Maximizing potentials of date palm cultivation
The Nigerian Date palm industry has been described as a new goldmine embedded with enormous economic potentials.
Date Palm Tree (Phoenix dactylifera L.) is a flowering plant species in the palm family, Arecaceae, cultivated for its edible sweet fruit. Its trees typically reach about 21–23 metres (69–75 ft) in height, growing singly or forming a clump with several stems from a single root system.
Date fruits are single, oblong, one-seeded berry with terminal stigma, flesh pericarp and membranous endocarp. It is about three to seven centimetres (1.2 to 2.8 inch) long, and about 2.5 centimetres (0.98 inch) in diameter, ranging from bright red to bright yellow, depending on the variety. They are very sweet, containing about 75 per cent of sugar when dried.
Aside the nutritional potentials of the fruit, the date palm are also very important to the manufacturing sector.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), date fruits give more than 3,000 calories/kg, consists of 70 per cent carbohydrate (mostly invert sugar e.g. glucose and fructose) important for people who cannot tolerate sucrose and it is easily absorbed by the human body without being subjected to the digestion that ordinary sugar undergoes.
Dates contain potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), iron (Fe), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn) and very low quantities of silicon (Si), sulphur (S) and with very low sodium and fat content. It has moderate quantities of chlorine (Cl), sodium (Na) and phosphorus (P). Its phosphorus content is similar to the same quantities found in apricots, pears and grapes put together.
The iron content of 3mg per 100mg is almost a third of the recommended dietary allowance for an adult male. Its high contents of magnesium (600mg per kg) could also be very beneficial in preventing cancer. It has two per cent of protein and less than two per cent pectin substance. Dates have 1mg of sodium per 100kg, thus a good food for those on low sodium diet. Dates also contain 2.5 per cent fibre, which is important for a diet to aid digestion and evacuation.
Dates are suitable for the manufacture of jam, syrup, pastry, bakery confectionaries, snacks, salads, chocolate, butter or creams and appetizers, among others.
For the manufacturing sector, date palm can be used to manufacture local fan, ropes, Baskets, foot mats, bags, beds, bird cages, traps, blankets, chairs, cushion, doors, window frames, fences, fire wood, life belt.
Currently, the fruit has been adopted as a substitute for sugar and honey. For instance, makers of various types of smoothie—a thick blended beverage—have adopted its usage as a sweetener. It is also being processed into liquid sugar as a low-calorie sweetener for soft drinks.
These are indications that the crop has the potential to provide employment to both skilled and unskilled labour, to generate income and alleviate poverty.
But despite its potentials, coupled with the abundant land resources, Nigeria depends on import to meet local demand, as demand outweighs local production.
Investigations show that the country produces less than 20 per cent of what is consumed, with the remaining 80 per cent imported.
A document released by the International Society for Horticultural Science revealed that while national consumption of dates stood at 8,958 mt in 2009, placing the country among the world top 10 consumers, the country managed to produce only 1,958 mt.
Though, there is no current data on its production, but as at 2012, from the 16 producing states, the World Journal of Agricultural Sciences publication revealed that Bauchi has the capacity to produce 6000mt, Adamawa-600mt, Borno-1000mt, Gombe-1500mt, Jigawa-5000mt, Kano-6000mt, Plateau- 100mt, Taraba-200mt and Yobe-2000mt.
In West Africa, FAO statistics show that the Niger Republic is the highest date producer with a total production of 37,794mt, followed by Mauritania 20,000mt and Chad 1,8780mt. This shows that total annual production for 2009 was 76,574mt compared to 2000, which was 40,000mt.
In Africa Egypt is the highest date producer with 1,350,000mt, followed by Algeria 600,696mt, Sudan 339,300mt, Tunisia 145,000mt, Libya 160,101mt and Morocco 72,000mt.
The dismal performance of the country in this crop, especially in the areas of production, processing and marketing has been linked to two factors-dearth of information on the status of the Nigerian date palm sub-sector and lack of awareness on its nutritional importance.
A date farmer in Jigawa State, Mallam Raji Yakubu disclosed that there is little knowledge about the produce, hence the limited attention paid to it, compared with other farm produce.
He added that if the government supports the crop by financing farmers and assisting them with new agronomic practice, the country would be better for it.
The Chief Executive Officer, Spectra Industries Ltd, Mr Duro Kuteyi, who confirmed the potentials of the crop, said it could easily be made into syrup, as substitute to honey and sugar.
He said government needs to focus on date producing states, encourage the farmers and ensure that necessary support is given to the farmers, to improve growth of the crop.
Kuteyi said: Nigeria has been importing virtually everything, which is not helpful to us as a people. It is making it difficult for our people to be employed because we are exporting job to other countries. There is no way we will be producing cocoa and we will be importing chocolate, if Nigerians are looking inward to produce goods, we will achieve more.
“We have the technology in our research institutes, for too long we have allowed our research results to waste away in the laboratories. We need to do more, we must do more by allowing research results for the advancement of the country, commercialising the findings.”