Prior to the discovery of oil in the 1960s, the agricultural sector was central in the Omani economy. However, in 1999 the sector contributed only 3 percent to GDP and was heavily subsidized by the government. Oman is not self-sufficient in food and in 1995 the country spent US$572 million on food and live animals. This figure rose to US$650 million in 1999. There are efforts underway to develop self-sufficiency in staple foods. The main crops grown in Oman are tomatoes, eggplant, dates, bananas, limes, and carrots. The principal agricultural area is found along the Batinah coast, in the northeast between Muscat and Diba al-Hisn, which accounts for about half the total crop area of approximately 101,000 acres. In the south, agriculture is centered on a small coastal plain that is fed by monsoon rain coming from the Indian Ocean. In spite of its small contribution to GDP, the agricultural sector is still a major employer. In 1994, the World Bank estimated that over half the Omani labor force was working in the agricultural sector. The Omani government reports that a total of 140,000 people are employed permanently in this sector and that 47,000 of these people are unpaid family workers. Agricultural employees are primarily of Omani descent.
Oman is famed for producing very high quality agricultural goods and the highest quality products are usually exported to the neighboring Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. (On 26 May 1981 an agreement was signed between the 6 conservative monarchies of the Gulf: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar to coordinate their economic, political, cultural, and security policy.) However, the agricultural farm is threatened by many problems, including outdated technology and an increase in the salinity of the water. The government has responded to these issues by investing more into the sector. Its goal is to obtain self-sufficiency in food production by improving agricultural conditions. In working to make the agricultural sector internationally competitive, the government has introduced incentives for foreign investors. These exemptions include tax reductions, utilities discounts, loans, and tariff protection. The government has also helped Omani firms in exporting their products.