Dhofar holds potential for wide range of crops
By Kaushalendra Singh –
SALALAH — The southwesterly monsoon, which hit Dhofar’s Jebal (mountain) areas annually, leave immense potential for agriculture in whole of the governorate. Experiments done by the Ministry of Agriculture have encouraging results which suggest that besides various citrus varieties, coffee and grapes can be successfully grown in these areas.
According to Professor Gamaleldin Abdel Hay Hamid, Pomologist, Dhofar is one of the most important agricultural areas in the Sultanate, occupying almost one third of the total area of the country.
“This area has a unique climate which is considered one of its kind in the whole Arabian Peninsula. It has the most diverse topography extending from Salalah plain in the coastal region up to the wooded hills (Dhofar Jabel) which reaches up to 1500-metre elevation followed by the desert or ‘Nejd’ area. This wide diversity in climate and topography makes the region suitable for growing a wide range of fruit crops,” he says.
Tropical fruits like banana, coconut and papaya are dominating in the coastal areas or Salalah plain. Besides, fruits like lime, guava, pomegranate, fig and custard apple are also grown in limited areas of Salalah plain.
“Besides them, a wide range of exotic fruit trees have been introduced to Salalah plain during the last two decades for trial and many of them have been found well adapted to the local conditions,” said Professor Gamaleldin.
Fruits in this category are grapes, avocado, sapota, bread fruit, egg fruit, jack fruit, passion fruit, star fruit, pitahaya, pineapple and star apple. These fruits, according to Prof Gamaleldin, provide good opportunity for adopting them as commercial fruits. They can fetch good money because they cannot be grown elsewhere in whole of the Gulf region.
The land here is fertile compared to other neighbouring countries. The efforts of the Ministry of Agriculture are bearing the fruits, as fruits from Salalah are becoming popular in the GCC countries. Fruit trees occupy about 58 per cent of the total planted agricultural area in Oman, a major population of them are located in Salalah.
“The desert (Nejd area) provides suitable climate for growing excellent date cultivars, as it is well practically demonstrated now in date palm planting in the area,” said Prof Gamaleldin. Prof Gamaleldin finds great potential for growing many varieties of exotic tropical and subtropical fruits in and around Salalah due to its unique climatic conditions.
“Here we can grow many varieties of exotic tropical and subtropical fruits, which cannot be grown in any other part of the country or even in the Gulf region. This great advantage can possibly make Salalah plain the tropical fruit basket of the whole region.”
He, however, suggests massive agricultural extension work supported by some other technical and financial efforts to make this dream true.
Commenting on the challenges of keeping the fruit plants healthy, Prof Gamaleldin said: “Fruit trees, in general, are not difficult to grow but some basics should be followed to achieve success. Trees planted in the suitable soil type should be provided with right balance of water, nutrients, sunlight and ventilation.”
However in Salalah, the prevailing high humidity conditions are inductive for many fungal diseases. Much care is required during handling, planting of fruit tree seedlings.
In addition to that avoiding excess watering and carefully applying some other important post harvest cultural practices and techniques are of vital importance in order to avoid pests and disease problems. Besides treatment of such problems needs immediately, water salinity problems need to be solved because this stands as one of the main limiting factor for extending fruit production in certain areas of Salalah plain, he said.
Prof Gamaleldin strongly believes that fruit production in Salalah gives a boost to the economy and says: “I believe that export of fruits like dates, bananas and papayas can be of significant benefit to the growers as well as to the country as a whole.”