Al Marzouqi talks to a visitor during the festival. Demand for Emirati dates has risen over the past ten years and products such as date juice have made a debut this year. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Western Region: The latest date palm technology, best palm tree farming practices as well as concerns about insects and diseases are some of the topics and concerns that date palm organisations have been addressing throughout the Liwa Date Festival, which runs until Thursday.

"We've spoken to over 20 farmers since the festival begun … they are always searching for the latest methods and technology that can be used to enhance and protect their date palm farms. The great thing about the festival is that it provides them with access to many organisations that can help them address their concerns," said Ahmad Al Marzouqi, authorised manager, University Palmtree, a research body based in Al Ain.

There are more than 44 million date palm trees in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and according to Al Marzouqi, one of the more pressing issues faced by farmers is overwatering or inefficient irrigation systems.

"There are still farmers who do not know how to adequately take care of their trees, by either over or underwatering them, which kills them or makes them more susceptible to insects and diseases," he said.

Addressing infestations

"However, in recent years we've seen a marked improvement in the quality of farm care and the resultant dates as a result of workshops and farmer interactions," he added.

Christopher Hirst, Chief Executive Officer of the Abu Dhabi Farmers' Services Centre (ADFSC), agreed and said they were also continuing to address infestations caused by insects such as the red palm weevil and fruit borers

"There are about 8,250 farmers in the Western Region alone, and of these, approximately 3,050 farmers have registered with us. We expect that number to rise to 24,000 when we begin offering our services to farmers in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi in August…we are constantly educating, training and advising our members [on] the best ways to prevent and combat these pests. Also, during this past growing season, the ADFSC implemented a Date Palm Nutrition Programme to demonstrate how a handful of small procedures can greatly improve the health and productivity of the Western Region's date palms," Hirst said.

Another topic raised by farmers was the marketability of their dates, and what products can be created to highlight their potential, whether regionally or internationally.

"Demand for Emirati dates has been increasing steadily over the past 10 years. This is because of not only a stronger market presence but also as a result of various studies that discuss the nutritional value of dates…to ensure that our farmers are able to constantly compete in this market, we provide both technological access in addition to creating and selling products using their dates such as date juice, candy-covered chocolate and similar items we are debuting at this year's festival and date jam that we will launch in the near future.

"We are confident of their success because the date industry is just beginning to realise its product potential and so there is still room for creativity and innovation," Mohammad Ganem Al Mansouri, external relations and coordination director, Al Foah Company, said.

— With inputs from Sarah Hassan, Staff Reporter