Muscat: Under-funded farmers and fishermen lose thousands of rials each year as one-third of their crops and fish catch go to waste because of inadequate storage facilities. Oman processes around 17,000 tons of fish per year and farmers harvest around 1.7 million tons of foodgrain annually, but the entire yield is not delivered to markets. The average farmers and fishermen say that nearly 30 per cent of their produce is thrown away every year because it gets rotten before arriving in retail shops.
"Fruits and vegetables don't last long in the heat of the summer. We don't have refrigeration to keep our produce fresh. These cold storage facilities are expensive, but vital, to our business," Khalfan Al Naabi, a farmer in Liwa, told Times of Oman. The Batinah region is not only the most fertile area in the country, but its coastal waters are abundant with fish. Oman has a long coastline that stretches 2,092 km. According to statistics, 40 per cent of the Omani people depend upon fishing and farming for livelihood.
Fishermen also largely depend upon cold storage to keep their catch fresh. However, they are forced to rely solely on mobile but rudimentary cold storage systems — loaded on the back of their pickup vehicles. Most are packed with ice to keep fish from rotting.
"I can only pack a maximum of 60 to 80 small fish in my freezer and leave space for blocks of ice. I have to transport my catch quickly to my customers before the ice melts. I also catch some 30 big fish each day that I cannot find storage for. On an average, 10 of them rot, not to mention the smaller ones," explained Khamis Al Darboon, a fisherman in Shinas.
Ismail Al Rashdi, a farmer in Fanja, urges the government to establish cold storage facilities in each town at a subsidised rate, where both fishermen and farmers in their local areas can store their perishable products.
"We will be happy to pay a small amount of money for these cold storage facilities to keep our food fresh. That way, we won't go for panic sale of our products before they rot. I personally have to throw away at least half a ton of carrots, cucumbers, water melons and other food items each year because they stayed too long in the sun," Al Rashdi told Times
According to a food technician, food perishes quickly if it is not stored properly in hot countries like Oman, where temperatures reach 50 degrees Celsius during the summer. "The life of a tomato or banana, even in the shade, is only three days in extreme temperatures. With fish, it is just a matter of hours. I support their argument for opening cold storage facilities in their hometowns. After all, if farmers and fishermen are efficient, they will increase food security in Oman and we won't have to import too much food," Salim Hamdan, a food scientist with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, said.