ABU DHABI // Furniture made from date palms and a healthy snack for children were among the winners of this year's Khalifa International Date Palm Awards.
Nine winners from eight countries were named today.
"Look at the diversity of the countries," said Dr Abdelouahhab Zaid, the secretary general of the awards.
"Everybody is working on date palms. It's becoming more and more important.
"We can also see the different aspect of technology, mostly biotechnology, used to try to understand and explore new possibilities of using date palm trees."
One of these was building furniture from byproducts of the tree. It won Dr Hamid Ibrahim Al Musli, from Egypt, second place for best developmental project.
"You can build a lot of modern furniture using the tree's leaves and skin," Dr Zaid said. "But rather than use a big factory, he got small-scale farmers involved to provide the raw material, work on it in the village and sell it to get the added value. It's a very smart idea."
Dr Mohammed Al Farisi, an Emirati from the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, won first place in research and distinguished studies for his project on date-paste enrichment.
"Dates as a fruit are not [widely] consumed by the general public, but we'd like to introduce the idea that children, mostly at schools and growing generations, go for dates rather than chocolate," said Dr Zaid. "However, eating the same thing every time would be boring so we try to diversify the product. One of them is paste that can be used in pastry and, with processing, other products."
It could eventually be used in schools across Abu Dhabi, he said.
A project to increase the fruit's shelf life using a controlled atmosphere won Dr Abdullah Mohammed Al Hamdan, from Saudi Arabia, first place as best distinguished technology.
"They have a large production of Barhi dates and there isn't much effort in marketing," Dr Zaid said. "Farmers get very low return on it, sometimes less than Dh1 per kilo."
The system allows partly ripened dates, which usually last seven days, and fully ripe ones, which last three months, to be stored for up to six months. That means more money for farmers.
"Storage of fresh fruits was a big problem," said Dr Hassan Shabana, a date palm expert at Dubai's Date Palm Global Network.
"Marketing is also a big challenge. Prices of dates are very low compared to other fruits but more projects are geared towards improving it."
Other projects studied issues such as early detection of disease.
Dr Moulay Sedra, from the National Institute for Agronomic Research in Morocco, won second place in research and distinguished studies.
His project included selection of molecular markers for genetic diversity analysis, cultivar genotyping, early sex detection and rapid screening for resistance to Bayoud disease, a fungal infection that has destroyed more than 12 million palms in Morocco and three million in Algeria in the past century.
It also ravaged the world's most renowned varieties, particularly those that produce high-quality and quantity fruit, while accelerating desertification.
The difficulty, said Dr Zaid, was that the symptoms – the leaves turn white, leaving the tree unable to obtain energy from the sun – are not visible until long after the fungus has taken hold.
A total of 142 candidates from 24 countries took part in the awards' five categories. First-place winners will be rewarded with Dh300,000, while runners-up will receive Dh200,000 at a ceremony at the Emirates Palace hotel on March 3.