During our recent visit to the Northern Red Sea region, we were stunned by the number of date palm trees that are being cultivated in various corners of the region by individual farmers and government institutions. While driving towards the Massawa International Airport, a long line of over 1,500 date palm trees accompanied us on both sides of the road. One of the new recruits of the Eritrean Air Force, Mr. Yohannes, who is a graduate of the Hamelmalo College of Agriculture, was given the task of looking after the date palm trees. He says, “It was my first time to get acquainted with date palm when I first came here. I worked and studied hard to refine my expertise in this particular area”.
- Mr. Yohannes, please tell us a little bit about the date palm tree plantation in the Northern Red- Sea region?
Generally speaking, until recently our community didn’t have the interest in and knowledge about the benefits of date palm trees. But over the past three years, farmers have been able to realize this and worked to harvest the products. Initially the trees were planted in 2015 to provide shades and create good scenery, but in 2017 we started to plant more trees when we realized how profitable they are. And through campaigns the Ministry of Agriculture has carried out, the number of farmers interested in planting the trees has grown tremendously.
- What are the benefits of date palm trees?
Date palm is drought-resistant and can grow on any type of soil. As the Northern and Southern Red-Sea regions are dry lands surrounded by sea water, I don’t think we can ask for more suitable place where the trees can grow. We just have to use our resources better so that we can have good products. A fully grown date palm tree can yield up to 150 kilos, which can help the individual farmer and help grow the economy of the country. In addition to the dates, which are nutritious, date palm trees can be used in many ways.
- How is the knowledge of farmers in using their resources right for the cultivation of the trees?
I trust that by giving farmers information on the type of trees to plant, how to plant them and the right time to breed and harvest, farmers could get the anticipated harvest from their products. That is what the Ministry of Agriculture has been doing throughout the past three years. I believe that is one of the reasons we are able to find more and more farmers who are now cultivating date palm trees.
One of the most basic but important decisions farmers should make is the way they choose to plant the trees. There are three ways that the trees can be planted: Palms have either male and female flowers on the same plant (dioecious) or one sex per plant (monoecious) and need a male and female plant for manual pollination, which is traditionally referred to as layering, while the other and most effective procedure is called tissue culture. If farmer decide to grow date seedlings through manual pollination, it would take them three to four years to just figure out if the tree is male or female, key information that determines productivity. If the tree is planted through layering, farmers can start harvesting in three years. But the best method of growing date palm trees is through tissue culture, which is laboratory based and easy to determine the productivity of the seedlings from the onset
- Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you would like to say?
Honestly, I don’t believe that our community has sufficient knowledge about date palm trees. However, as I have said, we can use date palm trees as food and shades in our houses. I wish the Ministry of Agriculture and model farmers keep advocating the benefits of the trees so that members of the public can start growing them and harvest more products.