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Dates are unique in that they constitute a set of properties and characteristics, which distinguish them from all major fruits. Dates are consumed in at least three major stages of maturity: from fresh, crisp to succulent, to soft pliable. A fully tree ripened date is self-preserving for months and can be stored or transported as a concentrated food source. Dates have a significance as a staple food as well as a dessert fruit, whilst their use in date products and industrial applications has increased. Date palms flourish where other fruit production would be marginal at best, which has perhaps contributed to the producer's special affection for the date palm and the habitat created by it.

This versatility of the crop has given it an endurance to resist the negative influences which effect its economic development. In spite of individual cases where date cultivation has diminished or even vanished, overall date production worldwide has increased over the last 30 years, partly due to the introduction of improved and labour-saving techniques in the date gardens and better presentation and outlet diversification of the crop.

The present publication focuses attention on this diversity of the date crop, the date derived products and palm products in particular, and can be seen as a continuation and elaboration of two earlier FAO books by the late V.H.W. Dowson: "Dates, Handling, Processing and Packaging (1962)" and "Date Production and Protection (1982)".

The hand drawn sketches were, unless specifically referenced otherwise, made by Ms. Chiara Guarnera.

Enquiries with regards to this publication should be addressed to: The Chief, Food and Agricultural Industries Service, Agricultural Services Division, FAO, Rome, Italy.

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