The world’s largest dates festival was launched on Aug. 16 in Buraidah, a town which lies in the remote inner province of Qassim in Saudi Arabia.
Farmers and vendors display the best of dates harvest, hoping to target high sales figures during the 90-day festival which, according to the executive director of the festival, Dr. Khalid al-Nekaidan, is expected to exceed 2 billion Saudi Riyals or 250 million U.S. dollars this year.
Last year the festival’s sales figures reached to SR 800 million or 213 million U.S. dollars.
The Buraidah initiative is part of a broader government push to lower dependency on oil and build up industries to find jobs for 18 million Saudis
Every day up to 1,500 pickup trucks arrive full of dates from farmers or traders from across the kingdom or neighboring countries.
“I came to the market to buy dates, I found dates of good quality. Their price is not expensive nor cheap, and their distinctiveness lies with them being heavy, yellow and free of peels,” said Rasheed Abdul Mohsin, a customer at the date festival.
During the festival period, farmers would start their day by unloading their dates from pickup trucks after which auctioneers would start competing for best customer.
“The auctioneer is the mediator between the farmer and merchant. Each auctioneer has a different way of auctioning dates. A successful auctioneer is he who can bring the farmer and the trader to an agreement in his own style. Some auctioneers can finish off quick deals with big quantities of dates using their own special way. And that is what distinguishes the successful auctioneer from others,” said Abu Bakir al-Nujaidi, an auctioneer at the date festival.
The festival attracts clients from around the world and plays a big role in boosting the province’s economy.
“We came from Kuwait. We heard about the festival in Buraidah and came to see it. The festival has a good reputation in this country so we came to buy dates and then go back to Kuwait,” said Mohamed al-Ossi, a customer who came from Kuwait to attend the festival.
The market’s most popular date is the ‘Sukari’ which attracts more than 80 per cent of total sales.
The price of an average Sukari dates is estimated at SR 50 per box or 13 US dollars. However, the price can usually go up to SR 270 or 71 US dollars depending on quality.
Other types of dates include Barhi, al-Majdool, Hashishi, Aseela, Rothana and al-Khalas.
Bandar al-Saqri, a date farm owner whose farm has won the prize of Prince Faisal bin Bandar’s best Palm farm in buraidah for 2012, says his farm production has reached its peak for this year.
“My farm dates production this year has reached its peak, more than approximately 150 tons of dates. There are a variety of all kind of dates (Sukari in the first place , Barhi, al-Khalas, al Majdool, al-Saqa`ai dates. So I think this variety is what gave my farm the advantage of winning the prince’s award,” said al-Saqri.
There are more than 6 million palm trees planted in the Qassim province, north west of the Saudi Kingdom.
According to Dr. Khaled al-Nekaidan, executive director of Bureau Dates Festival, more than half of Qassim’s palm trees are productive.
“Qassim region contains more than 6 million palm trees, among those are three and a half million of fruitful palm trees. This capacity of production requires marketing outlets, including this city which is the world’s biggest marketing outlet for dates,” said al-Nekaidan.
“The sales figures for this year are expected to reach up to 2000 million Riyals, and we hope to increase this figure in future seasons, because our palm planting is increasing,” he added.
Qassim Gov. Prince Faisal bin Bandar toured stalls of vendors displaying an estimation of more than 200,000 tons of dates and expressed his satisfaction for the progress achieved by the Buraidah Dates Festival over the years.
He said his governorate would do its best to develop and improve the production of dates in the region.
“We will continue to provide all what we can to serve it (palm trees and dates production). Its production has now become a special and a distinguished field for us. The dates are known for being a good nutrition fruit since ancient times. We will make a major economic source from the production of dates,” said Prince Faisal bin Bandar as he addressed reporters at the festival.
“There are hundreds and thousands of tones (dates) which are being exported as donations and aid to countries in need and countries that are exposed to disasters, “ he added.
According to local media sources, the Saudi kingdom owns the world’s highest number of palm trees which accounts for 20 percent of world production.