Muscat: If you live in Oman or the rest of the Middle East, dates are always synonymous with culture and tradition, especially during the Holy Month of Ramadan.
This humble fruit, though, has also been integral to the Sultanate’s economy, even after oil became one of the country’s primary export products.
“Oman’s agriculture has mainly relied on its dates, which take up more than 45 per cent of cultivable land,” said Ramanuj Venkatesh, assistant manager (Accounts) at Larsen and Toubro. “Dates of Oman are of supreme quality and are exported to the major GCC nations, such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.”
“Oman’s agricultural economy has in the past primarily relied on short-term subsistence agriculture because of arid conditions, but dates have always been a major occupation among farmers in the region, with more than 35,000 hectares of land being used to plant date palms in the interiors,” he added.
One of the programmes that has served to boost Oman’s date production and raise awareness about the crop is the One Million Date Palms Plantation Project, which was instituted by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said in collaboration with the Diwan of the Royal Court.
“Dates in Oman make up 78 per cent of the crops produced, and this is considered to be a pioneering project in the Sultanate due to the expected outcome it will achieve economically, socially, environmentally and on a nutritional level,” said Dr. Saif bin Rashid Al Shaqsi, director general of the project. “We have planted more than 900,000 trees in farms, public spaces, in parks and even in households across the country.”
“The project will achieve a remarkable quality shift in the date palm sector by implementing the latest scientific developments in the production of dates and its secondary products,” he added. “It will also enhance the ability of Omani dates to compete in the international market and improve the economical capabilities of Omani agriculture.”
Mustafa Al Riyami, coordination and follow up specialist from the Public Authority for Stores and Food Reserves at the Ministry of Agriculture, also had a similar viewpoint.
“If you go out on the road, you will see date palms lining all the main streets,” he told the Times of Oman.
“While it does have an aesthetic purpose and provides residents with shade, it is also part of His Majesty’s vision to improve Oman’s self-sufficiency and expand the country’s food security, because dates have always been important to our economy and our history.”
According to data from the Diwan of the Royal Court, Oman is home to nearly eight million date trees, which produces about 350,000 tonnes and more than 325 varieties of dates per annum, making it the world’s eighth-largest producer of the crop.
Most of Oman’s dates come from the Batinah region, with the north producing 73.5 thousand tonnes, and the south another 68.7 thousand. Al Dakhilyah produces a further 61,000, while the North and South Sharqiyah regions yield a total of 78,000 tonnes. The Dahirah region contributes another 34,700 tonnes, while the Musandam, Dhofar and Muscat governorates add a further 34,000 tonnes to that number.
In addition to the economic and agricultural viability of the crop, dates digest slowly, which means they can sustain people for a long time, which is especially important during Ramadan.
“Dates release energy into the body at a slow rate, which makes them a very good food during Ramadan, as you won’t get tired very fast,” said Dr. Basheer, an internist and diabetologist at Badar Al Sama’a Hospital. “When you are fasting, blood flow is slower and this harms your organs, which leads to more build-up of toxins, but because dates are an anti-oxidant, they prevent that from happening.”
“Dates contain lots of minerals and so they work very well with fresh fruits or milk because of their vitamin content, which makes these complete foods,” he added. “I would advise all those who are fasting to eat a few dates in the morning, and then eat some at iftar, because they’re very good digestives. Those who are diabetic though shouldn’t eat too many because they (dates) contain high amounts of sugar.”