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أخبار سعودية

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New company will help Madinah’s Ajwa dates reach new heights, industry experts say

MAKKAH: The decision by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund to establish a company dedicated to Ajwa dates, a premium variety grown mainly in and around Madinah, is expected to significantly improve the production and quality of the traditional crop, industry experts said.

Al-Madinah Heritage Co., the new business being set up by the Public Investment Fund, will help to further develop the Saudi food and agricultural industry, they added, and is further evidence of the fund’s commitment to the development of these sectors in the Kingdom, and its efforts to achieve economic diversification in line with the aims of Saudi Vision 2030.

“Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most prominent producers and exporters of dates, and its products have always been of the highest quality, catering to wide consumer demand,” said Majed Al-Assaf, head of consumer goods and retail in the PIF’s Middle East and North Africa Investments Division.

“The dates industry is a key component of Saudi Arabia’s food and agriculture sector and has an important role in the realization of Vision 2030.”

Abdullah Al-Radadi, director-general of the Al-Madinah Dates Cooperative Association, told Arab News that the move to develop and enhance the value of locally produced Ajwa date products “is a pioneering and successful step” that will help to improve cultivation and promote those products in international markets.

He added: “The establishment of this company is the result of continuous efforts carried out by the Public Investment Fund with researchers and specialists.

“PIF organized uninterrupted workshops in Riyadh and Madinah to reach the best mechanisms and the most prominent methods and specifications of the Ajwa date.”

Thanks to their high nutritional value and health benefits, Ajwa dates are considered to be among the finest dates in the world. They are rich sources of fiber, protein and antioxidants, among other nutritional benefits.

It is not yet clear whether the new company will invest in new cultivation sites and work to develop new markets, or its role will be limited to marketing the dates, Al-Radadi said.

Noting the cultural and religious significance of the variety, he added: “Ajwa dates are famous and need no introduction, with Muslims around the world knowing their quality and positive effects on human health.

“Al-Madinah Dates Cooperative Association, after examining and studying the Ajwa dates, concluded that they differ from any other types of dates. Many extensive and in-depth studies were conducted in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Tunisia, Egypt and Spain that have achieved amazing results in terms of establishing the quality, uniqueness and rarity of the Ajwa dates.

“Pakistanis use this type of date widely in a religious ceremony called ‘tahnik,’ which means chewing a piece of date, making it into a soft paste and placing it on the palate of the newborn child.

“In Saudi Arabia, there are 18 patents registered at King Abdulaziz University, in addition to other patents registered at Taibah University.”

There are only about 800,000 Ajwa palm trees in the Kingdom, and the average price per kilogram of the fruit is SR40 ($11). One of the biggest challenges faced in efforts to expand the crop is a lack of water in Madinah.

Al-Radadi said that major investors have tried to plant Ajwa palms in the Khaybar valley and other areas but their efforts were not sustainable because of irrigation needs. One investor planted 15,000 trees but they all died and he was forced to close his farm because he could not supply them with enough water.

Mahmoud Rashwan, a member of the cooperative association’s board of directors, commended the fund for its efforts to further develop the Kingdom’s natural resources, and dates in particular.

“It is also important to put dates on the global map effectively and thoughtfully, to introduce international companies to create economic balance, and to pump huge capital so that our products are transcontinental,” he said.

Rashwan also stressed the importance of retaining a purely Saudi character in such activities, and especially in the cultivation and marketing of Ajwa dates, which he said are genetically unlike any other.

“Some other countries tried to grow this tree but failed to reach the quality and nature of Ajwa dates grown in Madinah,” he added.

Rashwan noted that there are special techniques used in the planting, irrigation and fertilization of the Ajwa palm, and it is important to choose appropriate places in which to grow them. He added that he hopes authorities will support planters and empower them, through the adoption of the latest international practices, to be able to properly care for this prized tree that is found mainly in Madinah.

In October 2022, the PIF announced the launch of Halal Products Development Co., as part of efforts to localize the production of halal goods in the Kingdom. The aim was to promote the Kingdom as a global halal hub, according to a statement at the time.

Other PIF investments in the Saudi food and agricultural sectors include the Saudi Coffee Co. and the Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Co.ˇ

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