization, developing more robust and modern irrigation networks, as well as building out greenhouse, shade house, warehouse, and processing infrastructure. Approximately 150,000sqm will be set aside for the cultivation of winter crops, and there will be a particular focus on ensuring that go-to-market facilities, such as sorting and processing capabilities, are in place.

Another exciting project, dubbed the Million Date Palm Plantation Project, is being newly managed by the Oman Investment Authority (OIA) and is focused planting 1 million date palm trees across the Sultanate. In cooperation with MoAFWR, OIA is working to improve food security and ensure dates have an even more prominent position in Oman’s future agricultural output. The project currently includes 11 farms spread across the country, with each sustaining between 10,000 and 100,000 trees.
Given Oman’s geographic location and climate, officials and investors are placing particular attention on smart agricultural projects. Initiatives that can rationalize resource usage and create real food security are key, and smart farming is a promising solution. Smart farming promises to increase production while also ensuring that water, a most precious resource, is stewarded as responsibly as possible. Smart farming also has great potential to unlock vast amounts of data that can be harnessed to create a virtuous cycle, spurring ever-greater knowledge and know-how. Using AI and the Internet of Things (IoT), farmers can more effectively monitor their crops, delivering water and nutrients tailored to the specific needs of given plant. According to Sawsana Al Rahbi, a researcher at Sultan Qaboos University, smart agricultural techniques are used to collect real-time data on the conditions of crops, and this data is “analyzed digitally to direct automatic control systems to do the pre-programmed command, such as irrigation of the field with a certain percentage, spraying the insecticide in calculated quantities, reaping the fruits, and sorting production according to color, size or shape.” By finetuning every aspect of the crop’s lifecycle, technologists and farmers can reduce inputs and costs while increasing yields and promoting food safety.

Haya Water, a government-owned entity, has also developed a number of initiatives aimed at reclaiming water for agricultural use. The company currently produces around 180,000cbm of treated water per day, and officials are interested in making more of that water available for agriculture. In an interview with TBY, Sulaiman Al Qasmi, acting CEO of Haya Water, described his firm’s efforts to expand the water it makes available to farmers and the investment opportunities that can come along with such efforts. “We can supply water to around 135 producing farms,” noted Al Qasmi, “and the farmers are pleased with this. We initiated a project in March to work with investors based on shared revenues. They will come and build the network for these farms from our main trunk line and main pipe and do the distribution system where they can sell the water and we share the revenues.” Haya Water is currently in the process of signing an MoU with the Omani Food Holding Company to develop these projects, and overserves inside and outside the country are following closely.

By developing PPPs with international and domestic investors, officials and policymakers are hoping to leverage governmental resources to generate long-term development capable of paying public and private dividends. Keen to introduce as many high-quality initiatives as possible, Haya Water has also developed a project with OQ, a national petroleum investment company focused on using treated water to sustain trees from which castor oil and bio diesel can be derived.

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