RIYADH: Saudi Arabia exported more than 300 types of dates — producing about 1.54 million tons with a value of SR1.2 billion ($323,400,000) in 2021 — ranking the Kingdom first in value among 113 countries according to the International Trade Center.
Date harvesting season and production usually begins in June and continues until November in many parts of the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia is distinguished by the production of many types of dates that consumers worldwide prefer, mostly khlas and sukkari.
The Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture (MEWA) has strengthened efforts in recent years to make the Kingdom the largest exporter of dates in the world. The ministry has promoted the Saudi dates brand by improving the quality of production on farms, following good agricultural practices, and adopting quality standards for exportable dates in factories and packing stations.
Organic farms and the implementation of international food authority standards have facilitated the export process. Following international standards also increased the demand in foreign markets for dates as a licensed organic product in Europe, America and Japan, which contributed to encouraging investors to develop the palm trees and dates sector to become the first choice worldwide.
The Kingdom has more than 33 million palm trees, while the number of holdings has reached more than 123,000 agricultural holdings, distributed in 13 regions.
In these regions, the most prominent varieties of dates include barhi, khudri, khlas, raziz, sukkari, shishi, safawi, sufri, ajwa, anbara, hilwah, barni, ruthana, maktoum, nabtat ali and shaqra.
“MEWA is working to create an integrated system of agricultural, logistical, marketing and knowledge services and adopt modern technologies to achieve production efficiency and increase the rate of consumption of Saudi dates locally and globally,” according to a statement issued by the ministry.
“The palm and dates sector contributes to many manufacturing industries including food, medical and cosmetic products, building materials industries and others, so it is clear that the manufacturing industries of palm and dates are one of the most important industries in the world,” the statement said.
MEWA has supported the palm and dates sector at the international level through initiatives in coordination with UN organizations, and has succeeded in registering dates as an “unusual fruit” (super fruit) with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. The FAO approved Saudi Arabia’s proposal to declare 2027 the International Year of Date Palm.
The MEWA palm and date germplasm bank entered Guinness World Records for the largest number of palm varieties, with 127 national types.
The Kingdom was also approved by the “Codex Alimentarius Commission” as a co-chair of the team for preparing dates specifications globally and contributed to the establishment of the “World Dates Conference,” and the announcement of the establishment of the “International Dates Council,” headed by the Kingdom, in February 2022.
Abdul Ghani Al-Ansari, CEO of Dukan Al-Ajwa Company, told Arab News that only 12 percent of dates were exported in Saudi Arabia, highlighting that “the high stock of dates in the country needs marketing.”
Al-Ansari suggested the establishment of a large company to export dates so that it would have an investment arm of about 123,000 agricultural holdings. He said that it was difficult for a farmer, who had many other things to deal with, to market his product by himself.
While Al-Ansari believes that “food security and exports must be balanced,” he said that Saudi products do not have a global presence in many global markets, including the date market in Indonesia.
There were no local alliances between establishments in the sector to activate investment in date production locally, nor to invest in exporting to other countries. He highlighted the need for a cultural program that extended for several years “so that dates enter the Saudi kitchen.”
Al-Ansari said that there was a variety and quality of dates locally that was rarely found outside of Saudi Arabia.
“We have dates worth one riyal and another worth 100 riyals, which allows the invasion of cheap and expensive markets (at the same time),” he said.