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Dates: The Kingdom’s ‘Sweet Oil’

Al-Eqtisadiah, Saudi Arabia, January 23

Palm trees have been associated with human life in the Arabian Peninsula since ancient times. Indeed, they have been so important that the palm tree symbol appears on the emblem of our kingdom. The number of palm trees in Saudi Arabia is estimated at 28 million. Their varieties exceed 400 and produce more than 1.3 million tons of dates per year. This represents 17% of global date production. In light of this, recent reports indicate that the kingdom occupies third place globally in the production of dates, or as some like it to call it, “the sweet oil,” given its economic importance. In order for the kingdom to advance itself to first place, a few measures are in order. First, we must upgrade existing agricultural practices to improve our productivity. We must also promote strict global standards surrounding everything from best agricultural practices to the way dates are shipped and sold abroad. It is also important for the kingdom to establish joint-stock companies in which half of the shares are owned by the government while the other half is offered for individual sale. These companies will collect crops from farmers, process them and market them so that date farmers can devote themselves to the main task of growing the crop and increasing its yield through the use of modern agricultural technologies. By creating such companies, farmers will also be able to specialize and extract even more value from their crops. For example, dates must not be sold as raw goods. There are entire industries that make use of dates to produce other products, such as date juice, date powder, sweets and drinks, and even pharmaceutical products. … Even the pit of the date can be used in beneficial ways for both nutritional and pharmacological purposes. The interest in palm trees and their derivatives as a strategic crop is an important building block in food security. The global date market stands at about $13.5 billion, so it is important for the kingdom to ensure the continued abundance of palm trees as well as the financial potential they have. The sweet oil has great financial potential and should be viewed as a means to promote the kingdom’s Vision 2030 [development program, aimed at moving away from dependence on oil]. – Mansour Al-Sayid (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)