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Understanding constraints to the development of the agricultural sector in Oman: an application of the theory of planned behaviour

Al-Anbari, J. S. K. (2017) Understanding constraints to the development of the agricultural sector in Oman: an application of the theory of planned behaviour. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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Oman's agriculture sector currently plays a small role in Oman's economy, accounting for around 3% of GDP and 6% of labour force, and comprising in the main farmers with very small landholdings. Yet though it has a relatively small share of GDP, the agricultural sector is an important element of government policy, particularly with respect to increasing food production as part of the government's overarching strategy to transform the national economy away from its single sector dependence on oil. The Government's vision for agriculture includes increased land and water productivity, reduced costs or production, increasing employment opportunities, improving agricultural trade balance, and protecting the environment. Increased production is seen as an important part of increasing self–sufficiency in domestic food production in Oman. For while Oman is a net exporter of fishery products, it is currently a net importer of agricultural products, with own-production accounting for around 36% for poultry, 31% milk, 21% meat, 57% vegetables, 68% fruit and 45% eggs, promoted mainly through relatively low customs tariffs. To improve agricultural productivity, the government has focused on a number of areas, from improved seed, the use of inorganic fertiliser, modern irrigation, greater agricultural mechanization, and greater use of greenhouse production. In addition, agricultural cooperatives have for many decades been an important element of the government's agriculture strategy, in part used to encourage adoption of new technologies. Despite these efforts by the Omani government, the reality of Oman's agriculture sector is one where water scarcity is a key problem and soil fertility is poor, and farmers have not fully embraced the government's vision of modernisation. This study is guided by a number of research questions that address the challenges faced by smallholder farmers in Oman; the key influences and influencers that lead to farmers adopting new management approaches and technologies; and the role of cooperatives. The study is centred around the theory of planned behavior, which focuses on farmers' attitudes and what influences those attitudes. The findings from this study thus provide insights into the choices Oman's farmers make, particularly why they have not fully embraced management approaches including those that enhance water management, through the adoption of modern irrigation; and those that enhance soil fertility, through the increased use of inorganic fertiliser. The study focuses on these two specific technologies because they have been identified as critical for the country with regards to modernizing the agricultural sector. By comparing farmers who belong to a cooperative with those that do not, this study contributes to the on-going policy discussion in Oman as to whether the government should promote the development of new agricultural cooperatives around the country. A lack of suitable land dominated farmers' discussions over the challenges they faced, attributed to water shortages, low soil fertility, and soil and water salination, which together reduce yields. But farmers also discussed poor access to markets and the small size of landholdings. Using the theory of planned behavior revealed some important insights into why farmers are not adopting technologies that would help them address these key soil and water challenges. With respect to low levels of adoption of inorganic fertilizer, farmers receive mixed messages as to whether inorganic fertilizer is beneficial or harmful. Farmers belonging to a cooperative were more positive about inorganic fertilizer and more likely to use it, reflecting either the cooperative playing a role in generating a more positive attitude, or a younger more educated demographic. In contrast, all respondents tended to have a positive attitude towards modern irrigation. Low rates of adoption were found to be driven by difficulties in accessing water, irregular supplies of electricity, and in the very high cost of installation. These findings suggest different roles for government with respect to these two technologies. For fertilizer, the data suggest a stronger and consistent message from extension agents is needed, combined with more detailed training on how to use inorganic fertilizer. With respect to modern irrigation, some form of financial help, and better knowledge on how to maintain the systems could help. But this would only be effective if there were reliable water and electricity. Because the profile of farmers differs considerably depending on whether or not they belong to a cooperative, isolating the role of cooperatives in the adoption of new technologies and management approaches proved tricky. Cooperative farmers in Oman are in the main younger and less experienced farmers, but better educated than those who are not members. One approach for the government could be to encourage farmers to join cooperatives so as to facilitate awareness, education, and opportunities with respect to new farming approaches and technologies. Cooperatives might also play a larger role in facilitating access to resources, whether ensuring the availability of key inputs, or helping farmers to fund larger-scale capital investments such as modern irrigation. Finally, this thesis has provided the first application of the theory of planned behavior in the context of the agriculture sector in Oman. Thus for the first time, detailed knowledge concerning Omani farmers' attitudes and behavior towards using modern technologies and management approaches has been generated and explained. The government of Oman has relatively good knowledge with respect to which technologies are required for the agricultural sector to modernize and increase its role in economic diversification and food security, yet not how to encourage farmers to adopt the approaches. This study has provided important, novel, and timely insights into how the government can improve the uptake of these technologies, and thus move closer to reaching the potential of the agricultural sector.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Robinson, E.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Agriculture, Policy and Development
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Agriculture, Policy and Development
ID Code:71952


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