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Dates Have Been a Staple Food of the Middle East and the Indus Valley for Thousands of Years

The prices of all the food items are skyrocketing likewise the price of dates reached Rs300 per kg. Arvi Rs180 per kg, Tinda and ladyfinger Rs190 per kg etc. Phoenix dactyllifera, commonly known as date or date palm, is a flowering plant species in the palm family, Are caeca, cultivated for its edible sweet fruit. Although its place of origin is unknown because of long cultivation, it probably originated from the Fertile Crescent region straddling between Egypt and Mesopotamia. The species is widely cultivated across Northern Africa, The Middle East, The Horn of Africa and South Asia, and is naturalized in many tropical and subtropical regions worldwide. P. dactylifera is the type species of genus Phoenix, which contains 12 to 19 species of wild date palms, and is the major source of commercial production.

Date trees typically reach about 21 to 23 meters (69 to 75 ft.) in height, growing singly or forming a clump with several steoms from a single root system. Date fruits are oval cylindrical, 3 to 7 cm (1.2 to 2.8 in) long, and about an inch (2.5 cm) in diameter, ranging from bright red to bright yellow in color, depending on variety. They are very sweet, containing about 75 percent of sugar when dried. Dates have been a staple food of the Middle East and the Indus Valley for thousands of years. There is archaeological evidence of date cultivation in Arabia from the 6th millennium BCE. The total annual world production of dates amounts to 8.5 million metric ton countries of the Middle East and North Africa being the largest producers.

Etymology

The species name dactylifera date bearing comes from the words datylos, which means date and fero, which means. The fruit is known as a date. The fruit’s English name (through Old French), as well as the Latin both come from the Greek word for “finger”, because of the fruit’s elongated shape.

History

The records show that the date palm has existed for at least 50 million years. Dried dates are peach, and apricot from Lahun, Fayum, Egypt. Late Middle Kingdom Dates have been a staple food of the Middle East and the Indus Valley for thousands of years. There is archaeological evidence of date cultivation in eastern Arabia between 5530 and 5320 calBC. They are believed to have originated around what is now Iraq, and have been cultivated since ancient times from Mesopotamia to prehistoric Egypt. The Ancient Egyptians used the fruits to make date wine, and ate them at harvest.

There is archeological evidence of date cultivation in Mehrgarh around 7000 BCE, a Neolithic civilization in what is now western Pakistan. Evidence of cultivation is continually found throughout later civilizations in the Indus Valley, including the Harappan period 2600 to 1900 BCE. In Ancient Rome the palm fronds used in triumphal processions to symbolize victory were most likely those of Phoenix dactylifera. The date palm was a popular garden plant in Roman peri style gardens, though it would not bear fruit in the more temperate climate of Italy. It is recognizable in frescoes from Pompeii and elsewhere in Italy, including a garden scene from the House of the Wedding of Alexander.

In later times, traders spread dates around South West Asia, northern Africa, and Spain. Dates were introduced into Mexico and California by the Spaniards in 1765, around Mission San Ignacio. A date palm cultivar, probably what used to be called Judean date palm, is renowned for its long lived orthodox seed, which successfully sprouted after accidental storage for 2000 years. The upper survival time limit of properly stored seeds remains unknown.

Date Fruit Clumps

Date trees typically reach about 21 to 23 meters (69 to 75 ft.) in height, growing singly or forming a clump with several stems from a single root system. The leaves are 4 to6 meters (13 to 20 ft.) long, with spines on the petiole, and pinnate, with about 150 leaflets. The leaflets are 30 cm (12 in) long and 2 cm (0.79 in) wide. The full span of the crown ranges from 6 to 10 m (20 to 33 pct.).

The date palm is dioeciously, having separate male and female plants. They can be easily grown from seed, but only 50 percent of seedlings will be female and hence fruit bearing, and dates from seedling plants are often smaller and of poorer quality. Most commercial plantations thus use cuttings of heavily cropping cultivars. Plants grown from cuttings will fruit 2 to 3 years earlier than seedling plants.

Dates are naturally wind pollinated, but in both traditional oasis horticulture and in the modern commercial orchards they are entirely pollinated manually. Natural pollination occurs with about an equal number of male and female plants. However, with assistance, one male can pollinate up to 100 females. Since the males are of value only as pollinators, this allows the growers to use their resources for many more fruit to producing female plants. Some growers do not even maintain any male plants, as male flowers become available at local markets at pollination time. Manual pollination is done by skilled laborers on ladders, or by use of a wind machine. In some areas such as Iraq the pollinator climbs the tree using a special climbing tool that wraps around the tree trunk and the climber’s back to keep him attached to the trunk while climbing.

Fresh dates, clockwise from top right: crunchy, crunchy opened, soft out of skin, soft date fruits are oval cylindrical, 3 to 7 cm (1.2 to 2.8 in) long, and 2 to 3 cm (0.79 to 1.18 in), and when ripe, range from bright red to bright yellow in color, depending on variety. Dates contain a single stone about 2 to 2.5 cm (0.8 to 1.0 in) long and 6 to 8 mm (0.2 to 0.3 in) thick. Three main cultivar groups of date exist: soft (e.g. ‘Barhee’, ‘Halawy’, ‘Khadrawy’, ‘Medjool’), semidry (e.g. ‘Dayri’, ‘Deglet Noor’, ‘Zahdi’), and dry (e.g. ‘Thoory’). The type of fruit depends on the glucose, fructose, and sucrose content.

Cultivation

Dates are an important traditional crop in Iraq, Arabia, and North Africa west to Morocco. Dates especially Medjool and Deglet Noor are also cultivated in America in southern California, Arizona and southern Florida in the United States and in Sonora and Baja California in Mexico. Date palms can take 4 to 8 years after planting before they will bear fruit, and start producing viable yields for commercial harvest between 7 and 10 years.

Mature date palms can produce 150 to 300 lb. (70 to 140 kg) of dates per harvest season, although they do not all ripen at the same time so several harvests are required. In order to get fruit of marketable quality, the bunches of dates must be thinned and bagged or covered before ripening so that the remaining fruits grow larger and are protected from weather and pests such as birds. Date palms require well-drained deep sandy loam soils with pH 8 to 11. The soil should have the ability to hold the moisture. The soil should also be free from calcium carbonate.

Table – 1
Top Ten Date Producers – 2016
Egypt
Iran
 Algeria
Saudi Arabia
United Arab Emirates
 Iraq
Pakistan
Sudan
Oman
Tunisia
World total
1,6941,066
1,030
964
672
615
495
439
348
241
8,460
1,8671,175
1,140
1,063
741
678
546
484
384
266
9,330

Source:  UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

A large number of date cultivars are grown. The most important are:

  • Aabel – common in Libya.
  • Ajwah – from the town of Medina in Saudi Arabia, it is the subject of a Hadith.
  • Al-Khunaizi – from the town of Qatif in Saudi Arabia.
  • Amir Hajj or Amer Hajj – from Iraq, these are soft with a thin skin and thick flesh, sometimes called “the visitor’s date” because it is a delicacy served to guests.
  • Abid Rahim (Arabic: عبد رحيم‎) – from Sudan. In Nigeria it is called Dabino.
  • Barakawi (Arabic: بركاوي‎) – from Sudan.
  • Barhee or barhi (from Arabic barh, meaning ‘a hot wind’) – these are nearly spherical, light amber to dark brown when ripe; soft, with thick flesh and rich flavor. One of the few varieties that is good in the khalal stage when they are yellow (like a fresh grape, as opposed to dry, like a raisin).
  • Bireir (Arabic: برير‎) – from Sudan.
  • Dabbas – from United Arab Emirates.
  • Datça – in Turkey
  • Deglet Noor Algerian cultivar originated from the zibane region in the north eastern Algerian desert (the oases of Tolga, Biskra) so named because the center appears light or golden when held up to the sun. This is a leading date in Libya, Algeria, the United States, and Tunisia.
  • Derrie or Dayri (the “Monastery” date) – from southern Iraq – these are long, slender, nearly black, and soft.
  • Empress – developed by the DaVall family in Indio, California, United States, from a seedling of Thoory. It is large, and is softer and sweeter than Thoory. It generally has a light tan top half and brown bottom half.
  • Fardh or Fard – common in Oman, deep dark brown, tender skin, sweet flavor, and small seed keeps well when well packed.
  • Ftimi or Alligue – these are grown in inland oases of Tunisia.
  • Holwah (Halawi) (Arabic for sweet) – these are soft, and extremely sweet, small to medium in size.
  • Haleema – in Hoon, Libya (Haleema is a woman’s name).
  • Hayany (Hayani) – from Egypt (“Hayany” is a man’s name) – these dates are dark-red to nearly black and soft.
  • Iteema – common in Algeria.
  • Kenta – common in Tunisia.
  • Khadrawi or Khadrawy (Arabic: ‘green’) – a cultivar favored by many Arabs, it is a soft, very dark date.
  • Khalasah (Arabic for quintessence) – one of the major palm cultivars in Saudi Arabia. Its fruit is called Khlas. Notably produced in Hofuf (Al-Ahsa) and Qatif in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia (ash-Sharqīyah).
  • Khastawi (Khusatawi, Kustawy) – this is the leading soft date in Iraq; it is syrupy and small in size, prized for dessert.
  • Khenaizi – from United Arab Emirates.
  • Lulu – from United Arab Emirates.
  • Maktoom (Arabic for hidden) – this is a large, red brown, thick-skinned, soft, medium-sweet date.
  • Manakbir – a large fruit that ripens early.
  • Medjool or (Majdool) (Arabic: مجدول‎) – from Morocco, also grown in the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Jordan, and United Arab Emirates; a large, sweet and succulent date.[12]
  • Migraf (Mejraf) – very popular in Southern Yemen, these are large, golden-amber dates.
  • Mgmaget Ayuob – from Hun, Libya.
  • Mishriq (Arabic: مشرق‎ “east”) – from Sudan and Saudi Arabia.
  • Mazafati or Mozafati – (Persian: مضافتی‎, “Suburban/Peripheral”) It is a dark, fleshy and sweet date of medium size with a relatively high moisture content and is suited for fresh consumption, i.e. not dried. At a temperature of −5 degrees Celsius (23 °F) it can be kept for up to 2 years. It is grown in Iran, in particular in Kerman province, and often named “Bam date”, after the city of Bam in that province.
  • Nabtat-seyf – in Saudi Arabia.
  • Piarom (also known as maryami, mariami, marayami or “chocolate”) – A round, black-brown semi-dry date – from Iran.
  • Rotab (Arabic: رطب) – from Iraq, they are dark and soft.
  • Sag‘ai – from Saudi Arabia.
  • Saidy (Saidi) – soft, very sweet, these are popular in Libya.
  • Sayer (Sayir) (Arabic for common) – these dates are dark orange-brown, of medium size, soft and syrupy.
  • Sukkary – (Arabic: سكري, “Sugar” or “Sweet one”) Yellow skinned; faintly resilient and extremely sweet, often referred to as ‘royal dates’. It’s cultivated primarily in Al Qassim, Saudi Arabia. It’s arguably the most expensive and premium variety.
  • Sellaj – (Arabic: سلّج‎) in Saudi Arabia.
  • Indi – (Sinhala) called in Sri Lanka.
  • Tagyat – common in Libya.
  • Tamej – in Libya.
  • Thoory (Thuri) – popular in Algeria, this dry date is brown-red when cured with a bluish bloom and much wrinkled skin. Its flesh is sometimes hard and brittle but the flavour described as sweet and nutty.
  • Umeljwary – in Libya.
  • Umelkhashab – Brilliant red skin; bittersweet, hard white flesh (Saudi Arabia).
  • Zahidi (Arabic for [Of the] ascetic) – these medium size, cylindrical, light golden brown semi dry dates are very sugary, and sold as soft, medium-hard and hard.
  • Zaghloul (Arabic: زغلول‎) – Dark red skin, long, and very crunchy when fresh (when they are typically served); extremely sweet, with sugar content creating a sense of desiccation in the mouth when eaten. The variety is essentially exclusive to Egypt, where it is subject to an element of nationalist sentiment on account of sharing a name with national hero Saad Zaghloul.
Diseases and Pests

A major palm pest, the red palm beetle (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus) currently poses a significant threat to date production in parts of the Middle East as well as to iconic landscape specimens throughout the Mediterranean world. In the 1920s, eleven healthy Madjool palms were transferred from Morocco to the United States where they were tended by members of the Chemehuevi tribe in a remote region of Nevada. Nine of these survived and in 1935, cultivars were transferred to the “US. Date Garden” in Indio, California. Eventually this stock was reintroduced to Africa and led to the US.

Fruits

Dry or soft dates are eaten out of hand, or may be pitted and stuffed with fillings such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, candied orange and lemon peel, tahini, marzipan or cream cheese. Pitted dates are also referred to as stoned dates. Partially dried pitted dates may be glazed with glucose syrup for use as a snack food. Dates can also be chopped and used in a range of sweet and savory dishes, from tajines (tagines) in Morocco to puddings, ka’ak (types of Arab cookies) and other dessert items. Date nut bread, a type of cake, is very popular in the United States, especially around holidays. Dates are also processed into cubes, paste called “‘ajwa”, spread, date syrup or “honey” called “dibs” or “rub” in Libya, powder (date sugar), vinegar or alcohol. Vinegar made from dates is a traditional product of the Middle East. Recent innovations include chocolate-covered dates and products such as sparkling date juice, used in some Islamic countries as a nonalcoholic version of champagne, for special occasions and religious times such as Ramadan. When Muslims breakfast in the evening meal of Ramadan, it is traditional to eat a date first.

Reflecting the maritime trading heritage of Britain, imported chopped dates are added to, or form the main basis of a variety of traditional dessert recipes including sticky toffee pudding, Christmas pudding and date and walnut loaf. They are particularly available to eat whole at Christmas time. Dates are one of the ingredients of HP Sauce, a popular British condiment.

Dates can also be dehydrated, ground and mixed with grain to form a nutritious stock feed. In Southeast Spain (where a large date plantation exists including UNESCO-protected Palmeral of Elche) dates (usually pitted with fried almond) are served wrapped in bacon and shallow fried.

In Israel date syrup, termed “silan”, is used while cooking chicken and also for sweet and desserts, and as a honey substitute. Dates are one of the ingredients of Jallab, Middle Eastern fruit syrup. In Pakistan, viscous, thick syrup made from the ripe fruits is used as a coating for leather bags and pipes to prevent leaking.

Table – 2
Nutritional Value
Energy
Carbohydrates
Sugars
Dietary fiber
Fat
Protein
Vitamins
Vitamin A equiv.
beta-Carotene
lutein zeaxanthin
Vitamin A
Thiamine (B1)
Riboflavin (B2)
Niacin (B3)
Pantothenic acid (B5)
Vitamin B6
Folate (B9)
Vitamin C
Vitamin E
Minerals
Calcium
Iron
Magnesium
Manganese
Phosphorus
Potassium
Sodium
Zinc
Other constituents
Water
1,178 kJ (282 kcal)
75.03 g (2.647oz)
63.35 g (2.235oz)
8 g (0.28oz)
0.39 g (0.014oz)
2.45 g (0.086oz)
Quantity %DV
0pc 6μg
75μg
10 IU
5pc 0.052 mg
6pc 0.066 mg
8pc 1.274 mg
12pc 0.589 mg
13pc 0.165 mg
5pc 19μg
0pc 0.4 mg
0pc 0.05 mg
3pc 2.7μg
Quantity %DV
4pc 39 mg
8pc 1.02 mg
12pc 43 mg
12pc 0.262 mg
9pc 62 mg
14pc 656 mg
0pc 2 mg
3pc 0.29 mg
Quantity
20.53 g (0.724oz)

Source: USDA Nutrient DatabaseLink to USDA Database entryUnits: μg = micrograms mg = milligrams IU = International units†Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.

Dates provide a wide range of essential nutrients, and are a very good source of dietary potassium. The sugar content of ripe dates is about 80 percent; the remainder consists of protein, fiber, and trace elements including boron, cobalt, copper, fluorine, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and zinc. The glycemic index for three different varieties of dates are 35.5 (khalas), 49.7 (barhi), and 30.5 (bo ma’an). The caffeic acid glycoside 3-O-caffeoylshikimic acid (also known as dactylifric acid) and its isomers are enzymic browning substrates found in dates.

 

Other Parts
Seeds

Date seeds are soaked and ground up for animal feed. Their oil is suitable for use in soap and cosmetics. Date palm seeds contain 0.56 to 5.4 percent auric acid. They can also be processed chemically as a source of oxalic acid. Date seeds are also ground and used in the manner of coffee beans, or as an additive to coffee. Experimental studies have shown that feeding mice with the aqueous extract of date pits exhibit antigen toxic and reduce DNA damage induced by Nitrous-N methyl urea.

Fruit clusters

Stripped fruit clusters are used as brooms. Recently the floral stalks have been found to be of ornamental value in households.

Sap

Apart from P. dactylifera, wild date palms such as Phoenix Sylvester’s and Phoenix reclined, depending on the region, can be also tapped for sap.

Leaves

Date palm leaves are used for Palm Sunday in the Christian religion. In North Africa, they are commonly used for making huts. Mature leaves are also made into mats, screens, baskets and fans. Processed leaves can be used for insulating board. Dried leaf petioles are a source of cellulose pulp, used for walking sticks, brooms, fishing floats and fuel. Leaf sheaths are prized for their scent, and fiber from them is also used for rope, coarse cloth, and large hats. The leaves are also used as a lulav in the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

Young date leaves are cooked and eaten as a vegetable, as is the terminal bud or heart, though its removal kills the palm. The finely ground seeds are mixed with flour to make bread in times of scarcity. The flowers of the date palm are also edible. Traditionally the female flowers are the most available for sale and weigh 300 to 400 grams (11 to 14 oz). The flower buds are used in salad or ground with dried fish to make a condiment for bread.

Symbolism

In the Quran, Allah instructs Maryām (the Virgin Mary) to eat dates when she gives birth to Isa (Jesus); and, similarly, they are recommended to pregnant women. Phoenix dactylifera held great significance in early Judaism and subsequently in Christianity, in part because the tree was heavily cultivated as a food source in ancient Israel. In the Bible palm trees are referenced as symbols of prosperity and triumph. In Psalm 92:12 “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree”. Palm branches occurred as iconography in sculpture ornamenting the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, on Jewish coins, and in the sculpture of synagogues. They are also used as ornamentation in the Feast of the Tabernacles. Palm branches were scattered before Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

Pakistan is the Sixth Largest Producer of Dates in the World.

Thanks to suitable climate conditions, Khairpur in Sindh occupies central place in the country’s date production. Agriculture is central to Khairpur’s economy and date production plays a vital role in providing people with sustainable livelihoods. The golden harvest of Khairpur is not only from adjacent localities, but people migrate to Khairpur with their families from Punjab and Balochistan as well and settle near the date farms. The internal migration begins as the harvest season approaches towards the end of May. Date harvest forms the core of the region’s economic activity.

Boiled raw dates are ready for sundry. Only older women participate alongside men during the harvest as young women are discouraged from working at the farms. Due to cultural constraints, young women are kept away from the farms. The tasks are gendered: women pick fruit from the bunches once they’ve been taken down from the trees by men. Among men, there is also division of labor and difference of compensation. The wages are extremely low, especially compared to how lucrative date farming is. Those who carry the dates on their shoulders and backs earn around Rs350 per day only. Once taken down from the trees, dates are transported to the processing site.

Dates are boiled in water mixed with yellow color for about 20 minutes before being taken out to dry. Those who work in the kitchen to make choaras (dry dates) are paid around Rs500. Those who climb trees to pluck the fruit are paid the highest around Rs700 rupees as their work is the most difficult and risky. Women earn the least at around Rs250 per day. As there’s lack of basic technology, all the tasks are done manually, adding to the workers’ difficulty. Temperatures often reach around 48 degree Celsius and workers work bare feet. Those who work in the kitchen risk fire burns but there is no medical facility in the area in case there is an accident. Climbing trees is potentially fatal. The date variety predominantly found in Khairpur is called Aseel. Most of these dates are dried and turned into choaras. Tractors are the only modern equipment at these farms. A young man separates dokas (raw dates). Each bunch weighs around 15 to 17 kg.

Khairpur’s golden harvest and the women behind it although date palm is a developing industry in Pakistan, the country is already one of the largest producers of this fruit crop in the world. And in the business of producing dates, the city of Khairpur holds a very significant place. Khairpur’s village economy is based on date palm processing and export; this is a source of employment not only for the villagers in Khairpur but also residents of nearby cities, who migrate to the district to work during the crop harvest season. Most of the workers are men, though, with only a small number of women seen working in farms, and that too, the more aged ones.

A majority of Khairpur’s dates are exported to India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The total annual production of dates in Pakistan is about 0.54 million ton with contribution from Sindh at 0.28 million ton. The date variety predominantly found in Khairpur is called Aseel. 85 percent of these dates are dried and turned into choharas. The dates are boiled in water mixed with yellow colour for some time before being taken out to dry. A large number of men in the villages do not have regular employment and rely on the date palm business.

The dates are boiled in water mixed with yellow color for about 20 minutes before being taken out to dry. As in other parts of Pakistan, young women’s economic independence in this region is also subject to patriarchal authority; their access to the public sphere is strictly controlled and they are mostly restricted to the private sphere. Young women, therefore, cannot carry out income-generating activities by directly working in the fields. There is a stigma attached to their mobility. But Khairpur’s young women still do not sit idle and participate in this business indirectly.

They use the date palm by-products to make handicrafts such as mats (tado), baskets (tokri), pots (pindi) and hand fans, besides processing the dates and coheres (dried dates) at their homes. The date palm leaves are utilized to make hand fans, while the mats are used to sundry the fruit.

The mats are the hardest to make as the work involves sophistication and its straws can damage the hands. Khairpur’s date palm business is hugely dependent on these women’s work that due to their controlled mobility cannot join the industry directly and are forced to work from home. Since there is lack of any formal industry to supply the date palm trade with these handicrafts, women’s informal work becomes increasingly important to keep this business running. In many parts of the patriarchal and patrilineal South Asia, women suffer from payment inequality and the case in Khairpur is no different. The absence of proper market opportunities and lack of resources make it harder for women to sell their products and on top of it cultural restrictions make it almost impossible for them to get some good return of their labor.

Date growing has taken off here in South Africa as well as Namibia. I had local fresh dates from Namibia. It is just delicious. I had Saudi dates which are good, Algerian varieties not bad, Iranian variety i liked a lot. We don’t get from Pakistan so i cannot comment. With climate change swinging its pendulum in this part of the world it was recognized that we had to adapt to newer types of fruits. Allot of dates in Pakistan go to waste due to non-existent processing plants. If Pakistan can introduce food processing plants that produce variety of date products, the advantages are numerous. All they need to do is find out what date products the people in different countries require and just manufacture them. Below are some examples that i found in a local shop that stocks varying date products. The dates are spread out in the sun for at least a week to dry. After they have been dried, the dates are put into gunny bags to be sold.

Ultimately, they have to rely on the middlemen, who frequently visit them to buy their products and sell them in other markets. Buying the handicrafts for a pittance, the middleman sells it for twice or thrice the rate and makes considerable profits.

One pindi (pot) for approximately 10 rupees but sells it for 25 to 30 rupees. The women in the villages of Khairpur are well aware of this exploitation but are helpless in this regard if the middleman does not buy their product, they will end up earning no money at all. Khairpur’s golden harvest. These women’s produce contribute a great deal to their family’s savings that otherwise would have to spend on these items; so even the low wages means a lot. A large number of men in the villages do not have regular employment and rely on farming and temporary employment from the date palm business. The majority of women spend this money on their children’s clothing and healthcare while others share this money with their husbands in time of need.

I earn from making pots, mats and containers. This money matters a lot for me and my family; my husband does not do any work, so my family survives on the money I earn, says 18 year old Asiya. Quite sadly though, the hands that are always busy in making ends meet ultimately stay invisible.

Dates

Dates are oval-shaped, reddish yellow, sweet fruits that grow on the date palm tree. Although not confirmed, it is believed that this tree originated in what is now present-day Iraq. Dates are considered a staple food throughout Middle Eastern countries with evidence of cultivation dating back as far as 7000 BC. As trade developed in this area with the rest of the world, dates were introduced to Southwest Asia, Northern Africa, and Spain. During the Spanish conquests in the Americas, dates were brought to Mexico, California, and later South America.

Date palms require arid and semi-arid conditions in places with long, hot summers and little to no rainfall for growth. In an agricultural setting, the roots are kept clear of grass and weeds that might hold in humidity and a small trench is dug around the base of the tree. This trench is filled with water so that it may go directly to the roots. When the fruit begins to form on long strands, agricultural workers remove the majority of the fruits to allow the remaining dates to grow to large sizes. These larger sizes are in high demand on the international market. Below is a look at which countries produce the greatest weight of dates every year and to where those dates are exported.

Leading Date Growing Countries

Egypt is the world leader in date production and cultivation. Each year, this country produces approximately 1,084,529 metric ton of dates. This represents a little over 17pc of global date production but only 3pc of world exports. Egypt has increased date cultivation by more than 100pc since 1993 and currently has an estimated 15,582,000 date palm trees. Just over half, 53pc, of exported Egyptian dates are imported by Morocco; this is followed by Indonesia (24pc) and Malaysia (15pc).

The total export value is around $41.8 million. Following Egypt, Iran produces 947,809 metric ton annually. Despite this large production rate, it only accounts for approximately 7.7pc of total world exports. The majority of Iran’s date exports go to Asian countries. The biggest importers are India (16pc) and Malaysia (11pc). Russia follows by importing 9.9pc of Iran’s exported dates.The third largest producer of dates is Saudi Arabia. This country has the perfect conditions for date growth and cultivation, producing 836,983 metric ton per year. Nearly 388,000 acres across the country are dedicated to date palms and its fruit production.

This country exports approximately 8.8pc of the world’s dates which totals around $94.3 million. The primary importers of these exports are Jordan (19pc), Yemen (17pc), and Kuwait (15pc). Iraq produces 675,440 metric ton every year and is responsible for 7.3pc of global date exports. This country once produced over 1 million metric ton annually and had 30 million date palms. That was in the 1980’s, however, before the war with Iran. Yearly production reached only 420,000 ton during Saddam Hussein’s regime. The government has since reinvested in the industry and is slowly increasing production. In 2014, the country exported $77.5 million worth of dates and 79pc of that went to India. A significantly smaller percentage went to Egypt (8.5pc) and Morocco (3.7pc).

A list of these and other top date producing countries and their annual outputs of the fruit can be found below.

Table – 3
World Leading Countries Growing Fresh Dates
Rank Country Annual Production Metric Ton
12

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

EgyptIran

Saudi Arabia

Iraq

Pakistan

UAE

Algeria

Sudan

South Sudan

Oman

1,084,529947,809

836,983

675,440

556,608

533,701

485,415

435,668

432,100

239,397

Pakistan Becomes Third Largest Exporter of Dates

Pakistan has become the third largest country in the world that is exporting dates to the rest of the world and with proper attention and appropriate interventions this sector can flourish manifold. The date sector offers substantial opportunities for exports; income and employment generation in addition to economic growth of the country, said an official of Ministry of Commerce and Textile. The annual production of dates in Pakistan is estimated at around 535,000 ton of which only 86,000 ton are exported and the rest are either consumed locally or perish, he informed. Chief Executive Officer Harvest Trading Ahmad Jawad told that Pakistani dates exports could be raised to $200 million from the current $28 million with proper processing and packaging. Since 1999, per acre yield of dates in Pakistan has not increased much, whereas worldwide production increased by 166 per cent, he added. Highlighting the problems, the CEO said that the country lacked storage facilities and so exported some quantity of dates while the rest perish. Thus due to these problems the country had to import dates during the month of Ramadan.

Importers of dates such as Germany, Denmark, India, Nepal, USA, UK, Afghanistan and Canada are re-exporting Pakistani dates after quality enhancement and preparation of by-products, at a price that is four to six times higher than their import price. Of the 300 varieties of dates produced in Pakistan, Begam Jangi of Balochistan, Aseel of Sindh and Dhakki of Dera Ismail Khan are the varieties which are sought after the world over due to their exotic taste,” said Jawad. He further said that dates could fetch many more millions of dollars if focus was given to value addition such as the use of dates in preparing date sweets, jams, chocolates and other products. Even the damaged crop is used for medical purposes and date oil is fit for use in cosmetics. He maintained that the usage of dates increases during the winter season thus its price and demand surges.

Another report by the USAID revealed that lack of awareness about best farming practices, improper fruit handling techniques, and an absence of developed processing facilities are major constraints inhibiting profitable date production in Pakistan. Arid, a date farm owner stated that usually the harvest season of dates starts in July in upper Sindh, during the monsoon season, they remain safe due to lack of rain in these areas during harvesting.

Pakistani Export of Dates Seen At $75m

Nearly half of the production of dates in Pakistan gets wasted and only 10 percent of the produce is exported, exporters here have revealed. Pakistan’s dates orchards are spread over 1.8 million acres of land in Sindh province and more than 85 million trees are having production value in Khairpur and Sukkur regions. The projected target of date’s exports from Pakistan till June 2010 was 160,000 ton worth $55 million, but due to packaging delays we could not achieve target, a senior member of Sindh Agriculture Forum, Shakeel Ahmad, said on Sunday.

There is a greater need of an institute that should provide technical assistance and training to growers, traders and exporters in storage, processing and packing to increase export potential, Ahmad added.

He said the institute should also provide technical knowhow and training for marketing, quality improvement and crop protection in this regard, adding that according to Pakistan Horticulture Development and Export Company, Trade Development Authority of Pakistan is establishing Dates Processing Skill Development Institute at Khairpur.

But this should be done with the consent of all stakeholders especially the real growers and exporters, Ahmad maintained. The export during the current date season stands at 90,000 ton worth $34.0 million, while anticipated production was 6.1 million ton, he added. The major countries importing both fresh and dried dates from Pakistan are India, USA, UK, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Malaysia and Indonesia. He said India is the largest importer with market share of about 38 percent while France and UK are second and third largest importers with shares of 4 percent and 2.5 percent respectively.

The world date import is about 0.63 million ton per annum while it is estimated that annually about 6 million ton of dates are produced world over, he informed.

Improved farm and proper harvesting with modern processing, Pakistan has been certified by Good Agriculture Practices (GAP). Around three date processing plants one each in Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are working on modern lines.

Traders are also striving to produce by products of dates in order to fetch more foreign exchange, Ahmad said, adding that buyers from India, China, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan had shown great interest in making deals for dates.

Pakistan is the fourth largest producer of dates but exports are insignificant because processing technology and practices are primitive. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Pakistan, Sudan, Oman, Libya, China and Tunisia are the major date producing countries of the world.

Pakistan is one of the main growers of dates. It follows Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and UAE in the list of top date producing countries with 10 percent share of global production. Balochistan is the highest date producing province followed by Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The horticulture crops (fruits, vegetables and condiments) alone contribute Rs116.645 billion, equivalent to $2 billion, which is 26 percent of the total value of all crops and 81.8 percent of the total value of minor crops. The peak season for date consumption is during the month of Ramadan, which begins next month. The entire Muslim community around the world currently numbering 1.6 billion people is loyal consumer of dates. Consumption is also quite high during Christmas.

India Major Importer of Pakistani Dried Dates

India has emerged as the major importers of dried dates from Pakistan as it imported 9,147,817 kilograms of dates during July-March (2010-11) against the imports of 10,291,128 last year. In monetary terms, India imported dates of Rs3.423 billion against the imports of Rs3.31 billion last year, official sources said. This was followed by USA and UK that imported dried dates worth Rs51.707 million and Rs51.980 million respectively. Other countries that imported dried dates from Pakistan during the period include Australia (Rs11.695 million), Bangladesh (Rs19.885 million), Canada (Rs16.670 million), Japan (Rs9.834 million), Saudi Arabia (Rs2.035 million), and South Africa (Rs1.345 million).

Turkey also imported dates worth Rs.2.647 million whereas UAE imported dates worth Rs.2.677 million, Qatar 0.213 million and Malaysia Rs.0.264 million. On the other hand the major importer of fresh dates during 2010-11 was United States of America that imported 2,757,199 kilograms of dates, worth Rs237.049 million against the imports of 1,585,415 kilograms worth Rs113.529 million last year, according to data compiled by the Ministry of Commerce. This was followed by the United Kingdom that imported fresh dates of Rs119.077 million during the period under review against the imports of Rs47.587 million last year.

Other countries that imported fresh dates from Pakistan comprised of, Bangladesh that imported dates worth Rs12.507 million, Canada (Rs7.795 million), Denmark (Rs19.734 million), Germany (Rs63.987 million) Malaysia (Rs4.851 million), New Zealand (Rs7.366 million). Similarly, Singapore imported dates worth Rs1.767 million, South Africa Rs13.770 million and Sri Lanka Rs.1.598 million. The overall exports of date are from the country increased by 9.87 percent during the first nine months of the fiscal year 2010-11 as against the corresponding period last year. Exports of dates (both fresh and dried) were recorded at Rs4.098 billion during July-March (2010-11) against the exports of Rs.3.730 billion during July-March (2009-1).

During the period, the exports of dried dates increase by 4.41 per cent, by growing phenomenally from Rs3.453 billion to Rs3.606 billion, according to data provided by the ministry. Similarly, the exports of fresh dates increased from Rs276.519 million to Rs492.496 million, showing an increase of 78.10 per cent. Overall exports of fresh dates stood at 6,257,961 kilogram in 2010-11 against the exports of 4,853,391 kilograms in 2009-10, showing an increase of 28.93 per cent.

However, based on volumes, exports of dried dates are decreased by 10 percent by falling from 105,959,744 kilograms in 2009-10 to 94,927,215 kilograms in 2010-11. It is pertinent to mention here that Pakistan is one of the main growers of dates. It follows Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and UAE in the list of top date producing countries with about 10 percent share of global production. Balochistan is the largest date producing province followed by Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Source: Secondary data

Mr Ismat Sabir
I & A Research Publications
Hasan Associates, PIIA Bldg,
Aiwan-e-Sadar Road, Karachi.
www.iarreports.com
Ph: 35682105, 35686629
Fax: 35680969
Cell: 0364 -5009938, 0331-2047941
E-mail: ismatsabir@yahoo.com, ismatsabir61@gmail.com

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