By: Asma Al-Mohattwari
The date palm – one of the oldest fruit trees known to man – is known as a tree of blessings. Arab countries cultivate the tree more than any other others, with conditions that are favorable to its growth.
Yemenis are known for their wide experience with, and knowledge of, palm cultivation. Over a long time of dealing with the palm, the Yemeni farmer was able to deduce the many agricultural methods which would enable him to maintain its successful productivity.
Dates represent important food crops in Yemen, with about 4,680,000 palms within its borders – of these, 3,276,000 bear fruit, while 1,404,000 are fruitless. The date palm occupies an area of 15945.6 hectares in Yemen and an average of 20,967 dates is produced annually.
Palm cultivation is concentrated in Yemen in different areas, including Hodeida, Hadhramout and Al-Jawf. Production at these three provinces amounts to about 19,910 tons, representing 96.7% of Yemen’s date production.
Yemen holds a palm festival annually; this festival is a cultural event, with activities involving folk art and scientific seminars. The last palm festival was held in Hahdhramout.
Although Yemeni dates are considered to be among the best, the consumption of dates by Yemenis has drastically declined over the past five years. Because the planting of dates in Yemen has been neglected in favor of planting other things, Yemenis have started to prefer foreign dates over the domestic variety.
A date trader said that excellent Yemeni dates don’t enter local markets, but are reserved for export. Oftentimes dates sold in Yemeni markets are not cleaned by farmers and poor forms of storage only add to their diminished desirability in domestic trading.
When asked, many Yemenis say that even though they’re cheap, they don’t buy Yemeni dates. “When I want to buy dates, of course I will buy foreign dates, as Yemeni dates are not that famous,” said Emad.
Mona said that “I always show off my skill in making cookies and I choose the best types of dates. I’m always sure to buy the Yemeni varieties, but then recently I did not find the good quality that I got used to from the local dates. So I was forced to buy the foreign varieties; I don’t know what’s causing the decline in quality of Yemeni dates.”
Osama, a farmer, said that dates are a ‘security’ food for Yemen future, but only if the government would pay attention to the problems which prevent farmers from planting dates.
“Farmers are neglecting their farms, cutting down the trees, and job opportunities on the farms are declining because of dry wells and a lack of rain, which was falling heavily in the summer in past years; there’s also been a lack of interest from stakeholders, and support is provided for only a few farmers. If the government doesn’t address these problems, the date palm will vanish,” he said.