“It was totally exciting for us to present and sell our palm dates to an international market at the world’s largest date exhibition in Abu Dhabi,” said Ashraf Saleh, a date farmer from El-Gayyay village in the El-Edwa district of Upper Egypt, where the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has helped established the first palm date cluster.
Saleh is one of the palm date producers who is benefitting from the creation of the cluster in August 2014 bringing together 15 date farmers from El-Edwa. Three months after the cluster was formed, its members participated in the Emirates International Date Palm Festival in Abu Dhabi.
“We not only got the opportunity to see advanced production technologies and new date varieties, but also received many concrete business offers from Egypt and from purchasers from the Arab Gulf region. International retail chains like Carrefour and Hyper One also approached us to send some date samples for testing,” added Saleh.
As part of the United Nations’ project, Human Security through Inclusive Socio-Economic Development in Upper Egypt (HAYAT) , launched in June 2013, UNIDO had advised individual date farmers in El-Edwa to form a cluster in order to reduce production costs and to be able to supply dates in sufficient quantities and of better quality for the global market.
“The basic idea that we tried to convey to the date farmers was that it is very difficult to survive alone in a big market, but working together as a cluster can form a value chain which makes their businesses more competitive”, said Adel Sabry, a UNIDO date expert.
The foundations for the development of the first date cluster were laid when UNIDO helped El-Edwa’s date farmers tackle the infestation of red palm weevils, a pest with devastating effects on palm tree health and date production. Approximately 30% of the district’s more than 43,000 palm trees had been infected by the red palm weevils.
According to UNIDO’s Sabry, “A healthy tree can produce between 90 and 125 kilograms of dates a year, but the infected palm trees produce less than 50 kilograms. So they have much lower production, and much worse, sometimes farmers have to burn the infected trees to avoid the pest from going viral.”
“To address the issue, UNIDO introduced a hydraulic machine, invented by a researcher in Cairo, that can apply pesticide in an effective manner. The Organization helped train around 50 agronomists from the Minya Governorate and more than 150 farmers from El-Edwa to use the machine to apply pesticide to disinfest and prevent the spread of the red palm weevils. So far, we have cured more than 400 palm trees.”
watch a video on how red palm weevils were tackled in Egypt
On the basis of this successful interaction, the district’s date farmers were encouraged to learn about how agricultural processing could improve the market value of their products. In September 2014, UNIDO organized a practice-oriented study tour to a date plant equipped with modern processing and exporting facilities. In a matter of a few months, members of the cluster learnt to improve their post-harvesting applications, including the washing, sorting and grading, fumigation, drying, ripening and proper storage of the dates.
The value chain development also includes marketing and improved packaging. The date cluster labelled its products “Hayat Dates”, which also means “dates for life” in Arabic, and to facilitate better access to markets, UNIDO helped produced solid packages for the dates.
“One year ago, we sold our dates only to local merchants, and one kilo for just two Egyptian pounds (US$ 0.26). But now, having improved our production, processing and marketing techniques, we are selling a half kilo box for up to 20 pounds!” said the date farmer Saleh.
Chairperson of the cluster, Farrag Saad, is optimistic about the future of the cluster. He welcomes the decision of the Minya Governorate to donate a piece of land in El-Edwa so that the cluster can build a date packing house, and reports that UNIDO has advised the cluster to establish its own company to facilitate the concluding of business contracts. “With a total paid-in capital of 120,000 Egyptian pounds, shared equally among the 30 cluster members, we are almost done with registering the company, so the prospects for production expansion and quality improvement seem very promising.”
By ZHONG Xingfei and Ahmed Nabil Fahmy
Posted January 2015
For more information on the project, please contact:
UNIDO Representative to Egypt
Ahmed Nabil Fahmy
Communication officer in UNIDO Egypt office