DatePalm-OMAN 대추야자-일반정보

OMAN DATES
The date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) is considered the most important crop in Oman. The date palm tree has a significant presence among the Oman society and it is valued for its social, religious and agricultural value. The date palm tree is completely utilized by Omanis. The tree parts are used for food, shelter, clothing, and fuel. These pages are dedicated to the interaction of the Omani society especially farmers with this valuable tree.

INTRODUCTION

Date palm ( Phoenix dactylifera L. ) is considered the most important fruit crop in the Sultanate of Oman and occupying nearly 50% of the cultivated land in Oman. It is estimated that 35,000 hectares of land are planted with date palms and 28,000 hectares with other crops, including 11,000 hectares planted with rotation crops . These statistics reflect the importance of date palm tree to the Omani people who have lived with this tree for centuries. The date palm has retained its value for the dwellers of the desert because of its adaptive characteristics to the environment and the wide range of its benefits. It provides the family with many of the life necessities.

The date itself is a high energy food item for both people and livestock. Any surplus dates are sold or traded for other items needed by the family. Branches and leaves of the palm were used to make baskets, ropes, boxes, and crates. The same traditional practices of date palm cultivation and maintenance that have been implemented since ancient times are still practiced by most date farms in Oman. In many areas of the Sultanate, date orchards are well-developed in terms of cultivar selection, planting, harvesting, marketing and storage. The palm tree provided building materials, thus most of the old houses were built in palm gardens are of palm trunks and mud, and the parts of the tree not having other uses were a major source of fuel for cooking and heat in the winter. Many of the youth have left their farms to the cities in the sake of stable-income jobs as a result of oil discovery in the Sultanate. Therefore, most of the traditional cultural practices are still carried out by old men with only a slight variation or no change at all , since most of the modern techniques are not applicable by many farmers. The objective of this paper is to present a review of the traditional date palm cultural practices and the utilization of date palm tree as a major fruit crop in the Oman. This will include propagation, land preparation, planting, irrigation, fertilization, intercropping, pollination, pest management pruning, harvesting, consumption, utilization and marketing and storage.



Date Palm of Oman:

Oman is located in the southeast of Arabian Peninsula. It falls between longitudes 5314' and 5958' east and latitudes 1644' and 2622' north. The population of Oman is around 2.2 millions and the surface area 212,455 sq. km.. In the summer, the climate is hot and humid in the Batinah and other coastal cities while it moderate and dry in the interior regions of Oman. The average annual rainfall is ranging between 80-100 mm except the southern region where the monsoon wind cause intense precipitation reaching 400mm. Series of mountains in northern Oman reach an altitude of 3000 m above sea level, a height that allow temperate fruit crops such as peaches, apricots, pomegranate and grapevines to be grown. In the level land, other crops beside date palm, which occupies the largest cultivated area, are grown such as mango and citrus crops. Coconut, papaya and bananas are the most important fruit crops in southern Oman. In spite of the variety of the fruit crops due to difference in the climate of Oman , nearly three quarters of the area given to tree crops is monopolized by date palm, Phoenix dactylifera, while, particularly, in the interior region of Oman this proportion rises to seven-eight's ), where date palm growing density is 250 tee/ha of the total area of 8.300 ha . Different literature at different times have cited variable estimation of the number of palm trees and yield quantity. The total number of date palm trees currently is estimated to be around seven million with a wide range of varieties. Popenoe mentioned that Oman is credited with 4,000,000, the larger part of which were in the Batinah Cost. He reported that Samail ( part of the interior region now) reached the highest point in industry of date palm where half a million palms, two third of the variety Fardh which is until now the highest in quality of all date cultivars in Oman. He reported that the total annual exports of Oman were estimated at 30,000 tons. Wilkinson stated that the average yield of Batinah region palm was 75 lb. (34 Kg), but Samail estimate went up to 100 lb. ( 45Kg) per palm. He mentioned varieties in Buraimi like fardh, naghal, and khasab had 11 bunches per palm and yielded, on average, 40 Kg. Vittoz said that there are 3,500,000 palm trees in Oman of which 15% is located in the Interior and 30% in the Batinah region. FAO (1982) report indicated that the estimated annual production of Omani dates 50,000 tons and the number of date palm trees was 1 million for the period 1961 to 1978. Currently the date palm trees are estimated to be higher than before due to the introduction of new and easier production practices along with new cultivar which has increased the large scale farming of date palms. The number has raised to seven million tree. Nevertheless, most of the small scale farms are traditionally managed which seems more appropriate since there size is limited by the availability of irrigation water and/or tillable land ). Large number of small farms are irrigated by falaj which is a man-made underground tunnel through which water is tapped at the water table in the mountains and led to the plains where it is used for irrigation. Usually plots are quite small and hand tillage and harvesting method are more practical than the current mechanized methods. Moreover, there may not be enough room to maneuver the equipment without significant loss of farming area or damage to tree crops and irrigation channels.

PROPAGATION

There are two common methods that are used to propagate palm trees, sexually by seed and asexually using offshoots. Elmardi mentioned that in the past, seeds were collected from good female cultivars and kept in cloth bags or perforated tin cans and left in the running water of a falaj. One week later, the imbibed seeds were sown in a nursery plot that is especially prepared for this purpose and the seedling then left there for one year. After that, the seedlings were transplanted to their permanent place in the farm. Since 50% of the seedlings will be undesirable males, farmers stopped using this method of propagation long time ago and adopted the vegetative one. Nevertheless, this method is still used in few areas to grow palms for pollen production in some areas in Batinah cost especially when offshoots are not available. Almost all the existing orchards are vegetatively propagated by offshoots. The small-sized offshoot is removed from the mother plant with a locally made machete and placed in moist place either in the falaj or under the farm trees to provide shade and allow roots to develop. Arab growers avoided large shoots and the ones that are crowded together and shaded by interplanted trees . Generally, no green leaves are removed from the offshoot until it is cut from the parent palm, as the growth of an offshoot will be proportional to its leaf area. Separation of the offshoots normally carried out in the late summer and fall. After the root develops, the young trees are transplanted to their permanent place. The new palms normally planted on a hole that is 80cm wide and 80 cm deep in a conic shape. Popenoe said that around 10 or 12 feet of earth are removed from the hole to eliminate alkali and put palm nearer to the ground water. The hole is normally prepared by adding organic manure and loose clean sand with ash before placing the tree in it. In the past, the good cultivars were scarce and expensive, so farmers tended to grow a mixture of different cultivars in the single farm. There are certain times of the year when offshoots are separated from the mother plant, thus moderate temperature is preferred for transplanting offshoots. Popenoe stated that in Samail Valley, where palms are irrigated on weekly basis throughout the year, offshoots are planted in the fall. Although offshoot could be planted in all months of the year, farmers tend to avoid planting in the summer when the temperature is very high or in the winter when temperature is very cold, and their practice is evenly divided between early spring and fall. After planting, the new trees are watered daily for the first week and then once week as the case of the whole farm. Young date palms are planted close old trees in order to be replaced when the young tree start producing fruits. There is no specific spacing but normally it is around 30ft x 30ft interplanted with fruit trees such as citrus or field crops such as barley and alfalfa.



IRRIGATION

The Majority of the old date palm orchards in Oman are irrigated by falaj system. However, in Batinah region most of the orchards are irrigated from wells. Water is drawn from these wells by animal or hand hoists. The falaj system is driven by gravity, so when one plot is irrigated, the direction of the flowing water is changed to another plot in a zigzag pattern. The farm is divided into basins for individual trees and canals are normally constructed in the farms to facilitate water flowing to the trees. The farm is often irrigated once a week in the summer and every three weeks during the winter season. The falaj water is either inherited or bought from the village falaj committee that is responsible for water distribution. The old timing was based upon the sun where a long stick is inserted in the ground to determine periods of irrigation according to the sun movement. In the night time, star measurements were used for the same purpose.



FERTILIZATION


Fertilization in the past was only based on green and animal manure. Popenoe reported that date growers in Oman applied animal manure and mixed it with straw at the rate of two donkey-loads per tree twice a year. Intercropping of alfalfa, which is common in most farms, contributed a big deal in providing nitrogen to the soil and, subsequently, to the trees. The fibrous root system of the date palm allow them to uptake nutrients from a wide range of soil layers. Cow, chicken and human manure are also applied regularly to date farms. Ibn al-Awwam, have mentioned the fertilization of date palm trees as reported by . He says on the make and application of fertilizers especially compost" There is prodigious secret of marvelous virtue which is to take 14 Ibs. of the aromatic rush of Babylon, dig a hole in the ground, and bury it; after 21 days dig it up and spread it around the trees", in order to increase the yield. "It must be done in the sign of Taurus or of Cancer; I myself have tried it with notable success".

He suggests" If your palms bear intermittently, dig a trench around them at two cubits, if it be the will of God, the palm will bear." Addition of organic matters and humus must be contributing to the growth and productivity of the soil since it provide nutrients as well as increase soil water holding capacity in the desert areas. The traditional practice of applying manure was by to bury animal manure in deep circular trenches around the trees. Straw or green manure is normally applied on the soil surface.

INTERCROPPING

To make the best use of the farm, it was and still a common practice to grow cotton, maize, alfalfa, wheat, vegetables, and fruits between and under the palm trees. Ward reported that grapevines, peaches, sweet lime, plums, apricot, and pomegranate were grown with the date palm at Wadi Tayin, Wadi Benikhalid and Wadi Halfain in Sharqya region. Most commonly in the level land is to interplant palms with citrus and alfalfa. According to the FAO paper, conditions in the old world often favor interplanting. First, The sensitivity of some fruit crops like citrus to harsh conditions, such as the high temperature, extremely cold or hot dry winds, and the strong sun make the date palm plantation shade the best way of producing high value fruit trees. Second, Interplanted is favored by small poor farmers who own an inherited a small date garden, thus planting some other fruit trees would provide an alternative income source. In addition, growing some of the fruit or fodder crop to be consumed by the household or provide income throughout the year is another perspective of practicing interplanting in old palm orchards especially at early years of orchard establishment when the return from it is low. These inter-crops also improve nutrition status and the physical properties of the soil.


POLLINATION AND BUNCH HANGING

The traditional pollination of female trees as described by Elmardi is achieved by inserting three or more dry male strands inside each female spadix just as it starts open. After that, the spadix is tied with a stripe of a date leaf to keep the strands in place in a way that ensure expansion of the fruits. The strands are laid upside-down or horizontally within the female flowers. The pollination is repeated as long as the female spadix opens. During this operation, the thorns are removed to facilitate bunch hanging and harvesting later on. Pollination is normally carried out after sunrise and before sunset, when conditions such as calm wind, warm temperature and no precipitation conditions are favorable for pollination. Pollination require knowledge and high skills in order to be carried out properly. The two major male cultivars that are used for pollination are Khori and Bahlani. Ibn al-Awwam says in pollination " I fecundated a wild palm in al-Sharaf at the time of opening of the flowers, with those of a male introduced in and tied in, and dates of good quality were produced; which operation is done only once a year, but it is necessary to repeat it each year as for figs". Several operations are performed after pollination and fruit set. This include thinning of heavily loaded palms, release of bunches from the tree crown, thinning the bunches and protection from birds and rodents. Bunch Hanging comes after the date fruits have developed before the ripening. According to Elmardi , three weeks after pollination the bunches are pulled under the lower leaves and tied to the leaf rachis with a rope or palm leaflets. The main purpose of bunch hanging is to keep the dates from being scratched or bruised by thorns or leaflets during windy conditions, reduce fruit dropping and facilitate harvesting.

PRUNING

This is considered by all farmers the most important operation that is conducted regularly to the date palm. Pruning is practiced by removal of old dead or broken leaves . The leaves are used as by-product for making crates, ropes and baskets, they also considered a good source of fuel for heating and cooking and even house construction. Using two types of tools used for pruning, Sickle which is a saw-toothed curved blade used to cut leaf bases, and Slanting curved cutting blade with a slight out curve and attached to a wooden handle, most of these tools are made locally. The purpose of pruning is to clean out the tree, allow new leaves to grow and photosynthesize, reduce rodent and insect infestation, facilitate harvesting, use of leaves as by-product material and make use of the fiber on the leaf base, and improving crop quality by reducing shade and bruising of fruits. When the palm is pruned, the offshoot and the rekab which is the sucker on the crown of the tree are also pruned.

PEST MANAGEMENT:

Because of the hot dry climate, the date palm tree is relatively free from serious diseases comparing to other fruit trees. Yet, there are some pests and diseases that can affect the palm growth and yield even though it may not kill the tree completely. Therefore, I am going to mention the pests that are associated with some cultural practices to control the pests that infest palm tree. Cleaning of the palm orchard, leaf pruning and good cultural practices are the most effective way to prevent the spread and infection of diseases and infestation of various pests and animals. One pest that attack date palm tree is the red Indian palm weevil Pseudophilus testaceus. borers of this kind may weaken or kill the palm tree. These boring beetles are controlled by cultural practices through the removal of leaf basis and keep the trunk clean which makes it hard for the weevil to adopt it as a habitat. Other method is done for small trees is to bring a small shrub plant that grows naturally in the mountains called locally Harmel and place it in the crown of the tree. Although, there are no literature to prove the reaction of beetles to this plant, this method proves its efficiency in keeping the beetles away from the tree. Ants are troublesome to the tree and the farmer as well. Popenoe reported that the first biological control method against pest by their natural enemies was observed in southern Arabia where the growers set one kind of ant to fight another . This method seemed very successful to farmers of that time, however, nowadays they found a relief in applying pesticides to control ants, the good and the bad alike. In the past, locusts were gathered by village people as a source of food and eaten fried. This helped in controlling and limiting the damage that is caused by this insect. Mice and rodents are serious pests could cause a great damage to the tree by eating roots and tender leaves and chewing the fruits. These may be controlled by trapping, poisoning or shooting. Date bug Asarcopus palmarum could cause a great damage and yield loss if not controlled through pesticide, in the past this pest either was not known or its damage was not significant as it is now. Mites, scale insects and other pests are of minor damage to the palm trees in Oman, so clean cultivation, spreading ash, natural enemies and cultural practices are sufficient means of controlling them.


HARVESTING

Harvesting season may extend the whole summer for three months according to the cultivars and the purpose of marketing and consumption. Some cultivars of date palm are consumed at Bisr or Khalal stage as well which is right after the final color has developed such as mabsili cv. They are cooked and dried. The tabseer (cooking of bisr) is practiced in Sharqyia and Dhahira areas in small traditionally built factories. Dates are put in boilers and cooked over a slow fire for half and hour, the dates then taken out and spread on mats to dry in the sun. Then dates are packed as candies and consumed locally or to be exported to neighboring countries.

Picking dates for fresh market or as a fresh soft fruit starts after the fruits turn to the ripe color and the lower half of the tree get soft and brown ( rutab stage), such as naghal and khasab cv. After several pickings, the raceme is usually cut off. Most of the dates are consumed this way in Oman. Variation in cultivars earliness ripening provide fresh dates for the whole summer and fall seasons. This is another reason for having more than one cultivar in the same small farms. Dry or ripe dates tamr is the latest to be harvested for overwinter storage until the next season such as Fardh cv. Harvesting according to Elmardi is done by cutting the branches and lowering it on to mats spread on the ground around the tree. This is done to protect the harvested dates from being damaged and bruised or getting dirty by soil particles when lowering the bunches. If the fruits are ripe and dry, the bunches normally dropped from the tree onto the mates. If the dates are not all ripe, the fully ripe dates will be separated from the strands by shaking the bunch over the mat. The harvesting usually require the help of more than one family since it takes a great deal of effort and time to get the dates gathered after bunch cut. Normally, the men climb the tree and cut the bunches, while the women and children pick up the fruit that falls. The unripe ones either pulled by hand or left on the branch to ripen. Early cultivars, such as naghal, are harvested during the second half of May and early June and later cultivars, such as khasab, are harvested during July and August. Omanis climb trees barefoot or use rope (made of palm fiber) connected to a wide harness made of wool know as sawie. Other harvesting containers are made of date palm leaves and wood.



STORAGE AND MARKETING

After harvesting dates either marketed promptly or stored to be marketed and consumed at off season during the winter. Different forms of dates are sold in the market; they are soil at bisr, rutab, or tamar stages and either fresh, cooked with honey or boiled. There are few modern date processing factories in the Sultanate that buy part of the farmer's dates for processing. However, in the past the dates were brought to a public place where the dates are sold either by weight or by auction when it is in large quantities. The insect infested or deformed dates are sold as feed for animals in the same local market place ( called suq). The surplus from local marked used to be exported to other countries. According to Elmardi , caravans of 500-600 camels could be seen moving toward Sur, which was a major port, carrying dates from Sharqiya and Dakhlia regions. Packing of dates for storage or marketing is still practiced but has been altered by modern packing containers that are made of plastic and modern storage facilities. There are two types of packing containers one is called Farsallah which is a long crate made of palm leaves and the smaller one is called Qausarah. Some other containers are also used such as jars made of clay, wood boxes, or cloth or plastic sacks. Dates are cleaned thoroughly before packing with water and left in the sun to dry for several days on a bed or reeds, or pebbles, or on a mate, or a hard floor, or a roof. Several days later, the dates are graded and classified as to size, quality, and degree of maturity depending on the market requirement; pitting and capping is also carried out during this time for high quality cultivar dates. Afterward, dates brought down to where it is packed by the farmers using their hands and legs to press the dates in the crate. Spices sometimes are added at this point to reduce pest infestation and give a flavor to the dates when consumed. Special care is giving to high quality cultivars when packing for their high prices and good desirable quality. After packing the crates are placed in the storage room. Majority of the date growing farmers have their own storage room in their houses. In large farms, storage houses are built to accommodate large date quantities The storage room is well ventilated and relatively cool because it is usually built of clay. The crates are positioned above ground level with small ditches underneath them to allow the molasses to drain out from the crates into a container for later use. The dates last for two years with this kind of storage system or until consumed or marketed. This provide a sources of food for year long rich of carbohydrates and other nutritional minerals.


THE UTILIZATION OF DATE PALM BY-PRODUCTS

Date palms are not only grown for their fruit, but for several other uses of their parts. The utilization of every part of the palm has been known for long time among farmers. Leaflets of the palm in all its stages are cut for weaving and plaiting. Some of the items that are made of palm leaflets include like brooms, ropes of different thickness, mates, fans, brushes, containers and baskets, and baggage animal panniers, as well as small items such as funnels, strainers, and sieves . Leaves, beside other dry parts, are burned as fuel. Different items could be made from the palm fiber, many of them being built up from the same basic broad strip which was deftly and firmly plaited in lengths and then stored until needed. Items that are made from fiber include small lidded baskets, mates, hand-on fans, robes and food storage containers. Even some vessels were reported to be made and held by palm fiber hence iron nails were not available. Because of their strength, the trunk of the tree and the leaves are basic materials in old mud or wood houses. Most of the doors, windows, shelves and roofs are basically shaped leaves and trunks of old or dead palms that are cut down. Wide variety of small and large items were and still made from different parts of date palm. It was the main source of income and life for years and it will remain one of the honored trees from people who appreciate the benefits of the palm tree, the gold of the desert.

REFERENCES

Al-Bakr, A. Jabhar. 1972. The Date Palm. A review of its past and present status; and the recent advances in its culture, industry and trade. Al-Ain Press. Baghdad.

Elmardi, M. 1995. Traditional Date Culture. In: Traditional Agriculture and Fishing in the Sultanate of Oman. College of Agriculture, Sultan Qaboos University. Muscat, Oman.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 1982. date Production and Protection. FAO Plant Production and Protection Paper 35. FAO. Rome.

Miller, A. and Morris, M. 1988. Plants of Dhofar, The Southern Region of Oman, Traditional, Economic and Medicinal Uses. The Office of The Advisor for Conservation of the Environment, Diwan of Royal Court. Muscat, Sultanate of Oman.

Popenoe, P. 1913. Date growing in the old and new worlds. West India Gardens. Atadena, California.

Sultan Qaboos University (SQU). 1995. Traditional Agriculture and Fishing in the Sultanate of Oman. College of Agriculture. Sultan Qaboos University. Muscat, Oman.

USAID, Bureau for the Near East, U.S.Agency for International Development. 1993. Water Resources Action Plan for the Near East. USAID, Washington D.C.

Vittoz, J. 1979. Le Palmier-Dattier En Oman. Fruits. vol.34 (10) 609-621.

Ward, P. 1987. Travels in Oman. The Oleander Press, New York, NY 10010, USA.

Wilkinson, J. 1977. Water and Tribal Settlement in South-East Arabia. A Study of the Aflaj of Oman. Clarendon Press. Oxford.

This splendid date palm grove pays testimony to the ancient tradition of date palm cultivation in the Sultanate —Picture by Khamis al Moharbi
The date palm is the most enduring symbol of the Sultanate's rich heritage, alongside the trusty camel, the vitalising falaj and other long-cherished aspects of traditional Omani life. It has been the main wealth of people in past generations, the fruit serving as a source of daily nourishment, with the branches and the tree trunk proving valuable in the creation of a great many things that have been an integral part of the Omani home and household.
Even today, date palm cultivation continues to be the mainstay of the vast majority of farmers in the Sultanate. Not only is it a source of income, but the pursuit of a tradition bequeathed by one generation to the next. The palm thus enjoys a near hallowed place in every farmer's consciousness. A good harvest would not only represent the fruit of his labour, but that of his father and possibly his grandfather before him as well, who planted the tree in the first place and nurtured it carefully in his lifetime.
For many farmers therefore, the death of a tree, or the threat of blight, can likely trigger near so much grief as a family tragedy. The date palm season usually starts around January, when farmers go about the task of facilitating the fertilisation of the female palm tree. From earliest times, fertilisation has been aided by cutting off the male flower cluster just before the stamens ripen and suspending it among the flowers of the female tree.
Elsewhere on the Arabian peninsula, mechanical blowers are used to deposit a coat of pollen on the female flowers.It is an arduous process given the fact that only one male tree may be found in a whole garden of palm trees. Moreover, the farmer has to make sure there are enough stamens to go around for the whole fertilisation process to be satisfactory enough to ensure a bountiful yield. At this time, he also trims each tree of dried branches. Three months later, the farmer is up the tree again, to make sure the blossoming date clusters descend properly and rest on the tree's lowest ring of green branches.
This would not only facilitate their healthy growth into mature dates, but would also allow the farmer easy access to the clusters at harvest.The harvest is usually undertaken in two stages. The first stage — locally termed as Ratab — involves the picking of only those dates that are partially ripe on the tree.
These dates — mainly of the Ash Patash and Al Nagal varieties — are among the first to hit the market, but are not as sweet as the ones that are to follow.As the harvest season progresses, dates of the Al Khunaizi variety — described as the most sugary in taste — and the Al Khalas — billed as the most delicious — also enter the market, followed closely by Al Mebselli and Al Khasab varieties.However, some quantities of dates, especially of the coveted Al Khalas and Al Khunaizi varieties — are left on the tree to naturally ripen, thus allowing the fruit to acquire its full taste and flavour.
These are harvested en masse during the second stage of the harvest — popularly called Al Tamer. The Al Tamer harvest generally represents dates of guaranteed taste, flavour and quality. The annual yield of a single tree may reach 270 kg, with each cluster of dates weighing up to 12 kg. The fleshy part of the fruit contains about 58 per cent sugar and 2 per cent each of fat, protein, and minerals. Leaf stalks are used for basketry and wickerwork, leaves are woven into bags and mats, and fibre from both is made into cordage.
Traditional Pollination of Date Palm
The long history of date palm cultivation in Oman is closely linked to the indigenous farming methods rooted in traditional wisdom.
TRADITIONAL farming methods perfected through modern applications have sustained and improved the yield of date palms in the Sultanate, especially in places like the wilayat of Ibri in Dhahirah region, which boasts the best variety of khalas dates.
A farmer smells a date palm flower to ascertain its quality — Pictures by Abdullah Ibrahim al Shuhi
This, therefore, necessitated the adoption of a manual pollination process to ensure a rich crop. The natural, wind-aided pollination of date palms is a big constraint due to the requirement of equal proportion of male and female trees in a field.
The first stage of fruit on a female date palm, which was pollinated through the manual process
Pollination is a complicated process in date cultivation. If one were to depend on wind-aided natural pollination, 50 per cent of the trees should be male, which makes date farming uneconomical.
A farmer appears content with the male date palm flower selected by him
This process meant that a field could never be fully productive as half of the space would be taken up by male plants.
Date palm is unisexual, being either male or female. Male and female flowers grow on buds called Spath, which opens naturally when fully mature.
It is easy to identify the male and female flowers. Under the method of manual pollination, pollen from a male flower is smeared over female flowers. This works very well and also guarantees higher yield.

Male date palm flowers and saplings at Ibri market
The most important benefit of the manual pollination process is that male flowers from a single tree can be used to pollinate 40 to 50 female date palms.

A farmer shows a khalas date palm sapling
This allows farms to be rid of male plants and nurture female plants in their place. To facilitate pollination, only two or three male date palms are required in a field.
As soon as the buds carrying the pollen split naturally, the buds are fully cut to dry the pollen in the sun, protected from winds. While drying the pollen, buds should not be placed one over another as wet pollen would easily rot.
The flowers should be frequently turned till both sides are evenly dried. Proper drying takes about two to three days after which the pollen should be collected and kept in a wooden or metal box to protect it from humidity and insects.
Pollen dried under four degree centigrade can be kept for as long as one year. Another method is to keep the flowers in thin layers of paper or on a mesh so that pollen is collected after they fall from the buds.
To carry out the manual pollination process, pollens are collected and pressed into a piece of cotton the size of an almond.
Every flower of a female tree requires two such pieces for pollination. It is better to tie the cotton piece carrying the pollens lightly on to the flower by a small rope or straw.
In the event of rain or strong winds, pollination must be repeated. One can also blow pollen into the flowers if there are plenty of male flowers.

Farmers closely inspect a male date palm flower
Another way to dry the pollen is to hang the flowers on a rope in a well ventilated room. Pollen dried in this manner can be preserved for two to three months before they are used.
The time of blossoming and pollination varies according to the different types of date palms. Those grown in hot areas blossom faster.
Dr Fairis from California noted that as soon as the date fruit turns ripe, buds carrying pollens start growing on the tree for the next crop.
In spring, the flower buds become ready, but will be fully covered and start blossoming only at the start of summer.
Blossoming takes a month or more depending on the intensity of heat. The hotter the weather, the shorter the blossoming period. Some date palms blossom twice a year while the majority takes as long as three months to complete the single blossoming process.
A well looked after date palm can yield as many as 20 bunches of fruit.Date palms yield fruit in alternate years, producing in a year and resting in the next.
Other factors affecting the quantity and quality of date crop are the type of pollens and climatic conditions during pollination.
A date palm starts blossoming and giving fruit after the fourth or sixth year. Date palms grown in sandy or poor soil start giving fruit before the ones grown on rich soil, because the latter's priority is to accumulate leaves and then bear fruit.
These days, male date flowers are sold in traditional markets such as Ibri. During the date flowering season, the daily auctioning in Ibri market in fact starts with male date palm flowers.
The amount of fruit yielded by a date palm depends on the quantity of nutrients it receives and general care and environment.
A trader shows two male date palm flowers ready for pollination
Shunain bin Hamed al Yaqoubi, an auctioneer, said that many farmers preferred to buy male flowers to carry out pollination.
The daily average sales in the traditional market in Ibri touched about 100 male flowers, he added.Last year, the male flowers were in big demand as female plants flowered early.
This year, however, the male flowers appeared in time and hence the price was normal, Al Yaqoubi said.
Farmers determine the quality of male date flowers by their smell and other features. The pollination period could last up to 40 days, he added.
The auction of date palm flowers in full swing at Ibri market
Normally, male flowers mature in the month of January and the elongated flower buds fetch up to RO10 each depending on their size.
DATES: A Fruit of Promise for the Food Industry
Sensory Evaluation of Dates at Progressive Levels of Maturity
There is a strong positive relationship between the sweetness of dates and the amount of sugar, which increases gradually following pollination. However, this is not the only sensory attribute that changes during maturation of the fruit. There is a sensory experience in the oral cavity that includes drying sensations, and roughing or tightening of the oral tissues. To quantify this phenomenon, representative samples of dates at each weekly interval were removed from the polyethylene bags and brought to room temperature. The date pits were removed by slicing each date into two halves and the fruit flesh retained. Taste panelists were trained by informally evaluating samples of green dates for high astringency and of mature dates for low astringency. After training, astringency was rated on a six-point scale from 'not astringent' to 'extremely astringent'. The mean scores of the astringency of dates are presented in Figure 2. The green dates (about 124 days after pollination - kimri) were significantly more astringent (3.8) than the scores observed at the mature stage (1.8 at 167 days after pollination - rutab). Dates contain a layer of tannin a little below the skin of the drupe which is associated with the sensation of astringency. Gratifyingly, the total tannin content follows closely the astringency scores in Figure 2 thus identifying the chemical origin responsible for the reduction in astringency of dates.
Total tannin content on a dry weight basis (،) and astringency (D) of maturing Khalas dates.
Using the State Diagram of Dates for Product Development
In the preceding discussion, the chemical composition of dates was related to textural properties and mouthfeel at various stages of maturity. The knowledge generated should be used to develop food recipes, since appearance, taste, texture and, generally, all sensory related properties of food products are what determine their appeal. This is common practice within the framework of modern food processing, with manufacturers trying novel and versatile ingredients to help them meet the ever-increasing consumer expectations. We feel that date ingredients are a unique group, which can improve a wide range of food characteristics both in terms of the desired sensory and shelf-life related properties. This can be demonstrated with the construction of a state diagram. In its simplest form, the state diagram of dates represents the pattern of change in the physical properties of the material as a function of increasing levels of solids. This type of data gathering is depicted in Figure 3. Curve AP demarcates the freezing temperatures below which crystallisation is observed in the cooling processes of date products. Curve DEH defines the glass transition temperatures which can occur at high temperatures in concentrated formulations; for example, Tg' is about 57캜 for a solids content of 100%.Understanding the state diagram provides vital clues to the liquid-like, rubbery, crystalline and glassy consistency of date-foods.
State diagram of temperature versus percentage solids obtained from mature dates incorporating the curve of the glass transition temperature (? and the freezing curve (s).
Thus at concentrations and processing temperatures above those demarcated by the curve AP, clarified syrups at various levels of thickness can be made for use in relishes, pan cakes and gourmet dishes. Unclarified syrup contains date pectin whose structuring ability allows use of the mixture in biscuits, cakes, table jellies, jams and low-fat processed cheeses. At subzero temperatures, partial crystallisation of glucose and fructose will take place thus making the date pulp suitable for use in sugar-coated breakfast cereals and hard candies. At a solids content above 70% (curve DE), the glassy consistency should be used in the making of ice creams, gummy bears and non-crystalline confectionery products like fudges. Finally, the front-page illustration is a date and orange cake with icing which is worth making and, indeed, it is made with considerable success by our undergraduate students as part of their Food Product Development Course at the College of Agriculture.
Epilogue
Date palm cultivation is very important in Oman with the commercial product coming into two forms, fresh and dry. Although the local market is the most important buying outlet, exports have been rising and the food industry appreciates the enormous potential of the export sector. To fulfill this expectation, it is vital that date compounds are found as functional ingredients in processed foodstuffs. A start has been made by relating chemical composition to textural and sensory attributes of maturing dates, and by constructing a state diagram. The latter has important applications in determining areas of use as well as product stability during storage. The results, once distributed to the food industry, will forge a strong link between the College and the industry in an effort to develop appealing food products that can contribute to the Omani wealth.
Acknowledgements
The author is grateful to Ahmed Al-Alawi, Mansoura Al-Amri and Insaaf Al-Marhoobi for technical support, and to Drs Nejib Guizani and Shafiur Rahman for stimulating discussions
Stefan Kasapis, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Food Science & Nutrition, College of Agriculture, Sultan Qaboos University. He is the author of over fifty publications in reputable journals in Food and Biological Sciences.
Date production in the world is only confined to a small number of countries, most of them being the Arab countries. However, the date industry in the Arab world is not yet fully developed and concerted efforts are still needed to fully utilize the tremendous potential of date substances as ingredients in processed foods for export and the local market. Date pectin, dietary fibre and syrup are some of the date substances which can find a plethora of applications as a thickener or gelling agent in processed foods, i.e., confectionery products, jams, table jellies, soft cheeses, yoghurts, etc. But date products such as these should be developed on a sound technological basis which requires adequate characterisation of the chemical composition and textural properties of dates. The College of Agriculture, SQU, has implemented a thorough study on the structure-function relationships of date ingredients that yielded, for the fist time, the so-called 'state diagram' of the fruit. The article elaborates on the study and the benefits it could bring to the dates industry and the market for date-product.
Date production in the world is only confined to a small number of countries, most of them being the Arab countries. However, the date industry in the Arab world is not yet fully developed and concerted efforts are still needed to fully utilize the tremendous potential of date substances as ingredients in processed foods for export and the local market. Date pectin, dietary fibre and syrup are some of the date substances which can find a plethora of applications as a thickener or gelling agent in processed foods, i.e., confectionery products, jams, table jellies, soft cheeses, yoghurts, etc. But date products such as these should be developed on a sound technological basis, which requires adequate characterisation of the chemical composition and textural properties of dates. The College of Agriculture, SQU, has implemented a thorough study on the structure-function relationships of date ingredients that yielded, for the fist time, the so-called 'state diagram' of the fruit. The article elaborates on the study and the benefits it could bring to the dates industry and the market for date-product.
Date Palm Cultivation in Oman
The importance of dates cultivation in Oman can not be underestimated. Across the country almost seventy five percent of the area allocated to tree crops is monopolized by the date palm, Phoenix dactylifera.
Examples of red and yellow dates at various stages of ripeness.
Current estimates of the number of trees in the country approach seven million with the maximum fruit yield reaching 40 kg per palm. To date Khalas remains the cultivar of the highest quality but experimental introduction of new cultivars along with easier production practices are poised to increase the extent of large scale farming in the country. However, the size of cultivated areas is limited by the availability of water and traditional small-scale farms are irrigated by falaj water. Fertilization takes place manually by placing branches cut from the male tree among the sprays of the female tree. This can be an exhausting process and, alternatively, pollen can be mixed with wheat flour and frozen until the required time of fertilization, which is administered by a hand held spray. Ripe dates are collected by the farmer using a long rope along the tree, which allows him to climb to the top.Today Omani standards are in place in relation to handling following harvesting, pressing and packaging of the fruit. Collection centers act as intermediaries between the farmers in the production areas and processing plants. Both units are adequately equipped with cold and dry stores and transportation facilities. Furthermore, the government has intensified efforts to educate growers on the code of practice for improved quality control and distribution procedures which should reduce the cases of blemished dates encountered during post-harvest.
Developmental Stages of Dates in Relation to Nutritional Properties
A good quality date drupe is a delicious fruit with a sweet taste and a fleshy mouthfeel. This is a high-energy food containing sugars and fibre thus being suitable for both people and livestock. To come to this state, the fruit pass through several separate stages of maturity, traditionally described by changes in colour, texture and taste/flavour. Green dates (Arabic kimri) contain maximum moisture and are firm in texture. At the second stage (Arabic khalal), dates begin to lose moisture and in parallel accumulate considerable quantities of sugar. In the third stage (Arabic rutab), loss of moisture is accelerated and the fruit becomes softer in texture. In the final mature stage (Arabic tamar), the fruit contain the least amount of moisture and maintain a soft texture and a sweet taste. In line with the dietary requirements of the modern consumer, dates are a good fiber provider (about 6.5%), contain brown sugar (70%) and they have a negligible fat content. Dietary fibre mainly consists of polysaccharides like cellulose and pectin, and insoluble proteins. The digestive process of humans is unable to metabolize fiber, which is excreted taking up malignant tumors. In mature dates, sucrose converts into invert sugar, which is a mixture of glucose and fructose. Sugars are in unrefined form and stock up healthy fibre, vitamins and minerals in the fruit. The high levels of sugar bind moisture effectively thus preserving the fruit by preventing bacterial growth. In addition, dates contain seven vitamins and eleven minerals whose importance as a dietary supplement was appreciated by the desert people who, for thousands of years, ate dates with goat or camel milk as a complete sustenance. Finally dates have tannins which are made mainly of polyphenols and in lesser amounts of flavone. These are responsible for the dark colour of dates in the post-harvest period. Relating Chemical Composition to Physical Properties of Dates Previous studies relating to physical properties of date palm composition have led to inconclusive results. They did not relate changes to the separate stages of maturity, nor did they investigate how these changes influence the textural properties and taste of dates at these separate stages. To fill this gap, the College of Agriculture, SQU, undertook a detailed study using sensory and texture profile analysis to evaluate the attributes of firmness and astringency in maturing dates, and relate them to chemical composition.
What is the Origin of Texture Variation in Dates?
From late May to late August 1997, dates of the khalas variety, were harvested at weekly intervals from the Experimental Station of the University. The fruit were immediately packaged in strong polyethylene bags and placed into frozen storage at -80캜 for chemical analysis, or into refrigerated storage at 4캜 for textural and sensory analysis. To look at texture, samples of fresh dates were cut in a horizontal direction, destoned and the firmness was measured using the Instron Rheometer. Samples were punctured in the horizontal direction using a cylindrical plunger until they were fractured. As shown in Figure 1, there is a dramatic drop in the values of firmness as the dates matured from about 190 to 30 x 104 Pa at days 107 and 170 respectively, following pollination.
Figure 1
Degree of esterification (،) and firmness (D) of maturing Khalas dates
To rationalise the softening of the fruit, we examined the chemical nature of the pectin polysaccharide, which constitutes the main gelling agent of date materials. Pectin is a galacturonic acid whose esterified form with methyl groups can form a gel network assisted by the presence of high levels of sugar. These conditions, of course, are met in dates, which contain up to 70% unrefined sugars. The methyl ester content of pectin was determined by standard chemical analysis and results are reproduced in Figure1. A definite decrease in the degree of methyl esterification (DME) was observed as the dates matured.
Date Palm of Nizwa
Khalas and khunaizi, relished for their delicious taste and succulence, are the choice favourites among the staggering variety of dates that grow in Nizwa. Demand for these prized dates is burgeoning as entire farms in the wilayat are now being devoted to the cultivation of the crème de la crème of Omani dates
An offering of delicious khalas dates — Pictures by Abdullah Ibrahim al Shuhi
FOR the majority of Nizwa's farmers, the khalas and khunaizi are proving to be something of a money-spinner, thanks to an ever-increasing appetite for these most celebrated of Omani dates. They command premium prices as demand for these all-time favourites far outstrips supply. So lucrative are the crops that farmers are now switching en masse to the exclusive production of khalas and khunaizi type dates. These account for roughly half of all the date palms that grow in the wilayat's lush gardens. Other notable types like bunaringah, khasab, naghal, handhal and qashkantarah are among 40 different varieties that grow in Nizwa.
In fact, Nizwa's date bounty is the pride of Oman's vast date palm heritage. Although the wilayat has no exclusive claim to any one type of date, its harvests are the envy of farmers elsewhere in the Sultanate. Ideal weather conditions in the Interior region, characterised by long, hot summer and low humidity, ensure the perfect environment for high-quality and high-yield fruit.Leading the pack is the khalas — a bright yellow, oval-shaped fruit that is both juicy and delicious. Hugely relished throughout the Sultanate, it fetches the lion's share of an ordinary farmer's earnings.
The dark red khunaizi, which are in great demand both in season and as dry dates
Roughly 25 per cent of all date palms in a typical Nizwa farm are of the khalas type, says veteran farmer Soud bin Zahran al Ismaili, who is also one of the wilayat's best-known experts on date farming. He also doubles as the official caretaker of Nizwa's great tourist attraction — the Falaj Daris — which, along with other major aflaj, is responsible for nurturing Nizwa's fine heritage of date palms. An early-season crop, the khalas is harvested during the July-August period of the date season.
Usually eaten fresh, the universal appeal of the fruit stems from its delectable fleshy texture. Moreover, it retains its appetising colour and succulence even after turning completely ripe. "The khalas is good business for farmers," remarks Al Ismaili. "A single tree's yield is worth about RO80-100, which surpasses in value other varieties cultivated in the wilayat. Also, yields can be as high as 100kg per tree during the course of the season." In fact, the khalas is emerging as the dominant date crop in the wilayat, progressively supplanting other varieties that are of a commercially inferior value.
Gentle falaj flowing through Nizwa's lush date farms
Virtually every palm tree felled by either age or disease is now being replaced by a khalas tree, adds Al Ismaili. Competing strongly with the khalas is the khunaizi — a dark red fruit that is relished either fresh or half dry. A tour of Nizwa's verdant countryside would reveal vast clusters of these red dates that, along with the bright yellow clusters of the khalas, and the dark pink blooms of the bunaringah, add much appeal to the wilayat's date farms. The bunaringah is another local favourite that grows abundantly around Nizwa.
Date buffs enjoy this bright yellow fruit because it is palatable and easy on the stomach when consumed in large quantities. Demand for the fruit also comes from date processing factories in Nizwa and elsewhere. The first of Nizwa's 40-odd date varieties reach full-blown maturity in the early part of summer, with the date season lasting until December. Early-season crops include the naghal, manzaj, manhi and qashkantarah.
Splendid blooms of dates, which are among 40 different varieties growing in Nizwa
Choice varieties like the khalas, khunaizi, barni, qashtabaq and handhal follow during July and August. Then come the khasab, zabad and khalas oman types, followed by hilali oman in September. Early crops, says Al Ismaili, are sensitive to rain and climate fluctuations often resulting in inferior yields. Later arrivals are more likely to mature into full-blown, fine quality crops. In fact, many traditional farmers prefer to grow a variety of date palms in their gardens to allow for a staggered harvest that ensures a steady income right through the eight-month date season.
While weather conditions dictate largely the quality and yield of the date crops, Nizwa's farmers also owe much of their good fortune to the abundance of water in the wilayat. The verdant swathe of date palms growing around the wilayat's best-known landmark — Nizwa fort — is irrigated by numerous streams fed by the bountiful waters of eight aflaj included Falaj Daris, Falaj al Jhandaq and Falaj A'Thot.Falaj Daris, described as the largest and most bounteous in the Sultanate, travels underground for about 3km before surfacing at Shariya, a delightful garden setting located just outside Nizwa town. Daris' mineral-rich waters nourish a third of Nizwa's lush gardens. Five other aflaj, in addition to Falaj al Jhandaq and Falaj A'Thot, course through the rest of Nizwa's lush date palm canopy.
Popular varieties of dates grown in Nizwa
  • Hilali oman: Cultivated in various parts of the Sultanate, this late-season crop has light yellow dates with a 60 per cent sugar content.
  • Khalas: The most valuable date crop, the khalas thrives in the Interior, Sharqiya and Dhahirah region, besides Al Rostaq. With 65 per cent sugar, it is among the most delicious. The fruit is bright yellow, oval-shaped, and is eaten either fresh or half-dry.
  • Khasab: A late-season crop, the khasab grows in all date-farming regions of the Sultanate, though quality yields come from Al Rostaq, Ibri and parts of the Sharqiya region. The fruit is dark red in colour, but some sub-types are yellowish.
  • Khunaizi: Cultivated in most areas of the Sultanate, these dark red dates can usually withstand high humidity levels. They are relished fresh in season or dry outside the season.
  • Mebselli: A mid-season crop, the mebselli, in line with traditional practice, is cooked and dried and exported to markets in the Indian sub-continent. It is also eaten fresh or naturally dried. It grows extensively in the Interior, Sharqiya, Dhahirah and Batinah regions.
  • Naghal: An early crop, the naghal is sensitive to humidity and thrives best in the hot, arid Interior region. A large part of the naghal harvest is destined for Oman's date processing factories.
  • Qashtabaq: Reddish-yellow in colour, these oblongish dates grow in the Interior, Dhahirah and Batinah regions. Sugar content is pegged at a significant 68 per cent.
Al Suwaiq’s fine date palm heritage
Date palm trees in Al Suwaiq, with the fort in the
background. — Picture by Khamis al Moharbi
A tour of Al Suwaiq, just a short drive from the capital area, makes for a fine introduction to the green landscapes of the Batinah region. This coastal wilayat, with its vast heritage of date palm groves and fruit orchards, and palm-fringed beaches dotted with atmospheric fishing villages, promises a memorable holiday in sylvan surroundings. Al Suwaiq is just 136km from Muscat, as you drive along the Batinah highway towards Sohar. Turn right at Al Suwaiq roundabout to reach the centre of the wilayat, just 3km away. Much of the wilayat's verdancy lies in a wide swathe along its 42km-long coastline. Away from the coast, this lush stretch gives way to sparse shrub land that sweeps all the way to mountainous countryside west of the wilayat.
These mountains spawn a host of wadis, including Wadi al Haylayn and Wadi al Hoqain, which meander through the Batinah plain and eventually meet the Gulf of Oman coast. En route they replenish scores of underground aquifers whose bounty is siphoned out by numerous wells that nourish Al Suwaiq's date palm and fruit garden heritage. Run-off into the Gulf of Oman is minimal as the wadis in this area are very broad, allowing for much of the water to percolate down to aquifers below. Water wells are especially copious at Batha Hilal, Batha Dhiyan and Batha al Ghalil where the wadis meet the Gulf of Oman coast.
The multitude of gardens that cover the coastal plains here are watered by wells alone, the traditional falaj being something of a rarity in these parts. However, some aflaj can be found in tiny mountain villages like Al Haylayn, Al Mabrah and Badt located deep in the wilayat's rugged heart. A tour of the wilayat begins at Al Suwaiq's famous fort, which overlooks the blue expanse of the Gulf of Oman waters. A grand maritime pageant, organised as part of the recent Eid-al-Adha celebrations graced by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, was held in the vicinity of this striking edifice. It was a spectacular show that sought to highlight the wilayat's rich seafaring traditions and glorious maritime heritage.
Before modern ports became a feature of Oman's northern coast, it was routine for large seagoing ships to anchor off Al Suwaiq, allowing for passengers to embark or disembark. Small boats ferried passengers to and from these ships as the villagefolk laid out an elaborate reception or farewell depending whether they were arriving or leaving. This tradition is today recounted in Al Suwaiq's fine heritage of folk dances notably the Al Shobany, Al Medaima and Al Liwa.
In fact the wilayat's rich lore includes a total of 22 folk dances such as the Al Razha, Al Medan, Al Mekwarah, Al Khabar Yozain and Al Ay'yalah. Bull-fighting, sans the glamour and gore that surrounds the Spanish version of this sport, is another traditional pursuit in Al Suwaiq. Prize bulls from around the wilayat and other parts of the Batinah region are brought here by pickup to take part in weekly fights staged close to the seafront in places like Al Bawarah, Al Tharmad, Khadra, Al Ghalil, Dhiyan and Al Hajrah in the wilayat. People gather around in a ring to watch the snorting contenders lock horns and butt each into submission.
There are no trophies for the winning bull, but the owner walks away with his personal prestige considerably enhanced and a higher price tag on his bull.Much of Al Suwaiq's charm lies in its splendid heritage of date palm gardens, where the Al Manuma and Al Sellani varieties of the fruit grow in abundance. Strolling through this lush canopy can be invigorating, but there are motorable trails as well that lead to little hamlets nestled amid these rustic surroundings.
In this idyllic setting you can see rural life unfolding all around you — of farmers busy in their gardens harvesting dates, of brightly clad womenfolk tending goats, or of young men rushing to the souq with baskets of fresh vegetables. Along the seafront are peaceful fishing villages, with boats lined up in neat rows on the shore. Between villages you can find sandy stretches that offer solitude and the opportunity of a refreshing dip in the waters of the Gulf of Oman.
DATE PALM TABSEEL
The tabseel is not just an annual farming practice. It is a time when neighbours, friends and relatives join hands with the farmer in harvesting his crop. They help him sort the dates, cart them to public hearths and, after they are cooked, spread them out to dry — all in a single day's effort
Busur dates spread out to dry in Ibra — Picture by Khamis al Moharbi
The annual tabseel season begins in May in various wilayats of the Interior and Sharqiya regions, as farmers mark the harvest of their famous Mebselli date crop. During this two-month-long season, massive quantities of Mebselli dates are cooked in traditional hearths and then dried for export, in a colourful ritual that harks back several centuries. However, the tabseel is not just an annual farming practice. It is a time when neighbours, friends and relatives join hands with the farmer in harvesting his crop.
They help him sort the dates, cart them to public hearths and, after they are cooked, spread them out to dry — all in a single day's effort. In times bygone, camel caravans used to go round these wilayats and pick up the cooked dates for export abroad. Today, the processed Mebselli crop (also called busur) is almost entirely bought up by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, for export to lucrative markets in the Indian sub-continent.
Unlike naturally dried dates, the busur has a much-longer shelf life and is coveted as a delicacy at weddings and traditional receptions in India and elsewhere. At roughly RO 280 per tonne of busur dates, farmers are assured windfall margins, and hence look forward to the tabseel season with great anticipation. Harvested just before they turn ripe, they fetch a better price when sold as busur dates rather than if allowed to ripen naturally. And unlike other varieties of dates, which sell according to market demand, the busur crop usually guarantees a healthy income because the Ministry of Commerce and Industry buys up the entire lot
The tabseel ritual — from the harvest, to the cooking process and the spreading of the cooked fruit to dry — is usually accomplished by noon the same day. The farmer begins the harvest at dawn. Using a habool — the traditional tree-climbing harness — he scurries up the tree and methodically hacks off each bunch, letting it slide down a rope to a person who gathers it.Each date palm tree is stripped bare of its entire yield of luscious, deep-yellow Mebselli dates in less than two minutes.
The exercise however unleashes a shower of loose dates, which is gathered up by womenfolk and children. The ripe dates are then sorted from the unripe ones, while those that are prematurely dry are collected separately to be fed to goats. Children haul the date bunches one by one to a corner of the date garden where a gaggle of women busy themselves plucking the dates from the clusters, while engaging in good-natured banter. Neighbours and relatives help out in the effort, in line with the practice of sharing a neighbour's burden.
Assistance rendered by children is usually rewarded with basketfuls of ripe dates. The most distinctive aspect of the tabseel, however, is the cooking process, undertaken at traditional public hearths called the A'terkebah. Each A'terkebah has two large copper pans set above a covered hearth. The pans are filled with water from a nearby falaj, while someone gets a fire started in the hearth using dried date branches. The firewood is fed through an opening in the hearth, while the smoke is channelled out through an orifice shaped like a conical chimney, which gives the A'terkebah its very distinctive character.
The dates are allowed to cook in the pans for about 30-45 minutes. Using a large wooden ladle, the cooked dates are then scooped out of the pan into an open enclosure to allow for excess water to drain away. The steaming fruit is left to cool for a while before it is carted by pick-up to an open field outside the village where it is spread out to dry. On the fifth day, a small army of women and children arrives to gather up the dried dates, which are bagged and stored until they can be dropped off at collection points announced by the Ministry.
Date Palm Harvesting
Fanja souq: focal point of the date harvest
Picture by Khamis al Moharbi
The date season is one of nature's great ironies. Just when much of the country wilts in the face of sizzling summertime temperatures, Oman's fine heritage of date palm trees begins to bring forth its bounty. For, in these early weeks of summer, the date fruit turns a full-blown shade of red or yellow — depending upon the variety — and acquires its delicious taste and texture. In fact, a successful harvest depends very much on the kind of climate prevailing over northern and central Oman during this crucial period — a hot, arid environment being the most ideal. Summer is also the time when farmers literally begin to reap the fruits of their labour, having carefully tended their plantations for the good part of the year.
"In northern Oman, the main focal point of the date harvest is Fanja souq in Bid Bid wilayat. Since mid-May, the market has been inundated with freshly harvested dates, brought by the truckload from Bid Bid, Dima wa' Tayeen, Samad A'Shan, Al Rowdha, Samayil and even Bausher in Muscat Governorate"
For, this ubiquitous fruit, consumed by the plateful in homes around the Sultanate and throughout the Arab world, is the mainstay of Oman's farming community. In northern Oman, the main focal point of the date harvest is Fanja souq in Bid Bid wilayat. Since mid-May, the market has been inundated with freshly harvested dates, brought by the truckload from Bid Bid, Dima wa' Tayeen, Samad A'Shan, Al Rowdha, Samayil and even Bausher in Muscat Governorate. The fruit is bought and sold in manns — a traditional measurement which is equivalent to about four kilogrammes. Dates are sold retail in a few manns or wholesale in several hundred manns.
An estimated 3 to 3.5 tonnes of dates are handled by the market every day.Fresh arrivals are sold by auction handled by about a dozen professional auctioneers. For their service, they retain 10 per cent of the successful bid price, which is shared equally among the auctioneers at the end of the week. Among the many varieties of dates now available in the souq, the yellow-coloured Al Naghal is the most popular. At the start of the season, this variety of fruit was quoted at RO5 to 7.500 per kg. Prices fell sharply to RO1.5 per kg within a fortnight, and have now levelled out at about 900 baisas per kg. Prices are expected to drop to their lowest at 500 baisas per kg when the harvest season peaks by end-June.
The market's other favourite date is Al Khunaizi — a large, red variety known for its taste and nutritive quality. This variety was quoted at RO2.500 per kg at the start of the season, but prices eventually fall to 500 baisas per kg when the market gets swamped with dates at the peak of the season. Other well-known varieties like Al Mebselli and Khasaab begin to arrive at the souq at the fag end of the season in July. Hilal bin Said al Hamdali, 20, is one of over 50 Omani date-sellers who operate at Fanja market during the date season.
He took over from his father, a veteran of Fanja's flourishing date trade for the past two decades. A native of Ghubrat at 'Tam in Wilayat Dima wa'Tayeen, Hilal buys freshly harvested dates directly from farmers of his wilayat and then auctions the fruit at Fanja souq. He makes three trips to the souq every week, unloading about 1,000 to 1,300 kg of dates on each trip. Daily collections average about RO2,500, while proceeds at the end of the three-month date season gross about RO40,000, he says.
Several Omani date traders operating from Fanja souq take the fruit all the way to Dubai and beyond to other GCC states. Nasser bin Mohammed al Jabri, for example, makes two to three trips to Dubai every week, with heavy loads of fresh dates destined for markets throughout the GCC. Each shipment involves about 600-800kg of dates, he says. En route, he supplies markets in the Batinah region, where date harvests are not as bountiful as those in the interior and eastern regions of the Sultanate.

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