Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Cultivating Dates

After following a link from ECWC about this oasis, I became curious about how food is cultivated in dry, desert regions.

Al Ain is a big oasis -- almost 3,000 acres -- and has been used mostly for the cultivation of date palms for a thousand years. It's divided into various
plots that are owned by individual farmers, and has winding paths between them, and other trees such as bananas, figs, oranges, mangoes and jujubes are planted intermittently among them.

Dates are an important part of the Arab diet, and pack a lot of energy into each fruit -- the Arab diet consists mainly of grains-- wheat, barley and rice, meats such as lamb and chicken, yogurt, mint, thyme, lentils and nuts.

When the palms flower in the spring, farmers have to fertilize each flower by hand, climbing to the top of the trees using a "habool" -- a kind of sling that wraps around the tree and the waist of the climber. 50 female trees can be fertilized with the seed of one male palm. But the main challenge is water. 50-75 liters of water are needed for each tree. At this oasis, the water comes from an underground tunnel called an "aflaj", which had been built hundreds of years ago.

Pictured below is a date palm -- not at Al Ain -- with dates nearing harvest -- I was amazed at how many dates grow in each bunch, and how many on each individual tree.

Cultivating Dates