souq: focal point of the date harvest
by Khamis al Moharbi
date season is one of nature's great ironies. Just when much of the
country wilts in the face of sizzling summertime temperatures, Oman's
fine heritage of date palm trees begins to bring forth its bounty. For,
in these early weeks of summer, the date fruit turns a full-blown shade
of red or yellow depending upon the variety and acquires
its delicious taste and texture. In fact, a successful harvest depends
very much on the kind of climate prevailing over northern and central
Oman during this crucial period a hot, arid environment being
the most ideal. Summer is also the time when farmers literally begin
to reap the fruits of their labour, having carefully tended their plantations
for the good part of the year.
"In northern Oman, the main focal point
of the date harvest is Fanja souq in Bid Bid wilayat. Since mid-May,
the market has been inundated with freshly harvested dates, brought
by the truckload from Bid Bid, Dima wa' Tayeen, Samad A'Shan, Al Rowdha,
Samayil and even Bausher in Muscat Governorate"
For, this ubiquitous fruit, consumed by the plateful in homes around
the Sultanate and throughout the Arab world, is the mainstay of Oman's
farming community. In northern Oman, the main focal point of the date
harvest is Fanja souq in Bid Bid wilayat. Since mid-May, the market
has been inundated with freshly harvested dates, brought by the truckload
from Bid Bid, Dima wa' Tayeen, Samad A'Shan, Al Rowdha, Samayil and
even Bausher in Muscat Governorate. The fruit is bought and sold in
manns a traditional measurement which is equivalent to about
four kilogrammes. Dates are sold retail in a few manns or wholesale
in several hundred manns.
3 to 3.5 tonnes of dates are handled by the market every day.Fresh arrivals
are sold by auction handled by about a dozen professional auctioneers.
For their service, they retain 10 per cent of the successful bid price,
which is shared equally among the auctioneers at the end of the week.
Among the many varieties of dates now available in the souq, the yellow-coloured
Al Naghal is the most popular. At the start of the season, this variety
of fruit was quoted at RO5 to 7.500 per kg. Prices fell sharply to RO1.5
per kg within a fortnight, and have now levelled out at about 900 baisas
per kg. Prices are expected to drop to their lowest at 500 baisas per
kg when the harvest season peaks by end-June.
other favourite date is Al Khunaizi a large, red variety known
for its taste and nutritive quality. This variety was quoted at RO2.500
per kg at the start of the season, but prices eventually fall to 500
baisas per kg when the market gets swamped with dates at the peak of
the season. Other well-known varieties like Al Mebselli and Khasaab
begin to arrive at the souq at the fag end of the season in July. Hilal
bin Said al Hamdali, 20, is one of over 50 Omani date-sellers who operate
at Fanja market during the date season.
over from his father, a veteran of Fanja's flourishing date trade for
the past two decades. A native of Ghubrat at 'Tam in Wilayat Dima wa'Tayeen,
Hilal buys freshly harvested dates directly from farmers of his wilayat
and then auctions the fruit at Fanja souq. He makes three trips to the
souq every week, unloading about 1,000 to 1,300 kg of dates on each
trip. Daily collections average about RO2,500, while proceeds at the
end of the three-month date season gross about RO40,000, he says.
Omani date traders operating from Fanja souq take the fruit all the
way to Dubai and beyond to other GCC states. Nasser bin Mohammed al
Jabri, for example, makes two to three trips to Dubai every week, with
heavy loads of fresh dates destined for markets throughout the GCC.
Each shipment involves about 600-800kg of dates, he says. En route,
he supplies markets in the Batinah region, where date harvests are not
as bountiful as those in the interior and eastern regions of the Sultanate.
Adapted from Oman Observer