Liwa Date Festival celebrates best of Emirati heritage
Al Dhafra - “This is a magic place. What we have here is a charming festival that can pride itself on different colours and singular tastes,” said Anna, a 46-year-old British national.
She said that her yearning for a different experience led her to “the fabulous city of Liwa at the fringe of the Empty Quarter” in the United Arab Emirates.
Anna was one of thousands of tourists and visitors who gathered for the Liwa Date Festival to experience the excitement and enjoy Emirati heritage at its best.
The annual festival, which celebrates the status of palm trees in Emirati culture, was organised by the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee — Abu Dhabi. During ten days of non-stop activities, it became an ideal occasion to learn about the cultivation and preservation of palm trees.
The season of al ratab — half-ripe dates — begins in summer. After growing the dates, farmers harvest and store their crops in accordance with time-tested methods. Before harvest season ends in autumn, celebrations and festivals occur throughout the country.
“The Liwa Date Festival is one of the most famous of festivals in the country but we also have Al-Dhaid Dates Festival and the Liwa Ajman Dates Festival,” said Mohammed al- Ameri, a young Emirati visitor.
“In our country, people love to celebrate the dates season and they regard the palm tree as a symbol of culture and history.”
In its 13th edition, the Liwa Date Festival featured various competitions, including the Mazayna — contests for the best dates, including several varieties — the Model Farm Award and the Best Heritage Model competition.
The varieties of the Mazayna include: Dabbas, Khallas, Bou Maan, Farth, Kunaizi, Al Dhafra’s Nukhba, Liwa’s Nukhba, Biggest Etheg, and this edition’s newcomer, the shishi.
An estimated 2,500 farmers competed for a total of $1.4 million in prizes, with more than 60,000 dates in six varieties placed before the judging panel, according to the Cultural Programmes and Heritage Festivals Committee.
The festival is not just about dates, which has been cultivated in the country for more than 5,000 years. There are competitions for the best mangoes and lemons as well as the Fruits of the House competition.
Associated activities included the organisation of the Traditional Market, with the participation of more than 200 Emirati families, the Children’s Village, the Dates’ Market, awareness programmes and exhibitions by businesses.
The products at the Traditional Market provided an insight into the traditions of Emiratis. On display were Al Surood, a round mat made of palm leaves; Al Mukhrafa, a basket made of palm leaves; Al Jahfeer, another type of basket; floor mats; Al Meshab, a table-mat; Al Yrab, a large bag used to conserve dry dates. Visitors had an opportunity to taste pastries made of dates and date sauce in addition to different varieties of al ratab.
The cultural programme was marked by seminars and specialised workshops. The activities were aimed at promoting the best methods to improve production without resorting to chemical fertilisers. Participants in the seminars and workshops also learned about categories and varieties of dates.
Emirati Rashed Abdulla won the prize for the heaviest branch at the festival. Now, he prides himself on being the number one farmer in the country. According to the jury, the branch presented by Abdullah weighed about 106 kilograms.
In most competitions, the jury may take hours to decide on a winner. The appearance and presentation are not the only factors. The jury classifies dates by quality and dedicates 30% of the grade to the status of the farm, including the standards of hygiene and quality of maintenance.
As the UAE is moving to brand its dates internationally, a growing emphasis has been placed on organic farming and sustainable irrigation.
In recent years, farmers have noticed that dates were ripening earlier than average and they attributed this phenomenon to climate change and intense heat in the region. To cope with the problem, many of the farmers turned to the cultivation of some varieties that require less irrigation.
In 2014, UN figures indicated that the UAE has planted about 130 million trees, including 22 million palm trees that constitute 20% of the total number of palm trees in the world.
The UAE also occupies a leading position, among more than 40 countries, in production capacity and export volume.
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