x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Invention that rates great dates wins top Palm prize

Middle Eastern date farmers descend on capital for awards ceremony

ABU DHABI// A machine that recognises and sorts the best dates by quality was one of the winners at this year's Date Palm Awards.

Abdelhamid Djeffal's creation won first place for Best New Technique in the 2012 Khalifa International Date Palm Awards, distributed yesterday.

"It learns the visual characteristics of dates and uses these to sort the dates," said Mr Djeffal.

The Algerian professor began working on the project in 2008 in collaboration with a laboratory in France. His invention is quicker than the traditional, often painstaking, manual process.

"I'm from Biskra, a well known place of date production," said Mr Djeffal. "The deglet nour, they say is the best quality dates in the world."

The manual sorting process used in Algerian factories takes a long time and yields imperfect results, he added. His new machine "learns" whenever it sorts, gathering new information.

"We are trying to help our society," said Mr Djeffal.

He hopes the machine will eventually be widely available to date factories in Algeria.

"The software is developed and published in journals," he said. "The machine part is only in the laboratory of our university but we tested it on dates. It has very good results."

Second prize for Best New Technique went to Nazir Hussain, from Qatar's Ministry of Environment.

He found that applying a soil conditioner around date palm trees could conserve irrigation water.

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, presented the awards at a ceremony at Emirates Palace.

The capital's Farmers' Services Centre won first place for Best Development Project for a programme to improve the way date palm farmers irrigate and fertilise their trees. Al Ain Municipality was awarded second place in that category.

The Distinguished Figure prize went to Ahmed Al Falasi, while the Distinguished Producer award was split between brothers Mansour and Hamad Al Mazroui. All three are Emirati farmers.

First prize for Distinguished Research went to the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, based in Syria.

Dr Sahar Al Okbi, from Egypt, won second prize in that category for her research on the health benefits of dates.

Dr Al Okbi isolated components in dates for use in medicinal products or to enhance other foods, such as juices. She found that some of the components could ease or prevent arthritis or cardiovascular disease.

She studied dates because of their cultural significance, she said.

"It is mentioned in the Quran that the date has very big benefits for humans, so we are researching, what are the benefits of these dates?" said Dr Al Obki. "We are trying to cooperate with the industrial sector to apply this on a large scale and be marketed.

She added that the materials were "very safe" for human consumption.

vnereim@thenational.ae