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Date Palm: The Nutritious Side of Food Security

By sirak habtemichael

Abdellah Al Swahil is a farmer from the outskirts of the town of Shieb. He has been practicing date palm farming since 1994, when not many Eritrean farmers had the slightest knowledge about the importance of date palm and the fertility of the vast planes of land that have recently been proved very rich in soil content suitable for date palms.
Abdellah Al Swahil first became interested in growing the nutritious, sweet fruit when he left Eritrea as a teenager to find work in Saudi Arabia. When he returned to Eritrea, he became one of the first date palm growers in the country, having to build his knowledge from scratch. Currently, he has close to 500 date palm trees in his farm. During a brief stay in Shieb, we had a very interesting conversation with Abdellah Al Swahil.

  • Can you please tell us about your experience in date palm farming?

It was during my teenage years when I was in Saudi Arabia that I started to know about date palm farming. I always believed that I would bring back my knowledge and experience to my country and share the harvest of this sweet and nutritious fruit with my own people. I came back here a couple of years after Eritrea’s independence and started my own farm.

  • Was it easy to manage the farm at the beginning?

I take growing date palms very seriously. For me, planting one date palm is the same as having a child; it needs my utmost care and input. But, of course, I had to get through a handful of challenges to be where I am at the moment. Besides, it was hard to differentiate between male and female plants, good or bad dates. I had to wait for ten years until the trees were fully-grown and started to bear fruit. Then I kept the good ones and cut off the bad ones.

  • How did you find the quality of land and the climate in Eritrea for date palm?

Starting from my time in Saudi Arabia, I have always been optimistic about the fertility of the land in Eritrea. So I believed all the eastern planes of Eritrea, including the coastal area, are good for date palm. The soil is rich in content and the underground water is plenty. The place that I worked on was a desert, but here the atmosphere is much better for the farm. Another good part about date palms is that they can desalinate sea water and feed from it. In this case we should know that the entire 1,200 kilometers long coastal area that we have here in Eritrea is good for date palm.

  • What was the knowledge of the farmers in Eritrea like when you first came?

Date Palm is a relatively new plant in Eritrea, with only a few varieties being grown in a handful of orchards. So, with the little experience that I brought to Eritrea, I couldn’t find date palm farmers. I always believed that in any kind of farming in addition to the experts’ advice and assistance that you can get from the Ministry of Agriculture, it is always good to share experience with other farmers. I would dare say that I have come a long way as a lone farmer in this particular area, but the number is increasing these days and the cooperation is growing accordingly.

  • What are the essential things that need to be known about date palm?

From my experience, it is always good to know the type of tree you plant. As I told you, during the initial stage of my experience, I had to wait years till I knew the type of trees I had. In this case, the farmer always needs to know his trees and pollinate them accordingly from the good, sweet breed. Another important thing to know is the time and frequency of watering the farm. You also need nets and other protection coveralls to protect the fruits from birds. Like other plants, date palm also needs continuous care and spray of pesticides, especially against red ants, which are particularly very harmful to the trees.

  • What future plans do you have?

I have achieved my first plan. I saw the independence of my country and I am growing my own date palm plantation on my land. What remains now is to turn the entire coastal area of Eritrea green with date palm. Now that many individual farmers and organizations are engaged in date palm cultivation I am convinced we can achieve this by collaborating with one another and spreading the knowledge of growing date palms to the rest of the eastern lowlands. Dates are rich in nutritious contents and I always want to be a part of the contribution these trees can make to my people. I also want to advise my fellow countrymen, not only farmers, to plant at least two date palms at home. That way every household could be food secure.

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