With the present uncertainty in the world food production and the expected increase in demand for food with a population exceeding 6 billion inhabitants, the date palm offers a good food source of high nutritive value; this tree gives many date growing countries in remote areas, the main food for a considerable number of people and provides working conditions to considerable numbers of labourers in the rural areas.
Furthermore, the date palm tree tolerates relatively harsh climatic and soil conditions under which no other crop may give reasonable returns. In fact, date palm which is an irreplaceable tree in irrigable desert lands, provides protection to under-crops from heat, wind and even cold weather, and plays a big role to stop desertification and to give life to desert areas. Its fruit generate good income and foreign exchange earnings. Its dried fruit benches, fronds, leaflets fibre and trunks are utilized in many small industries which provide packing materials for local marketing of fruits and vegetables as well as for many other uses. The tree and fruit by-products offer an extra income.
However, the date palm industry is facing many serious problems, related to low yields, to lack of appropriate packing and presentation and to the limited production of sound industrial date products etc.
The estimated average yield bearing date palm tree in the main date growing areas is around 20 kg, which is very low compared to the average yield of more than 100 kg in some date growing areas (USA, Qassim in Saudi Arabia, Namibia, Israel, for example). The low yields in most countries are due to soil salinity, poor fertility, insect and diseases infestations, lack of maintenance and care due to increasing cost of labour and to shortage of trained personnel to introduce improved cultural practices. As a result of high cost of production and low prices of the produce, farmers tend to neglect or even abandon their gardens.
The packing and presentation of dates in local markets and for export at many date growing countries are not up to the standards which attract consumers and increase the demand for this commodity. The production of high value industrial date products (paste, spread, syrup, liquid sugar, wines, distilled liquors, industrial alcohol, animal feed, organic acids and pharmaceuticals, special foods, etc.) remains very limited.
In light of the above-mentioned problems and obstacles, FAO has been engaged since 1965 in a long-term endeavours to develop the date palm industry in many date growing areas. It organized three technical conferences on the improvement of date production and processing, respectively in Tripoli (1959) and in Baghdad (1965 and 1975) as well as the 2nd Session of the FAO Commission on Horticultural Production in the Near East and North Africa in Algiers (1970). All these meetings recommended to governments of date producing countries to promote research and training in date production, handling, processing and packing. FAO was requested to support the efforts of governments in these matters in all possible ways, and to disseminate scientific and technical information on the improvement of the date palm production, processing and marketing. Many projects were implemented accordingly in order to develop this important crop. In the frame of these projects three documents dealing with date palm were published.
In the FAO Plant Production and Protection papers, a document was published, based on the annual reports of the Date Grower's Institute Coachella, California, and on the papers presented at the three FAO Technical Conferences. Two other FAO Publications "Diseases of the Date Palm" and "the Date Palm" were published respectively in the frame of the Regional Project for Palm and Dates Research Centre GCPN/REM/021/MUL and in the Regional Project on Bayoud Control, UNDP/FAO RAB/88/024. Some others documents, published up to now in some countries were a compilation of the work carried out by different institutes and investigators.
It appears clearly that there is a limited number of technical and scientific documents, based on the experience of their authors.
This lack of information and the scarcity of documents dealing with date palm are related to the limited number of investigators working in this field, given the difficulties encountered in the study of this tree, characterized by its slow growth, height and its nature as well as by its broad geographical distribution. These difficulties are aggravated by the socio-economic environment in many date producing countries.
The present publication has been prepared by Abdelouahhab Zaid, Ex-Chief Technical Adviser of the Date Production Support Programme UTF/NAM/004/NAM, and presently Chief Technical Advisor of the Date Palm Research and Development Project in the United Arab Emirates (UAE/2000/002), and Enrique Arias, FAO Horticulturist Officer, AGP Rome, who have played a significant role in the development of the Date Palm industry in the Southern Hemisphere. Other contributors to this book are scientists acknowledged as world authorities in the field of date palm production, processing and marketing.
Without the dedication and generosity of all those who have voluntarily agreed to give their time and share their experience, this book would not have been written.
As indicated earlier, the present publication is based on the proper experience of the authors as well as to the experience gained in and from FAO projects implemented during the last three decades, and attempts to provide basic information on date palm production, protection, propagation, processing and marketing. It summarizes the body of information that has been acquired by FAO, not only in date producing countries in the Northern Hemisphere but also those in the Southern Hemisphere, and accordingly constitutes the first report on date cultivation in these areas.
The material in this publication has been arranged in a manner to facilitate access to specific information on any aspect of date production, protection, propagation and marketing.
In addition, the illustrations presented in this publication have been carefully prepared by the authors to aid the reader to grasp the salient points developed in each chapter.
It is hoped that this book will be useful to all those interested in the development and improvement of the date industry in all date growing and new potential areas in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
FAO Programme Coordinator/Team Leader
UTFN/SAU/002/SAU - Riyadh, KSA