x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Accolade for team in war on date fungus

Scientists tackling date palm disease were among the winners announced in a prestigious new set of awards.

A man harvests dates on Delma Island, located in Al Gharbia, off the coast of Abu Dhabi.
A man harvests dates on Delma Island, located in Al Gharbia, off the coast of Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Scientists tackling date palm disease were among the winners announced today in a prestigious new set of awards. The inaugural Khalifa International Date Palm Awards, worth about Dh2 million (US$545,000) attracted 39 entries from 18 countries - two thirds of them Arab. The purpose of the competition, established by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, is to reward and stimulate achievement in the date industry worldwide. The organisers said the initial response had been encouraging. "To receive this many applications in just our first year is a wonderful accomplishment," said Prof. Abdelwahab Zaid, secretary general of the awards committee. "We received seven from the UAE alone. Iraq and Egypt come second and third with six and four papers respectively."

However, no first-place award was made in the distinguished research/study category as the standard was not considered high enough. So there are four instead of five winners this year, covering topics such as the protection of date palms against the Bayoud fungal disease and the role of the factory in date development. "It is not about the number of nominees we receive, but the quality of nominations, and the submissions did not meet our minimum criteria for a first-place winner," said Prof Zaid. The prize-winners are: * First category (Distinguished Research/Studies) - Second: The National Institute of Agronomic Research in Morocco, for its work on the Bayoud fungus. * Second category (Distinguished Producers) - First: Atul Ltd in India, for its date palm development programme. Second: the UAE's Emirates Bio-fertiliser Factory for its part in local and regional date palm culture development. * Third category (Distinguished Figure): Rakan Maktoum al Qubaisi, secretary general of the UAE's National Consultative Council, for his successful efforts in the Muzayanat Rutab annual exhibition.

The presentation ceremony will take place on March 15 at the Emirates Palace hotel. Emad Saad, editorial manager of the awards committee, said that in the days leading up to the ceremony they would organise a variety of activities and events to raise awareness about the award. The organisers are already thinking ahead to next year's event, which is expected to attract a much bigger field and to pay out several million dirhams in prize money. Prof Zaid said it was hoped that the number of applications for next year would be at least double this year's entry. "We want to give the awards an international arena. We want to get new countries working in the date industry to be involved." Nominations had already started coming in for 2010, he said, and it was hoped to increase the prize money - "even doubling it if we can". The organisers have also announced the launch of a magazine devoted to dates and palm farming.

Prof Zaid said: "The Date Palm Journal will be a bilingual magazine that will be launched during our award ceremonies. "Each winner will have two or three pages out of the magazine to present his research and study paper surrounding date palm culture." The purpose of the magazine was identical to that of the awards, Prof Zaid said. "We want to strengthen and develop the date industry all around the world, in terms of production, development, distribution - all aspects. We want these awards to be open to anybody interested in date palm culture, and not just those big names in the Arab world." Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and Dr Jacques Diouf, director general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, are among the guests expected to be at the ceremony next Sunday.

hkhalaf@thenational.ae