The date palm is considered as the first important crop in Oman with perspective to number, widespread, integrated ecological and agricultural system. Thus, it is a national treasure which is directly and indirectly affecting the whole nation in all its components as well as the lives of people. Accordingly, maximizing its economic, water, social and environmental paybacks is extremely important, especially if its close association with the Aflaj water system in Oman is taken into consideration. Throughout history, the Aflaj system has been characterized by its good management of water as it employs a multiple farming method which makes the best use of every drop of water, the ecosystem produced by the cultivation of the date palm as well as the associated farming villages and demographic distribution of the citizens.
The date palm cultivation occupies more than 83.2% of total fruit crop area in the Sultanate, which covers approximately 101,400 acres. The number of date palm trees in the Sultanate, as per the agricultural census 92/93, is estimated at 8 million trees. The palm date sector represents economic and social importance for the rural community, ensuring an appropriate income for date producers and hugely contributing in increasing the revenues of the available agricultural resources, especially in light of the circumstances and the vagaries of the agricultural sector as well as the associated changes which have resulted in global trade systems. The total produce of dates in Oman reached about 281,000 tonnes in 1999, compared to 173,000 tonnes in 1994 and the total value of this product was estimated at 50 million Omani rials.
Dates in the Sultanate can be categorized into two groups:
Table dates (dates desirable for human consumption): The number of palm trees under this type is about 5.1 million which accounts for 64 per cent of the total production.This type is consumed in raw form by people in various ways. These include dates such as Khalas Al Dhahira, Abu Naranja, Khaneezi, Khasab and Fardh.
Manufacturing dates (dates undesirable for human consumption): This type of dates is not good for human consumption in raw form, so it is used as fodder for animals or by humans after processing. These date varieties (approximately 2.9 million palm trees) include Mabsali, Umm al Sala, Shahl and Salani, which account for 36% of the total date production in the country.
Programmes and projects implemented in the date palm sector.
1. Development program for the advancement of productivity:
§ Project for propagation and dissemination the superior varieties (Replacement and reorganization).
This project aims to the following:
- Replacement of 800 thousand old palm trees of table dates which have deteriorated in productivity by new high quality and high productivity ones;
- Reduction of the number of manufacturing date palm trees by 800 thousand through replacing them by palm trees of table dates. This action will reduce the percentage of manufacturing date palm trees;
- Reorganization of palm trees by adding 800 thousand palm trees of unique table dates by 2020. Therefore, the total number of palm trees in the Sultanate will reach 9 million;
- Provision of distinctive 800,000 seedlings of table date palm trees to meet the needs of the cosmetic projects.
§ Project of increased yield potential (Agronomy):
This project aims to increase the productivity of palm through the introduction of high quality and high-yielding varieties and adoption of modern methods for agricultural operations such as usage of fertilisers, irrigation system and programmes concerned with cultivating the dates (including processes like pruning, pollinating, thinning) before and after the harvest.
2. Development program for the advancement of marketing.
This program aims to improve the packaging techniques, to develop appropriate mechanisms for the formation and the processing of dates in line with the local and foreign market requirements, and to utilize manufacturing capacity of dates and other palm products.
Development project of dates packing units:
This project is implemented through the distribution of appropriate government-subsidized machines and devices required to make up production lines with capacities ranging from 10-20 tonnes per year (small-scale manufacturing lines) or 20-100 tonnes per year (medium-scale manufacturing lines). These production lines are distributed to farmers and producers of dates in the date palm areas in different proportions in order to absorb most of the quantities resulting from the table dates which would lead to increased economic revenue for farmers or investors. The number of distributed units is expected to reach 2200 by 2020 at different production capacities to accommodate about 240 thousand tonnes of table dates at the end of the plan. In addition, support and subsidies will be provided to establish ten more factories along with developing existing date plants with the help of the private sector in order to reach a production capacity of 20,000 tonnes per year. The small-scale units will be subsidized while the factories will get soft loans.
Government-subsidized machines and devices include:
Date pit removing machine:
This machine is to remove the pits of dates through special cylinder made of stainless metal with production capacity of approximately 125 kg per hour.
Date paste making machine:
This machine is used to soften the pitted dates and turn it into homogeneous date paste with production capacity of about 95 kg per hour.
Vacuum forming machine:
This machine is used to form pitted date paste into various shapes and sizes. This machine can also be used to squeeze second-class dates so they can be packaged using heat shrink packaging machine.
Heat shrink packaging machine:
This device is used to pack various forms of date paste or low quality dates by placing them in special containers with some additions such as nuts.
High-quality date vacuum packaging machine:
This device is used for the preparation of special plastic containers for high-quality fresh dates that can be marketed directly, by placing them in special vacuum bags so as to increase storage duration.
Date washing and drying automated lines:
These automatic lines which are accredited by the Ministry of Agriculture are offered to farmers who have a firm desire to expand marketing their dates inside and outside the Sultanate.
The mechanism for implementing the project:
The project is implemented through a distribution plan in the agricultural areas so that farmers get the machines and units at different subsidy rates. Farmers can repay these amounts in cash or through a soft loan from Oman Development Bank. A handbook has been prepared on the basic processes that contribute to raising the productivity of the date palm trees in addition to the operating instructions for the distributed units and devices as well as the stages the dates undergo during manufacturing and packaging operations.
The benefits of the implementation of the project:
1. Increasing the market value of the Omani dates in order to to compete in the domestic and foreign markets.
2. Improving the methods of preserving and storing dates, developing ways of packaging and raising the quality of the traditional dates.
3. Creating job opportunities for rural families as well as creating new unconventional work fields in agriculture.
4. Increasing farmers’ income through the sale of their production of high quality dates.
5. Improving the efficiency of agricultural processes which lead to increased date productivity.
6. Utilizing factors of production and maximizing the economic and social return of water by following the modern recommendations of date production and processing.
7. Opening new markets for the Omani dates both inside and outside the Sultanate.
Development project of manufacturing industries:
This project aims to take advantage of the manufacturing dates of low price and poor quality which encounter difficulty in marketing by processing them into high-value products such as date syrup, alcohol and so on. This project includes a plan for the deployment of 200 small-scale manufacturing units of 30 tonnes capacity in addition to 5 medium-scale units of 5,000 tonnes capacity from 2001 to 2020. The subsidy will cover 50% of the total cost.