Abu Dhabi sends first export of fresh dates to Saudi Arabia

ABU DHABI: Abu Dhabi Farmers’ Services Centre (ADFSC) said it had sent its first export of nearly five tonnes of fresh Khinaizi and Naghal date verities on 12 July to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where the date season has not yet begun. In addition, the organisation will begin sending one-tonne drops every other day to London for the Muslim population preparing for Ramadan there.

The first London export is scheduled for Monday 16 July.

“The UAE hasn’t exported fresh rotab dates before on such a large scale,” said Chris Hirst, CEO of ADFSC.

“And this initiative will open much-needed marketing channels for Abu Dhabi’s farmers, both increasing and diversifying their income.

“In addition to London and Saudi Arabia, we’re looking into potential for Asian markets, especially in those countries with heavy Muslim populations.” Here in Abu Dhabi, the fresh date season is well underway, and ADFSC has already been marketing the fresh “rotab” dates under their Local Harvest brand to supermarkets throughout the UAE.

“The fresh date season is always a special time of year,” continued Hirst, “but it is even more important when it coincides with Ramadan, when those fasting prefer to break their fast with fresh dates.” The fresh date season will continue through September as the late-ripening varieties start to become available.

“With this short window of availability as well as the occasion of Ramadan,” Hirst said, “it is important that we take advantage of the increased demand as much as possible.” ADFSC is also taking part in the Liwa Date Festival this week, where staff members are handing out information and advice, offering technical demonstrations and even planning creative children’s activities. The technical demonstrations are given several times a day about proper palm care, using live palms brought in solely for that purpose.

The demonstrations are based on ADFSC’s Improved Date Palm Nutrition Programme, which is a comprehensive palm care system that reduces instances of disease and pest infestation while bettering tree health through the use of organic soil additives and controlled release fertiliser.

The programme was implemented on 50 Western Region farms during the 2010-2011 growing season. This season the programme was expanded and implemented on 190 farms throughout the Abu Dhabi Emirate in order to treat over 130,000 palms.

Many of the competitors in this year’s rotab competitions at the festival are participants in this programme. Last year, 12 of the 15 winners in the Dubas category were participants, and the organisation hopes for similar results this year.

“Of course, it’s a nice validation for us,” said Hirst.

“But it’s even better for winning farmers. It proves that their efforts are bringing results.

“What’s more,” he added, “there’s a lot of money and big prizes at stake.” All dates in the contest must be in the rotab stage of ripeness in which the tip of the fruit has begun to turn brown. The fruit must also be free of pesticides and chemicals, and the winning entries are tested in a lab. The judging committee also visits each farm to ensure that the farmers’ palms are well cared for and the farm is kept clean.