“Participating in one of the world’s largest palm date exhibitions in Abu Dhabi back in December and selling our local products to an international community was definitely our personal and professional highlight of the year 2014,” says Ashraf Saleh, date farmer from the village of al-Gayyat in al-Edwa, Minya governorate, and one of the founders of the first palm dates cluster in his region.
“Exactly one year ago we used to sell our dates to local merchants for just LE2 per kilo. Having improved our production, processing, and marketing techniques, we are now selling our newly designed half-kilo date box for up to LE20.”
The success story of al-Edwa’s date cluster originally stemmed from the idea of joining forces between HAYAT agronomists and local date farmers from al-Gayyat and Mansheyyet Halfa villages, in efforts to root out the destructive impacts of red palm weevil, a malicious pest, on palm tree health and date production.
HAYAT is one of the latest projects, that falls under the umbrella of UN Industrial Development Organization, aims at providing the underprivileged a new life to start of their own by providing extensive, vocational training and explore.
“El-Edwa alone hosts more than 43 thousand palm trees. Yet approximately 30% of our palm heritage is infected by the red palm weevil. The weevil larvae feed on the tissues inside the palm trunk which often leads to complete tree death,” Farag Saad, chairperson of the al-Edwa date cluster, explains.
“While a healthy tree can produce between 90 and 125 kilograms of dates a year, our infected palm trees barely produced 50 kilograms annually. In certain times we even had to burn some trees to the ground to avoid the pest from going viral.”
Atef Elewa, a researcher of the Agricultural Research Center in Cairo, came up with a local, successful invention of a simple hydraulic machine saving more than 400 palm trees from uprooting and disposing.
The project was taken into the next level by HAYAT. Around 50 agronomists from al-Minya governorate and more than 150 farmers from al-Edwa underwent a hands-on training scheme on pesticide action mechanisms specifically targeted at preventing and disinfesting the red palm weevil.
In an effort to create sustainable job opportunities for the palm workers and their families, HAYAT provided palm tree climbers the know-how ingenuity to treat the infested plants in a professional, safe manner as part of HAYAT’s integrated approach to involve all the community members with the combating process.
“We thereby ensured that the farmers themselves pay for a service they benefit from and at the same time we managed to secure sustainable livelihoods for the palm workers,” Ahmed Amin, HAYAT Horticulture Production Consultant, clarifies.
To add to the market value of their date processing, 30 farmers from El-Gayyat and Mansheyyet Halfa formed an alliance in August 2014 participating in a practice-oriented study tour by HAYAT program.
Within few months, the al-Edwa date cluster farmers succeeded in elevating their post-harvesting applications including the washing, grading and sorting, fumigation, drying/dehydration, ripening and proper storage of the dates.
Solid date packages (0.75 kg boxes) were laid out by HAYAT as an in-kind contribution from the project to provide a presentable packaging in a bid to boost appropriate market-access for the El-Edwa cluster dates.
The Edwa cluster also worked on adopting efficient marketing plan through labeling its date products 'Tomoor al-Hayat' (Hayat Dates) and setting up a Facebook page to disseminate information about the cluster’s date products and upcoming events to reach out to as much potential clients as possible.
'Tomooor al-Hayat' was met with a very positive response in its kick-off step in trade fairs and exhibitions during the celebrations of the United Nations Day on 24 October 2014 in Cairo, followed by a bigger success in the Emirates International Date Palm Festival in Abu Dhabi, the largest date exhibition worldwide.
“One of the immediate outcomes of the few date fairs we joined in 2014 is that we received many concrete business offers from Egyptian and international purchasers from the Arab Gulf region. We are now in negotiation with Carrefour and Hyper One retail chains who requested us to send some samples of our dates for testing”, Saad points out.
Plans are underway to expand through their establishing their own company with a total paid-in capital of LE120,000 shared equally among all 30 cluster members.