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Medjool dates farming to expand fourfold amid rising demand

By Omar Obeidat - Jun 13,2016 - Last updated at Jun 13,2016

Locally produced dates are seen on display at a showroom in Amman recently (Photo by Hassan Tamimi)

AMMAN — Jordan's production of medjool palm dates is expected to grow by nearly fourfold in the coming years to meet surging international demand for the healthy fruit. 

Mohammad Abu Ayyash, board member of the association of palm date producers, said that the Kingdom produces around 10,000 tonnes of medjool dates a year, adding that production is set to reach 40,000 tonnes in the coming seven to eight years. 

Nearly 50 per cent of medjool production is exported. 

Abu Ayyash, former president of the association and former vice president of the Agriculture Engineers Association, said that the number of palm trees in Jordan is still less than 1 million, nearly half of which are medjool and berhi, which are the “most preferred choices of consumers”. 

"International demand on palm dates, particularly medjool, is increasing sharply as people across the world have become aware of the nutritional benefits of the fruit," he told The Jordan Times over the phone Sunday. 

Medjool, known also as the king of date, is rich in anti-oxidants, magnesium, potassium and fibre and strengthens the immune system, according to the farmer, citing experts. 

 

Promising domestic market 

 

Abu Ayyash said the average consumption of palm dates in Jordan is between 2kg to 3kg per person per year, which he described as very low when compared with consumers in the Gulf region, where per capita consumption is estimated at 70kg a year. 

The expert said Jordanians’ consumption of dates is increasing as they are becoming more aware of the benefits of the fruit and the “high" quality of dates produced in the Kingdom. 

"When we started the plantation of dates in the Jordan Valley some 20 years ago, average consumption per person was less than half a kilogramme a year," he said, adding that Central Jordan Valley area in the Jordan Valley is ranked among the best top three spots worldwide for date farming. 

 

Another means to boost the local production, he said, is to impose some “soft” restrictions on date imports, estimated at 18,000 tonnes to 20,000 tonnes a year. 

“If imports are reduced, the local production of medjool dates alone would cover the domestic market,” he added. 

 

A successful business  

 

Abu Ayyash said that nearly 5,000 tonnes of medjool is exported to several European countries in addition to Turkey, adding that farmers also export to Canada and Japan. 

The global palm date market is expanding rapidly, Abu Ayyash said, calling on the government to support the sector through extending more financing tools to farmers. 

According to spokesperson of Agriculture Ministry Nimer Haddadin, Jordan is particularly famous for its medjool dates, which are “highly demanded regionally and internationally”. 

There are more than 300,000 medjool palm trees in Jordan, he said adding that the ministry will give more support to farmers, particularly owners of smaller farms, who usually struggle with marketing challenges related to the lack of packaging facilities. 

“The ministry will be helping address such obstacles by providing farmers with technical assistance and guidance,” he told The Jordan Times.

In a bid to expand the terrain planted with palm dates, and to increase the farms’ competitiveness locally and internationally, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation announced in April of this year that the Jordan Valley Authority was increasing its water allocations for the irrigation of date palm farms in the Jordan Valley.

The decision was welcomed by the Jordan Farmers Union, which said that the increased water ratios would encourage the shift from vegetables to high-value fruit trees in the Jordan Valley.

Fedaa Rawabdeh, director of the Palm Trees Programme at the Agriculture Ministry, said that what makes Jordan’s production of medjool more promising is that cultivation period comes few months later than that in the Gulf region in addition to other advantages related to the size, taste and colour of the fruit.  

 

Medjool matures in the Kingdom in late September, according to Rawabdeh. 

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