Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Good Year for Moroccan Dates

Here is a piece from National Public Radio (NPR) about an abundant date harvest this year in Morocco, alhamdulilah.  Let's hope the drought breaks and other agricultural sectors have similar success.

Moroccans Celebrate A Bountiful Year For Date Harvest
by Jeff Koehler
January 10, 2013 1:33 PM

In the heart of the Moroccan oasis and palm grove of Skoura, west of Marrakesh, yellow and reddish dates dangled heavily from branches high above us. It's going to be a good year, a man harvesting dates said, offering me a handful of fresh, still-yellow fruit cut from the tree just moments before.

The man, holding a tamskart, a hooked knife anchored to a short wooden handle used for trimming these heavily laden branches, had just shimmied down from one of a dozen palm trees. He was paid 20 dirham, or just over $2, per tree by the family that owns them. It's a dangerous and labor-intensive job.

Whole sprays of yellow dates, as well as mounds of riper, sticky brown ones that had shaken loose from the trees were splayed across blue tarps. They were Bouskri, a favorite variety here that is dried and best when the brittle skin shatters as you bite into it. Eaten fresh, they tend to be a touch woody in taste and texture.

I had gone to Skoura in early October to catch the beginning of the date harvest. Wandering around the palm grove, everyone told me the same thing: This harvest would be better than average and much better than the previous year.

It took two months to bring in Skoura's dates. Now that the harvest is over, how did it turn out?

Those I met in Skoura were right. According to a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report, the country's recent date harvest was expected to be 10 percent above the average of the past five years.

That's good news for the family farmers in Skoura, who keep the dates they'll use throughout the year and sell the excess from the harvest in the town's Monday souk.

Dates hold pride of place on the Moroccan table. Hosts traditionally offer the fruits to guests with a glass of milk, especially during the year's important holidays. The fruits are eaten out of hand, used in desserts and for topping sweet couscous, but also find their way into the country's famed lamb and poultry tagine stews. The average Moroccan eats about 6 1/2 pounds of dates each year, though in date-producing areas, that figure reaches some 33 pounds.

They are also the first item eaten with the breaking of the fast during the month of Ramadan, and controversies have erupted over where dates were imported from to meet holiday demands. About half of all dates in Morocco are eaten during this holiday.

This year, Morocco's date haul weighed in at 110,180 metric tons, according to Morocco's agriculture ministry. In Ouarzazate, near Skoura, the yield leaped from a five-year average of 56,000 tons to 65,000 tons. Nearly 90 percent of the country's dates are grown in this region and Errachidia, which lies farther east at the edge of the Sahara.

For full article see HERE

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