During a session on date palm tree waste, one audience member raised his hand to express his objection: “It should not be called waste, it is a secondary product. Date palm trees have zero waste.”
The date tree is known in the Middle East and North Africa region as the ‘Tree of Life’.
His point received a great deal of support at the Festival of Egyptian Dates, which has taken place every year since 2015 in Siwa Oasis in Egypt. The date tree is known in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region as the ‘Tree of Life’ and has a high level of respect as one of the oldest trees known and cultivated by man. The tree also holds a prominent position in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The MENA region produces 90 percent of all dates globally and includes the ten biggest date producing countries, topped by Egypt, as the largest producer of dates, yielding 1.5 million tonnes of dates annually, according to Food and Agriculture Organization.
“Imagine that 20 percent of the size of the tree and its dates go as waste, while each piece can be turned into a product,” said Khalid Ghanem, professor of organic agriculture at Al-Azhar University in Egypt.
“Every part of this tree has a number of uses: the trunk’s main use is for wood, as light footbridges or in roof making. Leaves are used to make a wide variety of containers and crates, baskets and sacks, and smaller articles like fans and hats.”
There are several attempts to find new outlets for the annual crop of leaves and empty bunches that are obligatory by-products of date production. One of them, according to Ghanem, is animal feed that has been proven by research to increase cow milk and soil organic fertiliser.
Another way, he said, is using cull or low-quality dates, grinding them and making date paste, which can be applied as a natural sweetener and an alternative to sugar in baking and cooking to raise the nutritional value of the product. Date seeds can also be roasted to make coffee.
Mohamad Kamal, a researcher at the agricultural research centre, pointed out that one of the benefits of using dates is its high fibre content and other nutritional values. “It is rich in protein and fatty acids and amino acids. It also contains a significant amount of iron and calcium.”
With better use of the tree’s byproducts, exports would go up.”
Kamal believes that the government should consider importing and researching the technologies that help improve the use of the by-products.
“Egypt produces a little over 17 percent of global date production but only contributes to 3 percent of world exports. With better use of the tree’s byproducts, exports would go up.”
The country has increased date cultivation by more than 100 percent since 1993 and announced a plan to grow the biggest date plantation that would include around 2,500 million trees to produce top-quality dates.