Palm date is one of the usually consumed and loved fruit in the world. It was initially consumed in the Middle East, Central Asia and some parts of Africa. The best region palm trees can grow is the southern part of the Mediterranean Sea. Particularly, the hot areas of the Mediterranean Sea, the Middle East countries and North African nations such as Egypt, Sudan, Algeria and Tunisia are known for growing dates both in terms of quantity and quality. The 2012 date harvest reports show that 6.8 tons of date were harvested in the above mentioned regions. As part of this fertile region, Eritrea has suitable land and climate to cultivate palm date and commercialize it locally and regionally. With the experience gathered over the years, it is said that Eritrea has a huge potential for date farming and date palm cultivation. Date farming is forecasted to be among the biggest agro-industrial sectors of the country in the future.
Palm date is a drought-resistant plant and the areas suitable for such cultivation in Eritrea are the Northern Red Sea (NRS) and Southern Red Sea (SRS) regions. Palm date requires high amount of water and it grows much better in hot and semi-arid lowland areas.
The Southern Red Sea region is inhibited by 80,000 people. The majority, 50%, live by herding livestock, 10-15% are traders and the rest live by fishing. Farming is rare as the land can get salty and hinder good yield of crops. Though the 23,384 square kilometer area of the SRS is not suitable for agricultural activities due to the salty nature of the land, some areas are made possible for the cultivation of Palm dates. Experts in the FAO and Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) cooperation project believe that Eritrea meets all requirements date farm needs such as good soil, abundant water and climate. The climate of the country is suitable for the cultivations of different types of good quality Palm dates. With all the resources at hand the experts are here only to forward their technical know-how in which most farmers lack.
Meanwhile, the Southern Denkalia has farm lands with the potential to grow Palm dates. The technical cooperation project between FAO and MOA ongoing in both the NRS and SRS regions aims to boost the production of Palm dates in the region. It also aims to develop the date farm in the country. The projects seem promising with the participation of communities, farmers and the concerned Ministry. The project provides intensive training categorizing farmers as subsistence and commercial. For the subsistence farmers 10 plants each were given and for the commercial farmers 100 each. The project is expected to grow considering the interests of the farmers. Moreover, in Gahtelay pilot, several varieties of palm date have been planted with the collaboration of the Livestock Corporation of the Northern Red Sea Region. The area is expected to serve as the bank of seeds in case cultivation demands grow.
The projects of FAOTCP set out in the fields of the SRS and NRS region managed nine types of palm date trees carefully distributed in a scientifically identified soil type, water basin and climate. These trees are under intensive care and monitoring to give higher yields.
Palm trees come in different types and sizes but climate and land fertility are the factors that affect their growth and productivity. Some of the tress are medium tall while others are long. As the SRS region is suitable to grow such kind of plants, the government and farmers have been considering the potential of the area for a long time. A farmer named Abdella who lives in a place called Abo Kiloma in the southern Denkalia cultivates five hectares of land with palm dates. Mr. Abdella started by only cultivating 150 seedling in 2009. He gradually increased the Palm trees to 400. The farmer commends the Eritrean army in the area for contributing immensely in the production of the Palm date and digging holes. The Ministry of Agriculture on its behalf and under the theme “Let us make food” has made mass campaigns to advance the farms of this palm dates. In order to increase productivity Mr. Abdella negotiates with different local and external stakeholders and experts from the Ministry of Agriculture. So far the production in the farm of Mr. Abdella looks promising. Such farmers are taking the technical know-how from local and external experts who specialized in cultivation of Palm dates. Farmers such as Mr. Abdella also create job opportunities for several citizens. To cultivate the palm trees for all these years Mr. Abdella had to spend 600,000 Nakfa. Such an individual initiative is encouraging many citizens who have the spirit and will to support themselves and their communities to follow in Mr. Abdella’s footsteps while introducing the nation to the palm date market.
Palm farms require more water for proper cultivation. So, farmers are creatively structuring the land in terms of canals (agriculturally considered as water reservoirs) so it can hold more water. At night the trees can absorb moisture through their stems and through time can result in good yield with minimum water. Properly cultivated palm dates show a reddish or orange color at the time of reaping. In each harvest season, mostly once a year, one tree can produce up to 300 kilograms of dates, though it can take up to 3 years until the first harvest. It is a highly rewarding agricultural undertaking. It is believed that Palm date has minerals and vitamins useful for physical fitness. Medical experts say that Palm date has low cholesterol, high level of iron which is capable of curing anemic people. Beyond this, it is said that it can combat diseases such as cancer and cure night blindness. There are several types of palm dates grown across the world, some of which are the Amir Haj, Sasy Kadreway and Medjul. Palm date trees have a dual purpose; they can be as sources of food and their leaves can be used for making kitchen utensils, bags, and home use marquee.
Farmers’ participation in the cultivation of Palm dates in the regions is highly commended by the frequently visiting experts in the country. Such economically rewarding production is encouraged by the concerned Ministry that Eritrea can move forward in harvesting more and start focusing on exporting dates in the future.