"The Green Desert"
DATE HARVEST < DATE PALM <
OMAN AGRICULTURE

Date Palm Harvesting

Fanja souq: focal point of the date harvest
Picture by Khamis al Moharbi

The 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.

An estimated 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.

The market's 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.

He took 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.

Several 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