x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Female Emirati farmers show off their dates at festival

Female Emirati farmers showcase their dates at the seventh Liwa Date Festival.

LIWA // Umm Ali's table sags and buckles under the weight of dozens of baskets full of dates from her farm in Liwa.

Nearby, Umm Salem rearranges her date baskets to make them more attractive for an Emirati family who have stopped to buy a few.

Behind her, a couple of Emirati women sit on the carpeted ground, sipping traditional tea and coffee, chatting about the latest Liwa gossip.

"Al Khalas is from Saudi Arabia, so I prefer to show people Al Khanezi or Al Dabbas because it represents the UAE," says Umm Salem, describing the various dates in the baskets on her table.

A dozen female Emirati farmers last week sold their fresh produce at the Liwa Date Festival in Al Gharbia. The women put their yield on display in the hopes of winning one of the event's ten date competitions.

Around 500 farmers participated in the first day of the festival. The event included date, mango and lemon competitions. The first 15 winners of each competition have had their farms checked by judges and experts.

Date categories during the festival include Al Khalas, Al Dabbas, Boumaan, Al Khanezi, Al Fard and Al Nukhbah. Half-ripe and fully ripened dates competed for a total prize pot of Dh4 million.

The Liwa Date Festival will end on July 21 to make way for the inaugural Ajman-Liwa Date Festival, which takes place from July 27 to 29.

Though not everyone was a winner, the female farmers at the festival all took something of value away from it.

"I've been participating in the festival for four years now," says Umm Ali, "and today I managed to sell all of my dates, which I'm really happy about."

Most of her dates are from the Al Khalas variety, "the most popular in the UAE", she says.

"I don't know why they're so famous in our country, but I have a feeling it has something to do with their taste. They're just perfectly sweetened," she says.

Her fellow farmer, Moza Mohammed Al Mazrouei, who came sixth out of 30 farmers in the "heaviest bushel of dates" competition, says: "We've been here for about two years now and the festival has helped us as female farmers to show what we can produce. It's really important for us to be able to do that because dates are our life."

Not far from Ms Al Mazrouei, farmer Sara Rashed Al Mansouri rearranges her abaya while catching up with her counterpart, Dababa Eid Al Khieli.

"We collected dates from about six or seven farms in total from Liwa," says Ms Al Mansouri. "It's a lot of work, but I'm proud to be responsible for so many dates, it's a challenge every year."

Ms Al Khieli says: "My husband and I entered the competition together, and we're really hoping it will be successful for us this year."


Another kiosk at the festival is filled with Emirati ladies, children and dates. Awsha Eid Ar Malat al Mansouri, a widowed farmer, is the respected owner here. She also owns three farms in Liwa, Al Ain and Al Khatim in Abu Dhabi.

"My husband passed away two years ago, and he used to take care of our land," she says. "Since then, I have been working on them, and although it's hard without him, I do my best to manage them."

Her baskets have fierce-coloured Al Khalas, Boumaan and Al Khuneizi dates, all fully and half-ripened.

"It seems visitors have taken a liking to my dates, and I just wish my husband could be here to see" she says.