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The ceremony where everyone has a date

Developers of the burgeoning Australian date industry and US scientists are among the winners of the second annual Khalifa International Date Palm Awards.

ABU DHABI // Developers of the burgeoning Australian date industry and US scientists working to protect the trees are among the winners of the second annual Khalifa International Date Palm Awards. The event attracted 67 entrants from 24 countries, a 72 per cent increase on last year's competitors. Doubling of the prize money, up to Dh300,000 (US$81,000) for first-place winners and Dh200,000 for second, plus the addition of extra categories, helped too.

Professor Abdelouahhab Zaid, the secretary general of the awards, said it had taken similar competitions several years to achieve the same momentum. "We added two categories and doubled the budget from Dh2.2 million to Dh4.4 million immediately after the first year's winners were announced, to grab international attention and highlight the prestige of the award," he said. A presentation ceremony will take place on March 15 at the Emirates Palace hotel, on the opening day of the three-day International Date Conference.

Prof Zaid, the director of the date palm development research unit at UAE University in Al Ain, announced that the university would build a laboratory to aid the identification of date palm species. It will monitor the genetic conformity of date palms, of which the unit produces 150,000 annually. "This will ensure the quality production to meet the needs of both local and international markets," he said.

Distinguished Research/Studies ? First: Dr Benaichi Bachir for his work on the economics of date production in Algeria. Second: Dr Joel Malek of Cornell Medical College in Qatar for the sequencing and comparative genomics of the date palm tree using massively parallel sequencing. Distinguished Producers ? First: Saleh al Rajhi, of the Awqaf administration in Saudi Arabia. Second: Al Foah Organic Farm, UAE.

Best New Technique ? First: Palm fibre polymers from the UAE. Second: Early detection of red palm weevils in the US. Best Development Project ? First: Developing the Australian date industry, by David James and Anita Reilly. Distinguished Figure ? Dr Abdulrahman al Humaid of King Saud University. Second withheld. @Email:hkhalaf@thenational.ae

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