x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Liwa Date Festival ends on a high note

With some of the country's finest dates, lemons and mangoes on show, as well as traditional market stalls, the ninth edition of the Liwa Date Festival went down a treat, say organisers.

Over 60,000 visitors flocked to the Liwa Date Festival to sample the fine food and entertainment on offer
Over 60,000 visitors flocked to the Liwa Date Festival to sample the fine food and entertainment on offer

ABU DHABI // The ninth edition of the Liwa Date Festival has been hailed as a resounding success by organisers.

Held under the patronage of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Presidential Affairs, the event allowed local date, lemon and mango farmers to pit their produce against the best in the country.

The fruits, while the stars of the seven-day show, were just one part of what became a celebration of UAE life, past and present.

"This year has been quite different because it was the first time we held the festival in Ramadan," said Obaid Al Mazrouei, the festival organiser, as the event drew to a close on Thursday night.

"We didn't expect as many people but we have had over 60,000 visitors over the past seven days. It went great.

"This is about getting in touch with traditional ideals and local culture. In the beginning we thought it would be a little challenging having it in Ramadan, but we realised that many people were still coming."

Market stalls were set up, local businesses touted their wares, and dioramas depicting life in the country through the years gave visitors a snapshot of the Emirates through the ages.

Mr Al Mazrouei explained the importance of the date.

"The date is mentioned in the holy Quran. Each has its own distinct taste and colour. It is like chocolate - everyone has their favourite type but this is healthy, organic and all locally produced."

Even the baskets in which the dates were presented were made by hand from date-palm leaves. Every year, festival organisers look to improve on their previous achievements, Mr Al Mazrouei said.

"We try to add something new every year," he said. "This year we made sure new farmers were given a chance to win some awards. Next year we will do a survey to get feedback from farmers and we can add something new and probably new competitions."

Throughout the seven days, more than Dh5 million in prize money was handed out to date farmers.

Outside the competition, the traditional souq bustled with haggling shoppers looking to buy locally made produce.

"We have been given a chance to show off our skills to the people here and sell some of our homemade items," said Noura Al Mansouri, an Emirati who set up a stall in the market selling traditional perfumes and food.

"This is a celebration of UAE culture and it has been really nice. The Government gave us a really good chance to make money and meet new people. We have been given the chance to show people from other countries our culture."

For visitors, local and foreign, the festival hit all of the right notes.

"The dates have been very tasty and there are many kinds to try," said first-time festival goer Tradeep Marat, from India.

"It has been great to come in the evening and enjoy the atmosphere. It is nice to see that tradition is still here."

Local Khalid Hamimi, who attends every year, said: "You can see how the Emirates were 50 years ago, the clothes, the culture and traditions. Everyone should come to see this. It is something special for us."

Alongside the traditional offerings, were glimpses of what the future holds.

The UAE University stall displayed the work of Eman Hussain, a specialist in tissue culture, and a team of more than 100 researchers.

They are part of a date palm development research unit that is finding new ways to cultivate the plants without artificial chemicals.

"From the first to the last stage, each plant takes three years to cultivate and we can then sell these plants to the farmers," Miss Hussain said.

"This is important work for the future of date farming in the region."

ksinclair@thenational.ae