IT’S A DATE: The business of the Liwa Date Festival 2012
In light of the eighth edition of Liwa Date Festival 2012, happening from the 12 to 18 July 2012 at Liwa City, Abu Dhabi, Kipp takes a look at the business of the date festival in the country.
July 4, 2012 7:27 by Jyothi M.V.
The Liwa Date Festival was first held in 2004 in Mazirah located in the western region of the UAE, as a one-day affair. Since then, it has evolved steadily into an event that promotes Emirati culture and creates agricultural awareness. In the initial instance of the event, 1,200 farmers took part in the festival, supplying in excess of 5,000 platters of their finest produce harvested in that year. The date festival was an unofficial rivalry between majlises housing different tribes, with each tribe trying to outdo another. The judging team was recruited from outside Liwa. In later years the event developed to everyone’s interest showcasing traditional poetry and handicrafts, cultural contests, religious instruction, popular games and a date auction.
All about Dates
First cultivated in Mesopotamia around 4,000 years ago, the date is a sweet edible fruit obtained from date palm trees that have either male or female reproductive organs. Only female date palms produce dates, while the male palms provide the pollen for germination. The date palm trees produce fruit when they are between three and five years old, and reach their peak at around 12 years, when they can produce up to 120kg of fruit per season. A single bunch can contain up to 1,000 dates; palms can grow up to 30 meters in height and live productive lives for up to 150 years. Date is a fruit which takes around six to seven months in order to develop its sweetness. In the UAE, the dates are carefully harvested by hand from more than 40 million date palm trees across the country during the harvesting season. UAE is said to produce around 120 types of dates although it has somewhere around 800 varieties. However, most of the varieties are found in the UAE.
The cycle of a date
The following is the cycle of an average date:
Khadrawi: smooth, bulging, firm and green, orangey-yellow on ripening
Ratb: perfectly half-ripe dates which appear to have been honey glazed, with golden amber at one end and a translucent reddish brown at the other.
Tamr: the fully-ripe, sun-dried dates.
Only a handful of date varieties, including the rich khalass, dabass and bumaan, are allowed to enter the competition; other types go to categories labeled “miscellaneous.”
Date production in the UAE
The UAE is the world’s fifth-largest date producer, behind Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt and Iran. Currently, there are more than 40 million date palm trees in the country. The figures for date production in the UAE have risen in line with the country’s development: in 1971, when the UAE was established, production stood at just 8,000 tonnes a year; in 2005 it was over three-quarters of a million tons, with massive exports to countries such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan. Mezaira’a town around Abu Dhabi’s Western Region, produces half of the 760,000 tonnes grown every year in the UAE. Also, UAE is one of the leading exporters of dates with over 266,000 tonnes being exported to 33 countries. Most of the dates produced and sold in the UAE are ratb, soft and moist at one end and crunchy at the other and fully-ripe khalass.
Healthy nutritious dates
Before the discovery of oil and when food was scarce, dates and camel milk were staple foodstuffs to the UAE’s native Bedouin population and to this day provide sustenance in some Saharan countries. Nutritionally, dates are one of the world’s most complete foods, containing carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A, B and D, iron, magnesium, calcium and potassium; packed with 3,000 calories per kg. Dates are also around 75 per cent sugar, a higher percentage than most fruits. According to UAE University’s research programme, the average annual per capita consumption of dates in date-producing countries is between 150 and 185kg a year.
Did you know?
The country had registered its name in the Guinness World record for the largest date dish on the closing night of the 2008 Liwa Date festival. The date dish which is 12 meters long and 2.5 meters wide was the main attraction of the event.
The organisers of SIAL China 2012, the Asian edition of one of the world's top food exhibitions, have named the UAE dates the best selling product at the exhibition and awarded a certificate to Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA), which put together the country's top dates companies under the umbrella of UAE pavilion.
Prizes and Awards
Prizes worth Dh4.2 million (US$1.15m) are to be given away at this year’s Liwa Date Festival in the form of Dh100,000 prizes and brand new cars. There are awards that will be given to the best model date farms chosen by the judges for the finest dates selected in the several different varieties which are commonly reared. Cash prizes to be won in many categories including: most attractive presentation, distinct and variety dates, largest date frond, and the Best Heritage Show.
The festival features a rich selection of heritage-related activities and its signature Ratab Beauty Competition. The Date Decoration Contest aims to improve the produce of local dates available and rank them internationally. Only locally produced Half-ripe dates (which come in seven variants) are accepted in the competition. Last year a new competition was added to the event to choose the largest date frond (uthj). Date cooking competition will take place with preparation of various dishes, all of which have date as the main ingredient. The ‘Best Heritage Show’ will showcase different varieties of dates produced locally, the categories include: Al-Khalas, Al-Dabbas (found only in Liwa), Boumaan, Khnezi, Al-Fard and Al-Nukhbah.
Judging the competition
There will be a panel of judges who will follow specific criteria in order to give away the awards. Only locally produced half-ripe dates (which come in seven variants) are accepted in the competition. The judging will take place in an air-conditioned dining suite while three large warehouse-style tents will house a trade fair.
Highlights of Liwa Date Festival 2011
More than 70,000 people visited the 10-day long annual Liwa Date Festival in 2011, which was held under the patronage of Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, and organised by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH).
More than 360 stands, featuring locally produced dates were spread over 20,000 metres within air-conditioned tents. Sales worth over Dh2.5 million from both the traditional souq and at various stands located throughout the festival area were recorded. The organising committee also purchased 4,000 baskets of dates that were then provided as gifts.
*Image source: abudhabienv.com
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