With gusto, Siwa Oasis in Egypt’s Western Desert celebrated its second Egyptian Dates Festival late last month. Siwa lies some 540km southwest Cairo, 50km east of the Lybian border, and is known as Egypt’s most fertile oasis. It is famous for its olive trees and its 700,000 date palms.
Friday 28 October marked the official opening of the Second Egyptian Dates Festival under the auspices of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi in Siwa, the capital town of the oasis. The festival was organised by the Khalifa International Award for Date Palm and Agricultural Innovation (KIADPAI) in cooperation with Egypt’s Ministry of Trade and Industry. It was held in partnership with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Matrouh governorate to which Siwa is affiliated.
Celebrating harvest and prosperity
Local speakers from Siwa welcomed the festival guests during the opening ceremony, terming the festival as a celebration of harvest and prosperity. Participating in the ceremony was Minister of Trade and Industry Tarek Qabil, on behalf of President Sisi; Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation Essam Fayed; United Arab Emirates Ambassador to Egypt Juma Mubarak al-Junaibi; Governor of Matrouh Alaa’ Abu-Zeid; and New Valley Governor Mahmoud Ashmawi.
Speakers at the opening ceremony included Matrouh Governor and Ambassador al-Junaibi on behalf of KIADPAI. Mr Junaibi stressed that the festival was a token of the strong and amiable relations between the people of Egypt and the UAE and an expression of the trust of HH Sheikh Al Nahyan and President Sisi in KIADPAI to promote the development of date palms in Egypt which, he explained, was the main target of the annual event. Mr Junaibi conveyed the greetings of HH Sheikh Nahyan Mubarak Al Nahyan, President of KIADPAI board of trustees and UAE’s Minister of Culture, Youth and Social Development, and his best wishes that the festival would help promote the sector of date cultivation in Egypt and put the Oasis of Siwa on the international palm date production map.
“This year,” Mr Junaibi said, “we are witnessing the re-opening of the dates factory in Siwa after a 10-year closure. The factory resumed production with the help of KIADPAI at a cost of EGP5 million and now follows an ambitious production plan aiming to achieve an annual production of 3,000 tons of Siwan dates.”
Siwa: Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Site
Mr Junaibi announced that the Oasis of Siwa has been awarded the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Site (GIAHS) certification under the respective FAO programme. The announcement was met with a storm of applause and ululation by Siwa locals during which Hussein Gadain, FAO’s representative to Egypt and Abdul-Wahab Zayed, Secretary-General of KIADPAI handed the FAO certification to Dr Fayed, Egypt’s Minister of Agriculture. FAO awarded the GIAHS certification to Siwa “because it preserved the environmental and heritage ecosystem in the cultivation of dates”.
Minister of Trade and Industry Tarek Qabil took the podium. The Ministry of Trade had previously announced that it was to adopt an integrated strategy to promote the industry of palm dates and improve its competitive ability to raise Siwa’s annual exports from 38,000 to 120,000 tons during the next five years. “The Second Palm Date Festival is an extension of last year’s festival success,” Dr Qabil said. “It succeeded in shedding light on the importance of Egyptian dates as a promising exports sector. The trade ministry is currently implementing a number of programmes to develop the date cultivation sector through the Food and Agro Industries Technology Center affiliated to the ministry’s Technology and Innovation Industrial Council.”
The opening ceremony featured the signature of two cooperation agreements; the first between the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Agriculture, and UNIDO for the development of the date cultivation sector in Egypt. The second was between the two ministries and the FAO for the development of the added value chain of palm dates in Egypt.
Closed factory reopened
“The re-opening of the date factory in Siwa is the fruit of an entire year of effort and cooperation between KIADPAI and Matrouh governorate,” said Abdul-Wahab Zayed, Secretary-General of KIADPAI. “A protocol of cooperation had been signed between the governorate and Khalifa Award according to which the factory was handed over to KIADPAI’s secretariat-general. The latter summoned world-renowned experts to operate the factory and installed state-of-the-art equipment for its main production lines. We were keen to make the festival activities a true reflection of the generosity of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, deputy prime minister of the UAE and minister of presidential affairs.”
KIADPAI, a foundation established in 2008 under the patronage of HH Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has attracted regional and international attention to the date palm and the importance of dates as a balanced food product, and has highlighted it as an “essential part of the sustainable development process”.
Then came the announcement of the winners of the date contest. As Mr Zayed said, “The annual contest is very well organised and is judged objectively according to strictly scientific criteria. This gives credibility to the jury’s choice, and has led to a larger number of participants than last year’s.”
The award aims to support growers and exporters of dates; promote research and innovation in date palm agriculture and industry; and foster cooperation between the various bodies involved in the date palm industry particularly in the fields of production, processing, and marketing of dates; not only within the UAE but also on the regional and international levels.
The awards, the total value of which amounted to EGP220,000, included twelve categories: Best producer of Siwan Saiidi dates; Best research on palm agriculture and date technologies; Best folkloric product made of palm celluloid; Best date producer cultivating various date palm strains; Best applied date palm technologies; Best organic agriculture application making use of date palm waste; Best date product; Best factory and date packaging house; Best packaging for date products; Most influential figure who served Siwa and the western oases; Luxury dates (three awards); and Environmental friendliness (three awards).
The more colourful Siwa festival activities included a Scout parade, Siwan and Nubian folkloric shows, and a painting exhibition displayed on the palm trees lining the road leading to the festival venue, and street painting.
Siwa Preparatory School for Boys participated in the festival with its newly-formed choir which gave a recital of national songs and operettas. According to Sara Kamal, the school’s music teacher, the 30-member group has been rehearsing especially for the festival under the patronage of the Matrouh governorate. Al-Nuba folklore group from the Nubia region in the south of Egypt participated in the festival by performing traditional Nubian songs.
9 November 2016