Egypt’s date exports, however, are not on par with its ranking as the world’s top producer, and the countrywide scheme to increase exports by opening up new markets is bound to encounter several challenges.
Mohamed Farghaly, a 56-year-old farmer from Sohag, stopped harvesting dates from his farm in 2017, citing meagre profits as the reason. The export market is weak, and the majority of his harvest end up being displayed at the local market for a low price, he said.
“I used to sell 110kg annually 15 years ago, but by 2017 my sales dropped to 50kg,” he added.
Farghaly spoke passionately about his date farm and recalls the quality time he used to spend with his father there. "I still remember my father climbing with graceful movements on each palm tree to cut the date panicles. He was so affectionate about his job, and so am I," he recalled.
He started working in the farm at the young age of 10, where his father planted crops such as wheat, corn, and sesame. “But my favourite time of the year was the date harvest season,” he noted.
"I had to quit what I love the most due to the low profits," Farghaly said.
Egypt exports some 50,000 tons of its annual production because the quality of local dates do not meet international standards, stated Ezz El-Din Gadallah El-Abbasi, director of the Central Laboratory for Date Palms at the Agricultural Research Centre.
The national project for date palm cultivation was announced in 2019 with a plan to plant 2.5 million palms from different cultivars on 37,000 acres in Toshka, Upper Egypt, to meet international standards, according to the Egyptian Journal of Horticulture.
El-Abbasi said the project is part of a presidential initiative to develop the date palm sector that will result in the cultivation of 12.5 million date palms spread on 192,000 acres, after five years.
This is expected to generate EGP 37.5 billion annually.
"Egypt’s date exports are low because 52 percent of our harvest is moist, and these products are perishable. Only three percent is dry, while 20 percent is semi-dry," El-Abbasi said. He added that Egypt focuses on exporting semi-dry dates since they are most suitable for exports.
The national project is meant to develop the dates export market by cultivating more varieties that have higher economic return, such as Barhi, Magdool, Khalas, Sukkari, Agwa El-Madina, and Anbara, according to El-Abbasi.
Shortages in cold and freezing warehouses are one of the main reasons why Egypt’s export market is weak, since regular warehouses result in the infection of crops with pests, he added.
"The major constraint is the poor logistics and supply chain management of the whole date market. In fact, there is not an effective link between traders, farmers, packers, and so on," El-Abbasi continued.
Other challenges include the lack of qualified and trained staff and upgraded factories, he added.
The presidential initiative, he pointed out, is meant to open new date export markets, establish logistics areas by increasing the number of refrigerated trucks, expand the cultivation of luxurious varieties with good economic returns, and build cold and freezing warehouses where dates are harvested.
The project also seeks to raise the price of unprocessed date exports by benefiting from its secondary products to maximise the added value. It is equally vital to revitalise a large industrial sector relying on palms, such as in the production of molasses and vinegar, and advance related businesses, such as packaging and marketing, El-Abbasi added.
Egypt’s national strategy appears promising, restoring hope, at least for farmers like Farghaly, that Egypt’s date export market will grow stronger.
“I have started planting new types of date palms and developing my farming practices to increase the quality of dates,” he said.