Big push for One Million Date Palm project

Muscat Dec 19 – A central laboratory will be set up in Samayil for the One Million Date Palm Plantation Project by Oman Authority for Partnership of Development and University of Arizona. The final project agreement has been signed for development of three labs specialising in plant protection, horticulture and date palm biochemistry. “The objective is to set up and equip labs through University of Arizona and constitute a team comprising Omani researchers from different universities who can benefit from these three key centres,” said Dr Dhafir Awadh al Shanfari, CEO, Oman Authority for Partnership of Development.

He said this relationship will continue for four years, but “we hope it will spill over to other potentials in developing the key sector when it comes to research and development and date palms.” The Partnership of Development has come up with an idea discussed between One Million Date Plantation Project and University of Arizona. “We developed the concept and presented it to the plantation programme and Omani Authority for Partnership of Development. They agreed it was a good idea which could be sponsored under Oman’s offset programme and that is how the programme began,” said Todd Shallcross, Global research Alliances — Research, Discovery & Innovation, University of Arizona (UA).

Since then, the project has moved on from seven labs to a multi-phase approach in which the first primary labs will be implemented in the project with a possibility of four other labs with separately funded projects. “The first aspect of the project is to construct the laboratory complex; it will be specialised buildings, which is expected to take a year. Once the structure is approved, we will begin to outfitting the buildings with equipment and begin the process of hiring Omani personnel who will eventually be responsible for running the labs and training using University of Arizona’s extensive laboratory experience,” said Shallcross.

According to the UA official, at the end of first year, one of the projects of the centre is likely to have fully functional labs. By the first half of second year, UA will be managing labs with Omani personnel being provided intensive training. By the middle of second year, the lab operations will be turned over to the Oman personnel. At the end of second year, UA will reduce its presence on the lab side, but focus more on mentoring until the end of third year. Prof Rashid al Yahyai, Research Associate at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), said the agreement is an exciting development for researchers. “We are excited that this agreement has been signed because I am sure there will be a strong collaboration between the College of Agriculture, marine sciences of SQU and the new centre,” he said.