Date palms could be vital to global needs, academic says

A conference in the capital this week is exploring the crop's potential in the future forsustainable agriculture.

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ABU DHABI // Academics have suggested that dates, one of the UAE's main crops, could become more important as the world's food supply comes under pressure from climate change and population growth. In her keynote address to the 4th International Date Palm Conference at the Emirates Palace hotel yesterday, Dr Linda Katehi, the chancellor at the University of California, Davis, highlighted the importance of dates to world food production. "The world's population will increase by 2.5 billion in 50 years, which will demand a 70 per cent increase in food production," Dr Katehi said.

The combined negative effects of water scarcity and climate change on the agriculture industry may make dates, which can grow in harsh climates, more important to the world's future food needs. Date palm scientists, university researchers, specialists in the field and ministers of agriculture from the GCC region are among the 260 participants from 40 countries attending the three-day conference. Participants will examine and discuss 144 working papers that focus on the cultivation and other aspects of date palms worldwide.

"This year's conference aims to provide the opportunity to renew scientific knowledge around the different aspects of date palm production, propagation, protection and marketing," said Prof Abdelouahhab Zaid, the secretary general of the Khalifa International Date Palm Awards. Prof Zaid, who is also the director of the Date Palm Global Network at UAE University, which organised the conference, noted that the UAE has more than 42 million date palms, the most of any country.

The five winners of the Khalifa International Date Palm Awards were honoured during the opening ceremonies. Applications for next year's awards will be accepted from June 1 to October 30 in five categories: excellent research and study, distinguished date producers, best new technique, best development project and distinguished figure. The prize money for this year's winners was doubled to Dh2.3 million (US$626,000).