SARNGADHARAN NAMBIAR –
A date essentially means a lot of things. I mean, lots of potassium, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, sodium, iron, chloride, sugar, protein, fibre, fat, vitamins, ash, biotin and fatty-acid. Emboldened by unmatched nutritional power and scrumptious oomph, dates challenge our notion of intellectual honesty by reducing bon appétit into a cliché.
Dates are verily an invitation to celebrate life. Ricotta and clementines with date vinaigrette is celestial, no doubt, but is a bowl of plain dates with tahini any lesser?
Dates have over the centuries grown beyond themselves, forming an essential component of the cultural and religious matrix of Oman and the larger Arab world. A deep bonding exists between dates and the Arab people: the planting of a date palm shoot marks the celebration of the birth of a boy in a family, and the Ramadhan fast is ended with a few dates.
Dates feature as a strong element of the legendary Arab hospitality and the region’s economics. They have long ensured the health of generations as well. Just 15 dates a day supply a person with the recommended dose of essential nutrients, and dates can fight neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s. Dates, as a long-lasting nutritional source, had been key to the survival of the nomadic Bedouin tribes and the seafarers for centuries. With a sugar content of 80 per cent, dried dates can last for years. Dates are very ancient, and earliest references link them to the Mesopotamian times. Obviously, a festival of dates is essentially a festival of life.
The highlights of the 6th edition of the Omani Dates Festival, organised by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and Riyada in Al Khuwair from October 24 to 31, were creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, along with a genuine love for all that’s dates. Offering an amazing line up of date-based delicacies including chocolates, cakes, jam, vinegar, honey and sauce of all shapes, flavour and content imaginable, as well as an array of diverse products such as baskets and tissue boxes dexterously hand-crafted by women using date palm fronds, the festival once again established the supremacy of dates.
The festival offered a flavourful platform for date farm owners, ambitious young entrepreneurs, sweet makers, researchers, marketers and date lovers to meet and exchange ideas, and savour the subtly differing flavours of an amazing variety of dates that have been admired by generations of Omanis as the collective pride of a nation.
Innovation was the central theme of the festival. Apart from over 40 indigenous varieties of Omani dates including Khalas (highly popular variety), Khunaizi, Fardh and Nagal, visitors were introduced to effective packaging solutions and
social media marketing and promotional strategies for dates, along with scientific solutions that ensure faster growth of date trees and better fruit yield.
The rush of enquiries at the kiosk by the Date Palm Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries was a clear proof of the increasing interest among youngsters in taking up date farming as a rewarding entrepreneurial venture. The innovative ideas offered by the ministry officials are sure to have motivated hundreds of young entrepreneurs.
A key attraction was the presence of a large number of women who successfully developed and marketed home-made brands of date-based dishes and allied products. Some of them have been in the business for over 14 years, while others were novices nevertheless with a strong vision and zest for success.
The dates festival also succeeded in creating greater awareness about the cultural and heritage value of dates among the younger generation. The dates-themed children’s drawing competition ‘Nkhlati’ saw thousands of young minds unleashing their creativity, bringing them closer to dates and date farming. It was befitting that the Omani Dates Festival concluded with the Tree Day celebrations.
Significantly, last year, the Sultanate’s date production rose to 361,000 tonnes from 355,000 tonnes in the year before. Nearly 53 per cent of the production was locally consumed, while exports made up 6 per cent.
Efforts are on to enhance the cultivation and productivity of date palms through the National Strategy for the promotion of date palms. As many as 725,000 highly productive date seedlings have been distributed to some 1,100 farmers across the Sultanate, covering 79 date producing villages across 34 wilayats.
As the primary agricultural crop in Oman, date palms constitute nearly 80 per cent of the total fruit cultivated area and 50 per cent of the total agricultural area in the Sultanate. Oman ranks among the top 10 producers of dates globally.