Muscat: Despite his old age and bad back, 70-year-old Omani farmer, Mohammad Al Riyami, continues to till his family-owned farm nestled in Jabal Akhdar mountain, over 3,000 metres above the sea level.
Al Riyami wakes up in early morning hours every day in his tiny village, Al Ain, and with shovel-in-hand walks 15 minutes to reach his crops.
“I eat my breakfast and then head to work, typically until noon. I walk back home for a rest and lunch and then I head back around 3:30pm until the sun sets,” he told Gulf News.
“I have been doing this for almost 40 years. My father taught me everything about farming and he made me promise to him on his deathbed to take care of the farm.”
Al Riyami’s farm is one of hundreds in Jabal Al Akhdar.
“Even though my son is in university, I have taught him how tend to the crops, as he will be entrusted to take care of the farm when I’m gone,” he said.
Al Riyami’s 20-acre farm boasts pomegranates, figs, apricots, garlic and onions.
Part of the Hajar mountain range, Jabal Al Akhdar (the Green Mountain) is approximately a two-hour drive from the capital where cooler climate allows for the growth of grapes, strawberries, raspberries, plums, figs, almonds, walnuts, pears and apricots.
The pomegranates of Jabal Al khdar are one of the most sought-after variety in the whole region.
His farm has over 75 pomegranate trees and the average pomegranate sells for about 1 Omani riyal.
On average, Al Riyami rakes in around seven thousands riyals a month selling his produce at the Nizwa fruit and vegetable market every week.
“This is a healthy income for me. I am able to take care of my family and I have extra to buy seeds and maintain the farm tools,” he said.
They save money on buying groceries as most of their food comes from the farm.
“Its been a good life for us here. I don’t feel like I am 70,” he said.
Most of the farms in Jabal Akhdar are run and managed by Omani farmers.
More than 77,000 Omans work in the agriculture sector in 194,000 farms nationwide, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries figures.
Agricultural tools, seeds and guide booklets to provided to Omani farmers free of charge by the government.
Around 100,000 expatriates work in the agricultural sector nationwide, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries figures — most of them are Bangladeshi nationals.
Last year, dozens of expatriates running farms in the North and South Batinah region were got caught for using excessive pesticides to speed up crop growth.
“I have never used pesticides on my farm. I use only natural fertilisers for my crops. I don’t want to cheat the consumer. Using excessive pesticides is unsafe for health,” Al Riyami said.
Al Riyami used to till the farm’s soil with a pair of oxen, but upgraded to tractor five years ago.
“I am getting older,” he joked. “I am not as strong as I was before to do heavy-duty labour.”
But despite the intensive labour required to manage the farm, he refuses to hire workers to help him.
“This is our land and I am loyal to it. We should not depend on others to take care of it,” he says.