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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 August 2018

Support the farmers who have kept the UAE thriving

Date festival celebrates those who have helped generations survive the harsh climate

Ratab dates at the Liwa Date Festival. Victor Besa / The National
Ratab dates at the Liwa Date Festival. Victor Besa / The National

Khallas, medjoul, dabbas, ratab. The names trip off the tongue as deliciously as the dates that they give their names to melt in the mouth.

Honeyed in flavour and caramel-coloured, dates are the true wealth of the region, their burnished golden flesh helping hardy nomads survive in the desert for about 7,000 years.

It was dates, rich in nutritious protein, potassium and fibre, that gave the region’s Bedouin the energy and willpower to endure the harsh climate; dates that rallied Wilfred Thesiger’s spirit as he trekked across the Empty Quarter; and dates with which you will be greeted in any Emirati home, no matter where you might travel.

As Sheikh Zayed once said, the date palm is the tree of life. Its branches were used to build huts, the palm fronds providing cooling shade, while its fruit sustained countless generations.

Today the UAE has one of the largest date growing and packing industries in the world and exports this region’s gold globally.

That trade culminates every year in the 10-day Liwa Festival, currently in full swing in Abu Dhabi’s Al Dhafra region. Now in its 14th year, it celebrates the humble fruit in its dazzling multitude of varieties, as well as the farmers who grow them, among them 2,500 agricultural workers competing for prize money totalling more than Dh6 million.

It seems almost impossible to imagine the efforts necessary to cultivate natural produce in arid heat and the toughest of conditions and yet these farmers form the backbone of one of the UAE’s most successful industries, producing nearly 100,000 tonnes of dates every year.

Recent years have seen a number of government initiatives to encourage the production of this vital resource, from a date classification body to the Khalifa International Prize for date palm and agricultural innovation and even trophies for the best ode to a date palm.

The first date seeds were found on Delma island, off the coast of Abu Dhabi, dating back to 5110BC. Since then, the humble fruit has helped this region’s inhabitants to survive for millennia. Those who help it thrive deserve our support.

It behoves all of us to venture out of our air-conditioned homes for a true taste of the desert, as it is meant to be experienced – amid the sand dunes of Liwa, washed down with cardamom-infused coffee, supporting those without whom none of us would be here.

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