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UAE dates: A long, sweet history of togetherness

Dates have sustained generations of people in UAE and are an integral part of its heritage and identity

Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News Archives
A visitor checks the bunches of dates displayed at a stall during the Liwa Date Festival held in July.
Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: This is the season of dates, with this delectable fruit tickling our taste buds with its sweetness. The fruit has sustained generations of people and has become an integral part of the UAE’s heritage and identity.

The huge popularity of the Liwa Date Festival, which concluded recently, as well as the growing popularity of the Ajman Date Festival are testimony to the date palms’ integration with UAE heritage.

The UAE is the fourth largest producer of dates in world with 750,000 tonnes of the fruit produced annually, contributing to 14 per cent of global output.

From tissue culture to drip irrigation, new technologies have played a major role in reviving and expanding date palm cultivation in the UAE, senior officials told Gulf News.

Nowadays, large-scale propagation of the date palm in the UAE takes place in tissue culture laboratories, said Salah Abdullah Al Mousa (right), acting director, Agricultural Research at the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCE).

The plants are produced and grown to a stable stage in nurseries before they are sold to farmers, he said.

The varieties on sale are pest-and disease-free, grow faster than normal offshoots, and have a strong root system and a survival rate of close to 100 per cent. The application of tissue culture techniques for date palm, also called in-vitro propagation, has many advantages in comparison to traditional techniques such as seed and offshoot propagation, Al Mousa said.

Mansour Al Mansouri, head of the Date Palm Unit at the Abu Dhabi Farmers Service Centre (ADFSC), said new irrigation technologies help farmers save a lot of water. “For plantation, we use mechanical pollination for coupling male and female date palms,” Al Mansouri explained. In the past, farmers used to do this manually, which was time-consuming and expensive, he said. Pruning, another technology, helps farmers produce bigger dates, Al Mansouri said.

In the past, farmers used to dry dates under the sun but now machines do that job, saving a lot of time and effort.

Of course, some dates are more expensive (see story below). Explaining the logic behind the pricing of dates, 
Al Mansouri referred to the Majdool variety of dates, considered to be the most expensive in the world. Though it is cultivated in the UAE, it is mostly exported, he said. It costs up to Dh100-Dh120 a kg in the local market.

Throwing light on different dates grown in the UAE, Al Mansouri said that another variety, Khalas, can be eaten at half-ripe and full-ripe stages. It is the most preferred variety among Emiratis and costs up to Dh40 per kilo. It is mainly cultivated in Al Ain and Western Region [Al Dhafra].

The Fard variety is generally consumed fully ripe and is popular with tourists. Bou Ma’an, a local variety, is mostly cultivated in Liwa and Al Ain. This big-sized date is delicious and its ratab [half-ripe] variety is very popular and it costs Dh20 per kg.

Dabbas in Arabic means “honey date”. Cultivated mainly in Liwa for more than 300 years, it does not give good yield, quality and size in other parts of the UAE, said Al Mansouri.

Among the top varieties in international market, Barhi can be eaten even raw. It is widely cultivated in the US. Deglet Noor is found in Tunisia and Algeria and referred to as the ‘queen of dates’, he informed.

Amber is famous in Saudi Arabia and GCC countries including the UAE and popular among tourists while the Ajwa variety is said to have been first cultivated by Prophet Mohammad [PBUH] and since, is widely cultivated in Saudi Arabia.

Advantages of tissue cultured plants over traditionally propagated plants:

  • The new plants are 100% duplicate of the mother in all characteristics.
  • Fast growth. The plant starts producing dates in 2 to 3 years.
  • 100% healthy and disease-free plants.
  • Strong developed roots and durable plants with negligible losses.
  • Unlimited number of plants can be produced.
  • Larger quantity of fruit dates are produced as compared to traditionally propagated plants.
  • 100% quality guaranteed.
  • Ease of transportation from one place to another.
  • Can be planted year-round.

Source: Engineer Salah Abdullah Al Mousa, Acting Director, Agricultural Research at the Ministry of Climate Change & Environment (MOCCE)