By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent
Succulent dates are one of the oldest known foods in the Middle East and the date palm tree is one of the oldest fruit producing plants known to man. A garden in the Middle East region is simply incomplete without clusters of date palm trees dotting the landscape. Battle lines have been drawn and wars fought over the inconspicuous fruit, especially in the Palestinian occupied territories.
These days a different battle rages between date palm enthusiasts as to who can produce the highest quality date fruit. In Abu Dhabi, the 6th Annual Liwa Date Festival is already in full swing and will run until the 26th of July. Over 2,000 date palm growers are registered to compete at the festival. With US$1.3 million in cash and prizes up for grabs, competition is expected to be fierce.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan is overseeing the event, which has already drawn international recognition since its inception six years ago. In a recent interview Mansour shared, â€œEvery year, awareness about the competition and requests to participate increase. We receive questions and visitors from all around the region and world, but to be a part of the competition, you must have a farm in the UAE.â€
The dates are not judged simply on their own merits. Every part of date production is closely examined before a winner is crowned. A special team inspects each participantâ€™s farm and awards points, which make up 50% of the cumulative score, based on the findings. A farm that is well maintained, clean and has excellent irrigation methods will receive higher points than a farm lacking in those areas.
Once the farm inspections are complete, the dates are judged based on category, size, shape, color and taste. The dates must also be free from sand or other imperfections. Each participant can submit no more than 20 baskets to represent each category. To ensure that every one plays by the rules, a special bar code system is used to prevent cheating. Each basket is given its own bar code that must be confirmed before judging. The final result is fed into a computer and all the scores are averaged with the scores from the farm inspections to determine a winner.
Participants in the Liwa Date Festival also have the unique opportunity to take Abu Dhabi born and bred dates abroad to participate in international date festivals. Most notably, Abu Dhabi date palm growers participate in the annual Riverside County Fair and Date Festival that takes place in the US State of California.