Seminar Innovation in Saudi Date Production

On October 9, 2017, the Embassy of the Kingdom in the Netherlands in Riyadh organized a seminar during the annual Saudi Agricultural Exhibition in Riyadh, the largest agricultural show in the Middle East. The topic was on improving date production, a key priority for the public and private sector in Saudi Arabia, where date is the most important agricultural produce. Three main challenges can be identified in date production: 1) its phytosanitary state, especially due to Red Palm Weevil (RPW) infestation, 2) inefficient cultural practices, especially connected to irrigation, and 3) traditional pollination, pruning and harvesting. Besides these, the marketing and product diversity is of concern as well, but was outside the scope of this seminar.

Dutch - Saudi cooperation

The opening was done by Dr. Mohammed Al Nuwairan, who is the GM of the National Center for Palms & Dates. This center is under the Ministry and functions as a tool between policy and practice. It is through this center that much of the cooperation with the Netherlands can be realized.

Agricultural Counsellor Dr. Hans van der Beek showed in a movie the framework of cooperation between KSA and NL, focused on water-use efficiency, food quality and chain optimalisation. The Embassy is for more than 5 years now focusing on these priorities, not only in dates, but also in aquaculture, salt water agriculture, horticulture and poultry. For date, support is given to create consortia between Dutch companies with connections to Saudi companies and government. This has been successful in dates, as witnessed in this seminar, offering good solutions to the Saudi challenges. In Red Palm Weevil (RPW), such a consortium exists now between Koppert Biological Systems and TECH-IB, in collaboration with King Saud University (MoU signed October 10) and Mohammedia Farm. In cultural and water management, such a consortium is established between Broere, Eurofins, Acacia Water and Delphy, under the name AgroGulf.

Casestudies on Red Palm Weevil

The King Saud University (KSU) is involved in building a strategy to manage Red Palm Weevil (RPW), as explained by Dr. Abdulrahman Al Dawood. His group is involved in many aspects of studying the life cycle of RPW as well as develop an early detection method. Dr. Mohamed Ali Bob, farm manager of Mohammedia Farm, pointed out the importance of an integrated approach to overcome RPW infestations.

Arie-Jan Broere (Broere Irrigation) and Mink Vermeer (Delphy) introduced a holistic approach including monitoring soil humidity, underground water reserves, testing soil characteristics, sophisticated high-tech submerged irrigation techniques, with all data brought together on a dashboard, combined with training of farmers. This approach, easy to handle by farmers on the smart phone, can save 50-70% of irrigated water in date, compared to the average in KSA.

For RPW, an early warning system is investigated by using remote sensing, with encouraging first results, as explained by Laurens Bierens, (TECH-IB). These data will be combined with controls on the ground by KSU, and treated with a biological control method developed by Koppert, as pointed out by Rick van der Plas. The tests for this method, using Steinernema nematodes carrying a bacteria as predator for RPW-larvae, are all very positive.

Kees de Witte (AgroMachinery) showed in a video that mechanization in date pruning and harvesting could save time and labor. This is attractive to the Saudi date sector, especially in view of the tendency to increase the percentage of Saudi nationals in companies.

Outcome of the seminar

About 100 participants from private, knowledge and public sectors, were actively involved in the discussions, e.g. on the optimum temperature for the biological control agent related to the hot summers. The seminar was key in the control of the RPW, as it offers a sustainable solution, with a precision treatment method by remote sensing, promising to be implemented soon on large scale production fields. The whole seminar will be made available on video.

Hans van der Beek, Agricultural Counsellor, Embassy in Riyadh., @NLagrofoodGCC.