UAE date exports quintuple in past decade as government continues to support farmers | Salaam Footbridge

The UAE exported $235 million worth of dates in 2020, with the fruit accounting for around 60% of the country’s agricultural production.

Sharjah: Date production is booming in the UAE as government initiatives begin to impact farmers’ profits.

The Al Dhaid Date Festival which took place in the emirate of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates at the end of July is the latest example of the government’s support for the food sector. The annual event has brought together thousands of farmers, manufacturers and distributors of agricultural equipment to facilitate transactions and the exchange of expertise.

“The government doesn’t charge us any fees, whether it’s for participating in public markets or festivals,” Ibrahim Shakkah, a date farmer based in Sharjah who attended the festival, told Salaam Gateway. “Some exhibitions charge us, but these are nominal fees, and it greatly supports us and enables us to showcase our products and compete in the market,” he said.

Shakkah supplies the local market but strives to become a regional supplier. “It’s the third time I’ve taken part in the festival and it has helped me win many customers; I now sell around 600 kilograms of dates per month,” he said.

Ibrahim Shakkah, a date farmer based in Sharjah (Heba Hashem).

More than 30,000 people visited the sixth edition of the Al Dhaid Date Festival, which coincided with the date harvest season in the UAE which peaks in August and September. The event included contests for date growers and awarded cash prizes totaling $272,000 to 145 winners. Some of the most sought-after dates from the approximately 160 varieties grown in the country were displayed and sold.

Abu Ahmed, a Sharjah-based date palm farmer participating for the first time, presented varieties such as khalas, sukkari, khenaizi, blush, marzipan, sobo al-aroos, al-ambra , nagal and gash rabie. “Everything was sold because of its high quality. I sold more than five [metric] tons of dates last year and it was mainly thanks to local marketing,” he said.

Industry Marketing

According to the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, nearly two-thirds of the agricultural land in the United Arab Emirates is devoted to the cultivation of date palms, and the fruit accounts for around 60% of the country’s agricultural production. In 2019, the UAE produced 341,246 metric tons of dates from around 40 million date palms across the country, according to data from the Federal Center for Competitiveness and Statistics. However, most date farms in the UAE are small, family-run entities that were established around four decades ago as part of a social welfare program designed to settle Bedouins. For this reason, many date groves in the country are hobby farms and many farmers still grow dates in their backyards.

The government has already taken huge steps to commercialize date cultivation and help farmers increase their productivity and profitability. While Sharjah holds the Al Dhaid Date Festival and the three-month-long Date Festival in the Souq Al Jubail market, Abu Dhabi has held the Liwa Date Festival for 18 years. The event recently wrapped up its latest edition, where prizes worth nearly $2.2 million were handed out to hundreds of winning farmers.

Abu Dhabi also hosts the annual Khalifa International Award for Date Palm and Agricultural Innovation as well as the International Date Palm Conference and Abu Dhabi Date Palm Expo. This month, another annual event – the Liwa Ajman Dates and Honey Festival – will take place on the west coast of the country.

The Al Dhaid Date Festival coincided with the United Arab Emirates (Heba Hashem) date harvest season.

Exports on the rise

However, the most transformative decision for date growers was the establishment of Al Foah in 2005 by the government of Abu Dhabi. Now the largest date processing company in the world, it sources products from local independent farmers and markets them domestically and abroad. The company – recently merged with government-backed food giant Agthia – processes 110,000 metric tonnes of dates each year and exports 90% of that amount.

Last month, Al Foah launched an online marketplace called eZad which will allow farmers to sell surplus produce at home and abroad, helping them manage their unsold produce and ensuring that they be paid promptly. Over 1,200 buyers have registered on the electronic platform, while over 450 local farmers have expressed interest.

Thanks to these efforts, the value of date exports from the United Arab Emirates has increased almost fivefold over the past decade, reaching $235 million in 2020 from $48.1 million in 2010, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity. (OEC), which collects data on international trade. . The UAE now accounts for 12.3% of global date exports, making the country the third-largest date exporter after Tunisia (15.5%) and Saudi Arabia (13.2%). India – the world’s largest date importer – was the UAE’s top importer, receiving 33.2% of the country’s dates in 2020, followed by Bangladesh (16.5%) and Morocco (13.7 %), according to OEC data.

Agricultural constraints

While date farming in the UAE is a long-standing tradition that locals are proud of, the industry is growing in importance given the role it plays in the pursuit of food security. As such, there is a growing emphasis on educating farmers about sustainable techniques that can improve the quality of their crops. At the same time, the UAE government continues to support local farmers, providing them with subsidies such as half-price farming materials. But several constraints remain.

“One of the biggest challenges facing farmers in the UAE is the high costs they incur due to the availability of water resources in different quantities across the country,” said Saeed Dalmouk Alkatbi, Member of the organizing committee of the Al Dhaid Date festival. Salaam Gate. “That’s without taking into account the problem of agricultural pests and the high cost of pesticides. These issues lead to a discrepancy in the quality and prices of dates from region to region within the UAE,” he said.

The government announced this year that it would address this problem by investing AED2.5 billion (nearly $681,000) to extend additional water networks to farms to facilitate the distribution of treated water.

Abu Ahmed, a date farmer based in Sharjah (Heba Hashem).

“We inherited the palm cultivation from our fathers and grandfathers, and we learned a lot from them on how to take care of the date palm,” Abu Ahmed said. “At first we used primitive methods to dry and preserve dates, then we started to adopt modern methods. We now use organic fertilizers to fertilize the palm tree and try to control pests from the start. »

Alkatbi noted that the Al Dhaid date festival introduced farmers to several cultivation techniques that can increase crop yields, including seed multiplication, vegetative propagation and the use of tissue culture technique. The event also showed date growers how to periodically monitor the date palm to avoid pests such as the red palm weevil. The highly destructive insect is so widespread that the United Arab Emirates is investing $1 million to develop genetic methods to control it.

“It’s no secret that there are great challenges in this area, as there are diseases that can strike palm trees and negatively affect their production. We manage these issues through pesticides or primary infection prevention,” Shakkah said. “Ultimately, the date palm is like a child; when you take care of it and cultivate it, it will give you good yields.”

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