This year's festival puts the focus firmly on life in the Western Region.
Date farmers chase prizes worth Dh5m at Liwa Date Festival
ABU DHABI // Prizes worth Dh5 million are up for grabs at this year's Liwa Date Festival.
The annual festival, now in its ninth edition, opened its doors to visitors on Thursday night and will run until next Thursday.
Even as the festival coincides with Ramadan, it has already seen a large turnout.
Obaid Al Mazrouei, festival director, said this year's visitors were in for "surprises", while date farmers will have more prizes to bag.
A focus has been made on date farmers to promote the best methods of agriculture.
Date farmers who have never won before in previous festivals will have a chance to win this year in an attempt to encourage them to keep taking part.
"The objective consists in rewarding these participants for their continued participation, as well as motivating and encouraging them to make further efforts to compete with others," he said.
The festival's organisation committee bought Dh2 million worth of Al Ratab (half-ripe dates) from all farmers last year.
The winners were awarded 160 prizes worth Dh4.2 million then, and this year 205 participants will be awarded prizes worth Dh5 million.
But winning will not be easy. Mr Al Mazrouei has said judges will be strict. Participants will be able to register any day of the week, at any time between 8am and 1pm.
This year Al Ratab Beauty Competition will continue for Al Khallas, Al Dabbas, Biggest Etheg (fruit bunch), Bou Maan, Al Kunaizi, Al Farth and Al Nukhba. There will also be a date-cooking competition and a handicraft competition.
For the Al Ratab Beauty competition, he emphasised that the dates must be locally produced and just half ripe. Fully ripe dates will not be accepted.
He also said that the judging panel would not award winners with their full score until their farm had been checked to ensure hygiene standards were met and to check on irrigation.
"These terms and conditions confirm the festival's determination to promote the cultivation of the palm tree, raise awareness about the best irrigation methods to save water, and advocate the use of alternatives to pesticides due to their tremendous negative impact on health in general," he said.
As Al Ratab entries must be free from pesticide residues and chemical fertilisers, the winning batches would be tested in laboratories.
For the handicrafts competition, all natural materials must be used.
"The number of heritage pieces used in the work will be taken into account," Mr Al Mazrouei said. "The perfection and harmony between the used materials will be considered, and the work must be expressive and reflect a pattern of the ancient lifestyle."
Competitions for the best mangoes and lemons will be held for the third time this year.
Traditionally, gifts of dates from Liwa residents were usually accompanied by citrus fruit, such as lemons.
By celebrating the quality of lemons and mangoes that are grown locally, the festival celebrates old traditions, Mr Al Mazrouei said.
"A variety of competitions are on the agenda," he said. "Visitors will have the opportunity to discover the traditional market, which hosts shops displaying the handmade products of more than 300 Emirati families.
"Children will have their share of fun, too, at the Kids' Tent, which offers a selection of educational and entertaining activities."
Alongside competitions, market stalls and children's activities, cultural programmes will be held to "shed light on the Emirati heritage and raise awareness about the most prominent landmarks".
"Fortunately, the festival has turned into an annual opportunity to showcase the latest innovations and display food products that depend on their manufacture of Al Ratab, dates, and the palm tree in general," he said.
Visitors will also get a chance to win cash during competitions and easy question sessions.
During the opening festivities, Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, Ruler's Representative in the Western Region, visited the festival. He lauded its remarkable success, the state news agency Wam reported.
He said the festival's success "reflects the course set by the late father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan to extend the scope of green belt and preserve the palm date nationwide".