The first edition of the Cairo Dates and Natural Products Festival, held under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation and the Arab Federation for Dates, opened on Thursday.
The festival runs through 5 April at El-Orman Garden, Giza, Cairo. The event is free of charge and no tickets are required. The garden opens from 9am to 9pm.
The opening ceremony was attended by head of Agriculture Extension Sector Alaa Azouz, Chairman of the National Food Safety Authority Hussein Mansour, Executive Director of the Arab Federation for Dates Ahmed Swedan, and Secretary-General of the Arab Economic Unity Council at the Arab League Mohamed Al-Rabie.
More than 55 exhibitors nationwide from small and large companies specialising in date production, palm seedlings, farms, exporters and marketers are taking part in the festival. Different handicrafts such as Khoos (palm leaf weaving), Kilim handmade carpets, sculptures, crochet, and date-based food products are on show for sale, in addition to natural beauty cosmetics. Activities available for children include drawing competitions and playing games.
Due to the spread of the coronavirus and restriction on travelling, few exhibitors from Arab countries are taking part in the festival, such as Jordan and Libya.
“This is the first time to organise a festival for dates in Cairo Capital. It will be held twice a year: before the advent of the holy month of Ramadan in Cairo; and after the harvest season in September in Siwa or El-Wadi El-Gadid governorate,” Mahmoud Hassan, the organiser of the festival, told Ahram Online.
Egypt is a leading dates producer. “It ranked first in the world in dates production but its exports contribution to the international dates market is low,” Hassan explained.
Egypt has the potential to grow its dates exports in the coming period due to 2,500 million date palm plantation project and other mega projects,” he added.
“The festival is meant to raise awareness about the health benefits of dates for Egyptians to consume the fruit throughout the year, not only in Ramadan,” Ashraf El-Far, secretary-general of the Arab Federation of Dates, said.
On the sidelines of the festival, the second edition of the Conference on the Sustainable Development of the Dates Sector was held on Thursday to discuss improving the economic value and consumption of average quality dates in different food industries.
At the Food Technology Research Institute (FTRT), researchers use Egyptian dates in creating food products with significant health benefits. They turn dried dates into a powder.
“It is a natural sweetener and a healthy alternative for white sugar. Dates powder is used in food products like biscuits, cakes, cookies, and tarts. Soft and semi-dry dates are used in producing ajwa dates,” Iman Salem, former director of the FTRT, said.
“Dates have a sweet taste minus the robust flavor,” El-Far added.
“Dates boost the immunity system and fight off diseases. They are good for optic nerves, the nervous system, anemia, iron deficiency and they strengthen heart muscles and aid in weight loss,” explained Amal Mokhtar, a professor of public health and preventive medicine at the National Research Centre.
Dates are a good source for antioxidants, protein, iron, vitamins, and minerals. “It is high in fiber and gives an immediate sense of fullness. The ideal quantity a person can eat is 3-7 dates per day, even diabetic can eat 1-3 dates per day,” Mokhtar said.
“It is a low glycemic index food. It won’t raise the blood sugar or cause dramatic sugar spikes,” Mokhtar added.
One of the exhibitors, sculptor Adel Sayed, hails from Teneda village in Dakhla Oasis. He uses date palm tree wood branches stripped off their leaves to carve beautiful designs and figures from the Egyptian tradition that reflects the history of the oasis and his village and their beautiful Bedouin traditional costumes.
The artwork of Ahmed Wahba from El-Wadi El-Gadid governorate is inspired by Egypt's cultural heritage. He draws paintings using different natural sand colours. He mixes and matches different sand tints to create textured paintings.