Dates to create viable desert economies and communities

17 Apr 2018

Ben Wall with Agricultural Engineer Mohmmad and a local date farmer (Photo by Neridah Stockley)

 

Churchill Fellow Ben Wall works as part of the Tamara Co-operative that owns and manages the Desert Fruit Company 65km east of Alice Springs. The Desert Fruit Company is the only operating 'date farm' in the NT and one of three in Australia.

Ben identified a real personal and professional need to learn more from other date farmers, to see what is possible and to gain inspiration to move forward and receiving the Churchill Fellowship allowed this to happen.

In early December 2017, Ben began his journey to study old and new date production and processing techniques and shares his experiences below:

"I started in Jericho “The City of Palms”, learning from the largest date farm in Palestine, Nakheel Palestine. The focus in Israel and Palestine was on modern farming techniques. Israel is now a world leader in growing and exporting Medjool dates.

I visited and spoke with the pioneers of this industry situated in the Arava Desert. People such as Dr Elaine Solowey and Lisa Solomon who helped start the industry, showing me their farms, projects and what they hope to achieve in the future.

Here in the Kibbutzs’ of this region I was able to see and understand the potential for dates to create viable desert economies and communities. Each Kibbutz, though very close to each other, is quite different in their approach to farming and community. I visited Kibbutz Ketura and the Arava Desert Research Institute, Kibbutz Lotan, Neot Semadar, and Kibbutz Samar. I was able to make strong connections in each place for future discussion and visits. At each Kibbutz I made a presentation about my farm and the industry in Australia, everyone was always amazed that we grew dates and were happy to help me in my quest to learn more!

If Israel is the date Orchid/Farm then Morocco is the date Garden. I traveled to Morocco to learn traditional date Oasis farming techniques and how dates are processed and used in this country.

My focus was on the Palmaries of Morocco, long, ancient valleys filled with date and oasis garden systems. I visited the Ziz, Draa and Dades Valleys, staying with farmers and visiting local cooperatives wherever I went. A highlight was time spent with the scientists from the Fertile Date Palm project, meeting many farming groups learning about beneficial bacteria and organic farming methods to combat Bayoud disease which is destroying Morocco’s Date farms.

I also learnt the secrets to making excellent date Syrups, Jams, Vinegars, Oils, as well as 101 different ways to build and utilise the date palm leaves and trunks. It was inspiring to see how a sustainable 500 year old oasis system works, especially seeing most of the plants are also found in Australia but just utilised and organised in more practical and beneficial ways, all around the date palms.

I look forward to sharing what I have learnt with our fellow date farmers as well as the wider community. A particular goal is to work with small Indigenous communities to help set up date gardens for health and environmental benefits. There is a strong history and love of dates within Central Australian communities and I would like to help that grow into the future."

Look out for Ben's full Fellowship Report 


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