ICARDA's Date Palm project wins Khalifa Award 2021
Through the longstanding support of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretariat, ICARDA, on behalf of our exceptional scientists and partners, is thrilled to have won the Khalifa International Award for Date Palm and Agricultural Innovation (KIADPAI) in the Second Category: ‘Pioneering Development and Productive Projects.’
During an official virtual awards ceremony held on March 16 in Abu Dhabi, KIADPAI announced the five winners across four categories.
ICARDA won the prize for its flagship date palm project focusing on the development of sustainable date palm production systems in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Countries of the Arabian Peninsula. The project’s goal is to develop date palm production systems by utilizing available modern technology and it is thanks to the long standing support from, and relationship with, the GCC Secretariat that made this award possible.
ICARDA won the award alongside Boudjebel S.A. VACPA from Tunisia, with whom it shares the AED1M cash prize for its successful entry. Officials from the Khalifa Award also announced that in total, AED3.5 million will be distributed among this year’s winners.
H.E. Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, United Arab Emirates’ Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence, and President of the Award's Board of Trustees, opened the official awards ceremony saying “Our presence together today is an affirmation of the role of sustainable agricultural development in preserving the quality of life in a society, as well as the importance of endeavoring with determination to develop appropriate food systems, to achieve optimal use of energy and water resources, and to successfully deal with environmental and climate change.”
In his speech, FAO’s Director General H.E Dr. Qu Dongyu expressed FAO’s support to all stakeholders transforming eco food systems by making them increasingly efficient, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable. “Together, we can drive innovative solutions for better date palm production, better nutrition, and better environment alike,” he said, announcing that FAO’s next General Assembly will consider the FAO Council’s recommendation to make 2027 the International Year of Date Palm.
ICARDA’s Director General Mr. Aly Abousabaa emphasized that receiving this award constitutes “a significant push towards what is needed for the region – that is, establishing a Center of Excellence for integrated desert farming systems where the date palm is a key species in the oases.”
“The date palm holds a critical role in ecosystem services, resilience and food security in the region,” he said, thanking the GCC Secretariat for financing all three phases of the project, and for the honor of this joint agenda.
ICARDA is the only center researching date palms across all of CGIAR, the world’s largest agricultural innovation network.
For the past 15 years, ICARDA and its national project partners have explored, tested, and documented diverse technologies and systems revolutionizing water productivity, date palm pollination and high-quality date production in the Arabian Peninsula and beyond.
Date palms have been interwoven with Middle East and North African cultural, social, and economic heritage for millennia, and its byproducts have been used for food, medicine and building purposes since time immemorial.
Dates are produced in 39 countries around the world, but 90 percent of this production is concentrated in the MENA region, where 87 percent of the total area planted with date palm is located.
As one the oldest economic activity across the Middle East, North Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula, date palms by-products have provided food and nutrition security, livelihoods and building material for millennia.
The Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC), whose share of global date trade has grown steadily over the past decades to reach about 30% in 2015, have designated date palms as a priority crop in 2007.
Date palms are often cultivated in oases systems, where they create a microclimate. Date palm orchards protect shrubs and indigenous green fodder by providing shade and maintain a level of humidity necessary for growth and pollination.
In addition, one single date palm tree can store up to 200 kilograms of CO2 every year, offering substantial climate change mitigation if the innovation is taken up throughout Africa where ICARDA also works.
However, a combination of biotic and abiotic stresses resulting from climate change, such as extreme water scarcity, insect infestation, poor soil quality and skyrocketing temperatures, are endangering date production in the region.
To improve the productivity and sustainability of date palm systems, ICARDA and its national partners began collaborating in 2006 on the project’s first phase. All three phases of the project have been funded by the GCC Secretariat.
To create a solid foundation able to propel the development of a vibrant palm industry and market across the region, the project leaders opted for a public-private-producer partnership (PPPP) model.
According to Dr. Hussein Al-Ibrahim, Director of Agriculture and Food at the Secretariat of the Gulf Cooperation Council, this project "has enhanced the use of appropriate and innovative technologies to improve water efficiency, date palm yields and repel pests.”
In fact, the project’s subsurface irrigation system slashed water use in Oman by 40 percent, by 37 percent in Saudi Arabia and by 35 percent in Qatar, and its PPPP model led to the establishment and popularization of date drying chambers across Oman and the UAE.
The Khalifa International Award for Date Palm and Agricultural Innovation (KIADPAI) recognizes scientists, producers, as well as influential figures and institutions whose work is transforming the date palm production systems in the GCC and beyond.
Sponsored by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, KIADPAI was established in March 2007 by Federal Decree.
Since then, date palm has been identified as a strategic crop in terms of food security and sustainable development. “To this day, KIADPAI is a one-of-its kind award that contributes to the improvement of the date sector, productivity and agricultural innovation worldwide,” explained His Excellency Dr. Abdel Wahab Zayed, Secretary General of the Award and KIADPAI’s official spokesperson.
The date palm contributions to future food and nutrition security is now recognized globally. Emphasizing the leadership of the UAE in the agricultural and date palm sector, the award is delivered every year to keep the date palm research momentum going.
ICARDA is grateful for the support of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretariat, our national research partners, and the Khalifa International Award for Date Palm and Agricultural Innovation (KIADPAI).