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Ethiopia palm dates are mainly planted for internal consumption. About a third of the total population is Muslims hence giving the crop a pretty desirable market especially during Ramadhan where they have a tradition of breaking the fasts using the dates.
The date palm, also known as Phoenix dactylifera L from the Arecaceae family is considered as a symbol of life in the desert because of its high tolerance to high temperatures as compared to other food crops. Records show that dates were planted as early as 3000Bc. There is evidence that points back to Egypt along the Nile valley. Generally, the world trend for date production is increasing, and Egypt serves as a great example as it currently is the leading country in date’s production and considering that they have similar environmental conditions with the north of Ethiopia shows that the product has an equally good chance. Palm dates were introduced in Ethiopia about 200 years ago from the Middle East by traders from Yemen and Sudan. Since then, it is cultivated by the agropastoralists that occupy afar, Gumuz and Dire Dawa regions.
The date is exported in either dried form or fresh dates. Due to the market saturation on the peak seasons, they are dried as a way of preserving them.
Although the variety of dates are a lot, they grow both the local and improved varieties. The local one is the Bollo which produces about 45kg per tree yearly. These results are doubled by the improved variety which the government is advocating.
Most of the Ethiopia palm dates are from the Afar regional state. The region has a suitable landscape for date farming, with altitude raging between 300 and 350 above sea level and 220mm average annual rainfall. The local’s use the main plant suckers as seedlings but the government is discouraging this as it has a much lower yield compared to planting seeds. Also, seeds tend to start producing about 2-3 years earlier compared to the suckers. Hence the government is giving out seeds as well as educating the farmers on how to handle the product in its earlier stages of development. On planting, the seeds are dug for three by three by3 feet to encourage water storage at the base. They’re watered at least once per week during the dry seasons.
The growing is encouraged with other crops so that the date palms can receive extra attention, especially during the flowering season. Since the male and female plants are separate, there is a need to pick pollen from the male plants and deposit them on the female plants. Date palms have the advantage of being resistant to diseases and the major problems being the fruit flies, bats, and birds. Special traps are set to attract the fruit flies while the bats and birds are scared off physically.
Locals harvest the dates when they turn to a dark brown colour which is locally known as the Tamar stage. At this point, they have less than 10% moisture which makes them suitable for long-distance transportation. They are transported on crates that have been lined with plastics to avoid contamination. Most of the locals prefer selling the dates to easily accessible markets such as the Aysaita and other neighbouring towns which make it easy for people that are sourcing the product.
On storage, they are best stored in cool, dry places to prolong the shelf life. Drying also increases the shelf life hence reducing post-harvest losses. They are packed in punnets of 250grams 500grams and even 1kg. On average, a kilo goes for about $5 which is entirely fair as compared to other markets.
Internationally, the Ethiopia palm dates market has is quite underrated meaning that as importers, it is a reliable place to source the product.
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