A new online marketplace will allow Emirati date farmers to sell off excess produce at home and abroad, cutting waste in the process.
Agthia Group's Al Fouh subsidiary has created eZad, which aims to help thousands of UAE producers deal with their unsold produce.
The majority of the UAE's 20,000 farms produce dates, harvesting more than 300,000 tonnes every year.
“Many farmers don’t have the expertise to sell and market their dates and sometimes they are not treated fairly,” said Mubarak Huthaili Al Mansoori, chief corporate affairs officer of Agthia Group, based in Abu Dhabi.
“Traders would buy from them and pay them an advance and not pay the rest, for example. It would take them months to collect their credit, so what we have created is a safe channels where we connect traders with buyers both locally and internationally.”
Though dates are popular snacks throughout the year, especially during Ramadan and Eid, farmers always have product left over.
A single palm tree can produce more than 60 kilos of dates per year, making it difficult for farmers to sell all their dates before they spoil.
Subsidies for farmers exist and the government buys off excess produce, but the new platform is a far more efficient system.
More than a 1,200 buyers had already registered on eZad by the time it was launched this week. There was a soft launch of the electronic platform last year to gauge demand.
Farmers can exhibit their dates on the platform every day during the peak season, which runs from August to October, and farmers are paid within two weeks.
Ali Saeed, who owns a date farm in Ras Al Khaimah, attended the eZad launch in Abu Dhabi. He said new customers would help to make his business sustainable.
“There is absolutely no way that we could sell all our dates if the government doesn’t buy it off of us,” Mr Saeed said.
Agthia's Mr Al Mansoori said local and foreign buyers can check on the quality and condition of the produce before they purchase.
“We have a very rigorous inspection regime at our receiving centre,” he said.
“Then we take quality pictures of the dates so that the buyer anywhere in the world can start making bids within the auction.”
The online auction will be open daily for six hours between 12pm and 6pm
“This time is … suits the international buyers as well as the local ones. We have buyers form India, Malaysia, Indonesia, France, the UK and from different parts of the world — who all buy in tonnes not in kilos,” he said.
Prices of dates all depend on the variety, with bigger, juicier dates costing more.
Costs range from Dh2,500 ($680) per tonne to more than Dh20,000 ($5,450) for the finest on the market.
The next 10 days will be critical to farmers, Mr Al Mansoori said.
“We are optimistic but if we have a heatwave, the fruits are not going to grow too big,” due to a sweltering start to the summer, he said.
This would mean the dates would be smaller and prices would go down.
“The drying happens during July and the harvesting will be in August. These are the last 10 days we have for the fruit to grow before it changes colour and starts drying out and when it dries out it will lose weight,” he said.
“Date farming is not only critical to our food security but is also a strong part of our heritage and culture which we want to preserve.”
EZad is ready to receive dates at all seven Al Foah receiving centres around the emirates, he said.