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Ben

Ben Wall

Year of Award: 2016 Award State: Northern Territory Agriculture > Horticulture
Manufacturing > General
Trades > Food Production
To learn traditional and modern production/processing techniques of dates and their by-products - Israel, Palestine, Morocco, Jordan
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Date Palms are the cornerstones of the Desert communities that I visited. They are the major economic driver of these small communities and a source of their sustenance and resilience. They literally are regarded as the ‘tree of life’ in most Arabic communities, providing food, fibre, fuel and cultural heritage.

Dates plantations can also be viewed strategically and spiritually in how they occupy the land. This is especially the case in Israel where the dates play a large part in how the Negev/Arava Desert and the Jordan Valley were settled by Israelis and formed a part of the consciousness and sense of righteousness of this new nation through the greening of these deserts by the Kibbutz movement. This is also the case with Palestine and the new plantations that are emerging there; the dates are a source of pride as well as a way of reclaiming their land and water rights from the Israelis!

Date Oasis’s in Morocco have always had an important strategic setting. Both through the use of date palms as the cornerstones of the incredibly productive agriculture systems sustaining large communities in otherwise inhabitable landscapes. As well as forming important stops along the way of the trade caravans that connected much of the Middle East.

Perhaps because of all this, the Date Industries in Israel, Palestine and Morocco are heavily supported by their governments in terms of grants for equipment and infrastructure.

Water is the most important element in successful date farming. Although Date Palms can survive long periods of drought, to fruit well they need a lot of water. The difference between getting 20kg of fruit a year or 150kg of fruit from a mature palm is largely due to the quantity and quality of the water. It is the difference between a sustenance crop and a commercial crop.

The use of recycled and brackish water combined with solar pumping systems can help alleviate this problem and make date farming more sustainable.

The production and processing of dates in all the places I visited benefited greatly through being organised into local co-operative groups. In Israel 70% of farmers are part of the Hadiklaim Growers Co-op, which helps coordinate marketing and research for all its members. The Moroccan Date Industry is completely dominated by small farmers co-ops and receive a lot of support from their government to survive.

Modern and traditional date farming techniques are worlds apart in technology and philosophy but would benefit from more of a cross over in ideas. Traditional farming would benefit from better use of fertiliser, irrigation systems and small mechanisation tools to raise yields and make farming easier for workers. Modern farms would benefit from taking a more holistic and organic approach practiced by traditional methods.

Date Palms are an incredibly resilient crop and can tolerate huge temperature fluctuations. They are an ideally adapted crop for the coming challenges we face with climate change and increasing desertification.

There has been a real stop-start nature to the Australian Date Industry over the last 100 years. Small projects have been trialled all across the country, they worked but then failed for various reasons. Meanwhile the date palms are still growing…. Time seems right now for a new flourishing and growth of the sector; new markets, connections and farms are being established and local knowledge and culture of the Date Palm increases. The existence of an Australian Date Industry is of great interest to everyone I met overseas. It was refreshing during my travels to be able to share what we are doing on our farm and to have this well received. I returned to Australia with the confidence to trust my farming instincts and to apply what I have learnt and to continue to build on my new connections knowledge gained during my travels.

Keywords: Dates, Oasis, Palms

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