Volunteer team tries to prevent palm trees from extinction

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Saudi Gazette report

DATES are an important component of Saudi fare. An integral part of the Arab cuisine and culture, dates are known for their high nutritious value and their taste has continued to be extolled since times immemorial. However, owners of date plantations pay little attention to this significant crop that enjoys a prime spot in the life of Saudis as well as in the country's environment.

Saudi date palm owners depend heavily on expatriate labor with little expertise and experience in farming. Some of the farmers fell healthy palm trees for logging purposes. As a result, many varieties of dates have disappeared from the oases of Saudi Arabia.

In Qatif, for example, the palm wood is sold for SR90 per kilogram.

Habeeb Mahmoud, a date researcher, has emphasized the need to impose tough punishment on those who cut down palm trees or uproot them unreasonably. “Nobody should be allowed to destroy date palms without official permission,” he said while speaking to Al-Riyadh Arabic daily.

Mahmoud has allocated a good portion of his spare time to conduct studies on various types of dates in Qatif. He has visited agricultural areas in Qatif along with a group of volunteers. “We have identified 64 varieties of dates in Qatif farms while 15 types have disappeared over the past few years,” he pointed out.

His team members came from different backgrounds.

“There are doctors, engineers, teachers and bankers among us and we work together for the protection and development of date palms. One of our team members has 28 years experience in date seedling. Our field activities focus mainly on farmers,” Mahmoud said.

Mahmoud’s volunteer team aims to document various types of dates in Qatif, which is known for its rich agricultural resources.

“We have succeeded in documenting 64 types of dates — 46 were documented 66 years ago while 18 are documented for the first time. We could not find 15 varieties that were documented in the past,” Mahmoud explained.

Abdul Jabbar Al-Bakr, a date researcher from Iraq, visited the Kingdom in 1951. During his six-month stay he visited Qatif, Al-Ahsa, Najd and Qassim. He came to the Kingdom as a representative of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). He documented 76 types of dates in Qatif and Al-Ahsa.

“Many types of dates are facing extinction due to environmental and commercial factors because some of them were not commercially feasible like before or some well-known varieties like Badrani, Firani, Ammari, Kaabi, Rabeei, Maktoum and Fooful outdid them in the markets. It is as if the fittest varieties alone will survive,” Mahmoud said.

In the past 60 years some varieties have disappeared while new types of dates have emerged, the researcher said. “We have found 18 new varieties that were not found in Qatif in the past. They include Dakini, Fooful and Khasba Obaida. Some varieties like Khasba Raziz have disappeared despite their commercial viability. Maktoumi is one of the famous varieties that face extinction.”

Mahmoud confirmed that 15 varieties have disappeared totally from Qatif farms. “We have conducted a field survey from Abu Muin in the north to Saihat in the south and Taroot in the east and Aujam in the west and we could not find the varieties of Bint Saeed, Tanjoub, Khasbat Al-Hana, Khasbat Marba, Daalij, Satrawi, Saamaran, Ghaimi, Mubashir, Maktoum Ahmar, Um Bakara, Harikan, Wasili, Sabae and Diyada,” he explained.

According to Mahmoud, palm weevil still poses a big threat to date farming in the Kingdom. “However it is not as dangerous as it was 25 years ago,” he added.

The date issue in Qatif is very complicated. People who are not directly involved in the farming inherited most plantations from their forebears who were great farmer. Many owners sold these farms to construct commercial buildings and homes.

“If things were in my hand I would have imposed tough punishment on people who destroy palm trees. I would not have allowed felling palm trees without a justifiable reason,” Mahmoud said.

Abdullah Al-Shihab, former secretary of Qatif Municipal Council, said violations committed by individuals have led to the destruction of palm trees in Qatif and other parts of the Kingdom. In the past 10 years many palm fields have been used for projects other than agriculture such as car junkyards, housing for workers, warehouses, playgrounds and wedding halls.


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