Abu Dhabi: Global warming and the Red Palm Weevil could threaten the future of the date palm, researchers heard at a conference in Abu Dhabi.

More than 50 papers and studies were discussed during the first day of the fifth International Date Palm Conference.

“Climate change plays a significant role in boosting agriculture. Around 40 per cent of the world population relies on agriculture for its livelihood and is likely to be severely affected by climate change.

“The most influential factors that might impact the future distribution of date palms is the sharp variation in rainfall, global warming, gas pollution and decline of water resources,” Dr Mohan Jain from the department of agriculture at Helsinki University, said.

He said that global warming could be catastrophic as it will increase the number of pests and new diseases, which will affect agricultural products.

The conference also highlighted the impact of the Red Palm Weevil. The insects lay their eggs on the date palm and then the larvae that develop burrow into the tree and severely hinder its growth.

Around two million Red Palm Weevils were trapped from farms in Abu Dhabi during the first half of 2013, the Abu Dhabi Farmers’ Services Centre (ADFSC) announced earlier.

“The Red Palm Weevil causes a lot of harm and injury to palm trees and it is difficult and even impossible to find out the infection in early stages, so it is too late to recover and treat the tree. New methods are now under progress to detect the infection early such as auditory tools, trained dogs and DNA prints.

“New techniques will keep the palm tree safe and reduce cost, time and effort spent if using traditional methods,” Dr Emad Hussain Al Tareihi, who works in the department of agricultural affairs in the Ministry of Environment in Qatar, said.

The Khalifa International Date Palm Award honoured eight winners for their outstanding innovations in a ceremony held at Emirates Palace Hotel.

The awards were given in five categories — research and distinguished studies in the field of date palm cultivation and date production, the best distinguished production, the best development project, the best distinguished technology and the distinguished personality.

Outstanding innovations

“The award provides ample space to spread ideas, experiences, and successful experiments. It is also a tool to promote and encourage achievement and success. Winners, researchers and lovers of the date palm tree have created and demonstrated outstanding innovations to achieve economic growth, increase productivity and enhance prosperity in the UAE,” Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community, said.

Mohammad Ali Basunia, assistant professor at the Department of Soil, Water and Agricultural Engineering at Sultan Qaboos University, won Dh200,000 for creating a solar tunnel dryer.

“My project can be used in rural areas and poor farms, where there is no electricity. The 12-metre long and two-metre wide solar tunnel dryer is designed to dry about 180-200kg of freshly harvested dates per batch. I conducted a test with around 190.2kg of dates with initial moisture content of 32.8 per cent to analyse the performance of the dryer. The dates were dried to a final average moisture content of 18.6 per cent within approximately two days,” Basunia, 52 from Bangladesh, told Gulf News.

“The results indicated that the drying was faster in a solar tunnel dryer than natural open air sun drying. It was possible to reach the moisture content level for safe storage within less than two day with a solar dryer and five to seven days in open air. The improvement in the quality of dates in terms of colour and brightness was distinctly recognised,” he added.

Basunia also pointed out that cost of the solar tunnel dryer could be up to about Dh5,000. The dryer can play a vital role in protecting dates from different weather conditions, insects and sand.

“The project can be applied easily and successfully in the UAE because of sufficient sunlight, which can be used inside the solar tunnel dryer,” he said.

Dr Moayyad Mohammad Rushdy Al Hakim from Iraq, won the first prize for the best technology.

Al Foah, a UAE company, won first prize in the best developmental project for its integrated date collection, handling and storage system.

The three-day forum has been organised by the UAE University in cooperation with the Khalifa International Date Palm Award.