The date farming dilemma

The date harvest season usually falls under the same month of students’ summer vacation and while parents are hoping that their children will be able to help them out in the field, this is not always the case. Rashid al Siyabi is a father and a farm owner in Nizwa. When he was younger, he was always out helping his parents harvest the dates. He learnt many skills through observation and practise and it is these skills that to this day, he uses in order to run his farm. He was also hoping to pass them along to his children. “I always find pleasure while harvesting dates. It’s a very personal yet mesmerising moment for me. It allows me to use my hand practically and even the process allows me to think objectively and creatively, he shared.
Many of the palm trees in Oman are pollinated by hand or with the help of the wind but during harvest season, they need to be hand-picked.
With more than a hundred date palms, Rashid finds pleasure in looking at the abundant fruits hanging and just waiting to be collected. Once they are collected, for Rashid and his family, they usually place them in wooden boards or sometimes palm vines or lianas, spread evenly on the surface so they can be dried under the sun. They will know they are ready when the skin is totally golden-brown.
Rashid’s son, Mohammed admitted that the younger generation often have more different things in mind than their parents.
“A person can understand the difficult part of harvesting that requires local Omani hands. But it looks like the youth are not enjoying this kind of work. Cropping dates is a genuine traditional process that reflects the real image of the Omanis,” he said.
“But the young generation is not of the same passion as their parents,” he added.
Unlike his siblings, Mohammed however does his best to understand the actual work. To him it is important to learn the ropes of the trade if the family is to continue cultivating the land and growing the dates.
A few kilometres away from the Al Siyabi’s farm is Salim al Sabbari’s small piece of property. Also filled with different crops including dates, he shared that his sons are also not interested in date cultivation.
“They are of a different era with different interest,” he said and added that he still prefers harvesting his dates with his own hand.
“Traditional practices do not remain as they used to in the past. Everything changes. This is the nature of life. Younger generation is looking at easier options to spend their time. They like to hang out and spend more time with friends,” he said.

There’s more
to date farming
According to Rashid, there are many things he likes during the harvest season.
After drying the dates for about a week, he and his son, which fortunately are more receptive to the next process, select the best varieties and separate the good ones from the bad.
“It’s hard work washing and drying the dates but the selection process is usually easier to do,” Rashid said.
For Ahmed, one of Rashid’s younger children, “My favourite step is when we store the dates in their proper containers. Sometimes my brothers and I add sesame seeds and ginger syrup to the dried dates to add extra flavours.”
In their part of Nizwa, they also have a tradition of sharing.
“Each type of palm tree has their own kind of fruits. I have varieties that my neighbour didn’t have so every harvest season, we share. They will give me some of what they have and I will give them the kinds I have,” Rashid shared.
Rashid is not sure however if their tradition will outlive the changes happening all over the country.
He shared that most of the farm works are now passed along to expat workers who are not really into observing traditions or cultural nuances.
“They are just here to work and get paid so that’s definitely one of the worries, of missing on the tradition,” he said.
He also said that many times, they had been contemplating whether in the future, they would still work on the farm or spend summer vacation somewhere else like the UAE or other countries with much cooler climate.
As Ahmed shared, “I think it’s time to ease our life and have some fun. I always try to convince my father to let the expats to do the work.”

Omaima Al Kindi