Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Rising heat knocks the crown off Tunisia's 'queen of dates'


Layli Foroudi
Dec. 23, 2019


this year, much of the deglet nour harvest is dull, dry and wrinkled.

Some dates came off the tree waxy yellow, a characteristic of fruit that never matures enough to become sweet, semi-soft and, in the best cases, transparent enough to see the pip.

Date experts say the culprit is rising extreme heat in Tunisia, a symptom of a warming planet.

“It’s not just a one-off heatwave, (it is) the manifestation of climate change,” said Nabila Kadri, head engineer at the Kebili Technical Centre of Dates, a state institution that supports farmers.

Tunisia is the world’s biggest exporter of dates by value, with sales contributing more than $260 million dollars to the Tunisian economy last year, according to the National Observatory of Agriculture (ONAGRI).

But 40-45% of the harvest of deglet nour dates - which make up 90% of dates cultivated in Tunisia - was lost this year due to high temperatures that lasted day and night, Kadri said.


There are three main ways that climate change is affecting the deglet nour, according to Hamza Hamadi, a researcher at the Institute for Arid Regions, a state research body in Tunisia.

In October, temperatures were much higher than usual, which led to a loss of about 30% of the crop, with the dates that were harvested of lower quality, he said.

Excessive heat not only dries out the dates but also feeds the growth of an acarid mite that buries itself in the flesh of the date, rendering it inedible.


Changes in temperature have also shifted the palms’ flowering and pollination periods, causing the male and female plants to fall out of sync.

Farmers pollinate dates manually to maximize production but increasingly there are shortages of pollen because “either the male tree is too advanced, or the other way round,” explained Kadri of the Technical Centre for Dates.


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